BANGOR, Maine — Most people have hobbies, whether it’s golf, gardening, knitting or Civil War re-enacting, but few get paid for their hobbies.
That’s why Cary James feels so lucky.
“I love coming to school. It truly feels like a hobby,” the Bangor High School chemistry teacher said.
The best part is that his students follow his lead.
“He loves chemistry; you can tell,” said senior Taylor Francey. “There is never a dull moment in his class.”
James’ lively teaching style and zest for chemistry recently earned him a Siemens Foundation Award for top achievement in Advanced Placement, or AP, science or math. He was the only Maine teacher to be honored.
“This award recognizes your dedication to your students and to the Advanced Placement Program and your undeniable success teaching in a rigorous curriculum,” said the letter to James from the Siemens Foundation, announcing the award. “We believe teachers like you embody the best of American education by inspiring students in the classroom while instilling a love of learning that continues to influence them for a lifetime.”
Since 1998, the Siemens Foundation has honored excellence in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Along with the personal recognition for one of its teachers, Bangor High School received a $1,000 grant.
“To be honest, I’m not all that interested in the recognition,” James said recently during a break from class. “I think you have to have humility with that sort of thing. But it’s good for the school.”
James, who has taught chemistry for 11 years at Bangor High, said a colleague approached him about the award last year. The guidelines indicated that a supervisor should write a recommendation.
“I had a student write mine,” James said. “I have no idea what he wrote.”
It must have been good.
“To me, if you want to learn about how teachers are doing, ask the kids,” he said.
Francey said her favorite part of James’ AP chemistry class is the lab work. A recent lab involved testing local water samples for levels of phosphate.
“He’ll show us how to do something, but then he makes us figure it out,” she said.
James explained that he always looks for labs that have practical applications.
“[Phosphate] is an important environmental problem right now,” he said.
This year’s AP class has 14 students, which is about average, James said. The curriculum is structured much like a college course, and if students do well in the class, they receive college credit.
“Most of these kids aren’t going to grow up and be chemists,” James said. “But that’s part of the fun. It’s such a wide assortment of students, and they each bring something different to the table.”