His greatest teaching challenge

Rob Palmer

After 20-plus years of teaching, when others might start coasting toward retirement, Rob Palmer decided he needed a fresh start. “I wasn’t feeling as effective in the classroom,” he says. “I wasn’t sure I could stay on top of the game.”  

So Palmer decided to earn a second master’s degree, this one in science education from the College of Education and Human Development, with an eye toward teaching future teachers.

While searching for new jobs this spring, he spotted a posting for a science teacher at Walter McGinnis High School in Red Wing. Not recognizing the name, he did some digging and found that Walter McGinnis is the school at the Minnesota Correctional Facility - Red Wing.

He went down for an interview, surrendered his digital gadgets in the lobby, met most of his future colleagues, and left impressed … and ready to embrace a new challenge.

Palmer says his prior work in STEM and the U’s education program target traditionally underserved groups, “and you’re not going to get a more underserved group than those who are behind the fence.”

Palmer has already taught in a host of diverse settings, from Waubay High School on the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota to schools in Springfield, Crosby-Ironton, and Willmar in Minnesota. Now he’s looking forward to engaging truly nontraditional and underrepresented students as they seek their own fresh starts.

“I’ve always had a lot of success in the classroom with students who would say they hated science or tended to struggle with science,” he says. Beyond the classroom, he’s been a leader with the Skynet Scholars program at the Bell Museum.

That capitalizes on his love of (and love for teaching) astronomy. “I like to use astronomy as my entry-level [bait] into the world of science,” Palmer grins. “Once you get someone hooked at the basic level, they want to learn more.”

As he anticipates the new chapter that opens this week, he describes his nervous excitement with another astronomical metaphor. “I’ve done research on black holes, and it’s feeling like … Red Wing is kind of the event horizon that I’m about to enter.”