Paul Van Fleet - Secondary Biology
Paul Van Fleet was nearing the end of his college career at a university in Tennessee, yet he didn't know what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He found direction as a transfer student at Southeastern.
Before becoming an eighth-grade science teacher, Van Fleet was a secondary biology education major at Southeastern. He chose the major because he loved science and hands-on projects. He wanted to be a teacher because he enjoys working in settings where events constantly change and where he could help students reach high levels of achievement.
Van Fleet found his Teaching Principles and Competencies course to be particularly helpful. The course taught students how to manage student behavior and teach students effectively. The professor emphasized the need for teachers to grab students' attentions. Launching into a discussion about something students already know, for example, can help teachers engage students. In a lesson about cells, Van Fleet asked students what did they already know about cells, DNA, and myths about cells. After students offer answers, they stay tuned to the lesson to see if their answer is correct, Van Fleet said.
In order to earn education degrees, Southeastern students must complete student teaching internships. Van Fleet interned in Saipan, an island that's part of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Van Fleet taught at Grace Christian Academy, an Assemblies of God-affiliated school on the 12.5-mile-long by 5.5-mile-wide island. It was in Saipan where Van Fleet gained an understanding for another culture's conception of community. On the U.S. mainland, for example, teachers mainly speak with students. But in Saipan, Van Fleet interacted with the families of his students and was occasionally invited over for dinner. Van Fleet described Saipan as a close-knit community, explaining that he saw a birthday party for a 1-year-old draw 150 guests.
In addition to learning about another culture, Van Fleet felt called to a specific ministry while living in Saipan. Van Fleet was scuba diving 110 feet underwater when he looked up and saw God's exquisite sunlight filtering through the water. Van Fleet described his experience as being baptized: He went under the water as "the old man," and he came out of the water as "the new man."
"Something happened there," he said. It was after that baptism of sorts that Van Fleet committed himself to ministering to children spiritually as well as academically.
And upon graduation, Southeastern had equipped Van Fleet to do just that. Van Fleet served as a science teacher at Lake Gibson Middle School in Lakeland for two and a-half years before moving to Kathleen Middle School, also in Lakeland. Outside of classes, Van Fleet has advised a middle school chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In the classroom, Van Fleet says he has fun weaving Christian messages into lessons without the students knowing it. In a mind warm-up exercise for a class, Van Fleet had his students listen to "Hurt," a song Johnny Cash recorded before he died. Van Fleet drew a parallel between the part of the song in which the singer bemoans having only an "empire of dirt" to give away and Solomon's message in Ecclesiastes that much in life is futile. Therefore, it may not be wise, Van Fleet told the students, to invest your life in only material things.
Van Fleet only spent a year and a half enrolled at Southeastern. But it was during that time-through coursework and an internship in a faraway land-that Van Fleet became equipped to teach secondary-level students in an engaging way. "Once you get them hooked onto something," said Van Fleet, "you can take them anywhere you want."