Passion and purpose

Amanda Schnepp uses love of science to inspire students


Science teacher Amanda Schnepp said she grew up wandering in the woods around her grandparents’ house and soaking up nature. Discovering examples of life science and spending time outside sparked her passion and interest in biology.

Years later, sitting in a molecular biology class during her third year of college at Purdue University, Schnepp decided she could get the lesson across more effectively than the professor. Following that realization, she switched her focus over to teaching.

“I love science,” Schnepp said. “I love biology, specifically. I wanted other people to be as excited about biology and science as I am.”
Schnepp has been named the 2018-2019 Teacher of the Year for SHS. This honor is the result of her unique teaching style, her connection with students and the inspiration she gives to other teachers.

“Her nomination is, I think, one that is well-deserved,” Principal Brian Knight said. “Why she was nominated is just because of the kind of teacher she is… I think what is intriguing to me about Amanda and the work that she does is she really finds a way to challenge and support at the same time.”
Schnepp’s love for teaching biology goes deeper than the science. As science is always changing, she is focused on keeping up with the advancements and giving students the best learning experience possible. In her classroom, she teaches through real-world scenarios to try and reach the students in more recognizable ways. She listens to podcasts and reads scientific articles from journals, news sites and magazines to enhance her own knowledge.

“I think biology is one of the coolest things to teach… because it’s always changing, and we’re always finding new things…,” Schnepp said. “I think just the wonder and the questions that are there really excite me.”

Schnepp’s teaching style and approach to different learning topics is one thing that stands out to her students and peers. Schnepp focuses on her classroom being an environment in which students are open to asking questions. She is thankful to teach AP and honors students, who want to know the reasoning behind the subjects being taught. These classes are also more advanced, so it keeps her challenged and engaged, according to Schnepp.

“I hope to, I think I do, run a classroom where students feel really, really comfortable asking questions about anything,” Schnepp said. “And I love that. I don’t like to present information. I very much more prefer asking questions and answering questions, than just sitting and presenting information.”

One of her nominators, physics teacher Stacey Matlock, says she sees Schnepp as an inspiration and the perfect choice for this award. Despite teaching very different forms of science, these two learn a lot from each other every day. Matlock is very thankful for all of the ideas and advice she has received from Schnepp. She also recognizes the effort Schnepp puts into teaching her students and sees the change in her students’ work ethics.

“She’s always wanting to try to perfect her craft,” Matlock said. “She’s never satisfied, so to speak. Always eager to do better, and I think that’s what makes a great teacher as well.”
Following a new philosophy this year, Schnepp has been taking the lessons to a deeper level. She implements Kintsugi, a Japanese art that focuses on turning failure into a beautiful piece of art. Schnepp has been putting this to use in her classroom, teaching students to celebrate and learn from their mistakes.

“Where you find a failure, where you find a shortcoming, if you really work on it and admit to it and fix it the right way instead of covering it up, it becomes a strength instead of a failure,” Schnepp said.

Senior Zam Muan is inspired by this philosophy in many ways. He has learned to not give up in tough situations, especially in the classroom.

“That always reminded me of when I can’t do the work that we’re supposed to do, I always remember that it’s okay, it’s okay…,” Muan said. “(Schnepp) doesn’t teach just biology, but also life lessons to students.”

Inspired partly by this philosophy, Muan wrote a song expressing some of the life lessons he has learned.

Besides the lessons in the classroom, Schnepp attempts to continue the learning outside of the typical school environment, this being very important to her teaching style. One particular event, the AP camping trip to Indiana Dunes, is meant to show her students real-life examples of what they learned in class. On that trip, students take a nature hike to surround themselves with models of different lessons Schnepp has taught. Senior Ashley Williams went on the trip last year and appreciated the out-of-textbook connections to what she had been learning in class.

“It was a lot of fun because it was a new environment,” Williams said “It was a lot of learning about different plants and how they had evolved in the Dunes. It was kind of cool to see how that had all tied into what we had learned in biology class that year.”

Her other nominator, master teacher Chris Finkhouse, has known Schnepp for about 13 years. Knowing her as not only a coworker but as a friend, Finkhouse says he recognizes her passion for teaching and respects her expectations of her students. He says he has learned quite a bit from her, and he sees her as an inspiration to other teachers. Finkhouse says he recognizes her intentions to help her coworkers with any problem they may have.

“As a friend, she’s a problem solver,” Finkhouse said. “Teaching right next to her for 10 years, if I had a problem, she was the first person I went to. She’s a natural-born leader.”
One of Schnepp’s AP Biology students, junior Rachel Flatto, is thankful for the lessons she has learned while being in Schnepp’s class. Working hard for answers and putting in effort outside of class are a couple of the skills Flatto plans to take with her during her last year of high school and on to college.

“(Her class is) going to help me prepare for college because a lot of colleges do that,” Flatto said. “It’s more AP level.”

Freshman Alyssa Cummings is a student in Schnepp’s Honors Biology class. Cummings especially takes notice of all of the engaging activities Schnepp organizes. Cummings also is appreciative of how kind Schnepp is to her, in and out of the classroom. She learned many lessons from Schnepp that she plans to carry with her throughout the rest of her high school career and college, including note-taking skills and how to get the best out of the given information.

“She always makes sure we get it,” Cummings said. “She takes us to the lab and really shows us instead of just showing it on the board. She really is hands on and lets us learn through doing it, instead of just telling us.”

In the future, Schnepp plans to continue to perfect her craft and learn from experiences in the classroom. As science is forever changing and improving, Schnepp hopes to follow this trend as a teacher and keep moving her class forward.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that my best days… are when I remember how exciting science is,” Schnepp said. “If I can remember that, and I remember that I’m trying to get other people excited, (then) those are good days. And those are good days for (the students) and that means good days for me.”