When Camden Burton dreamed of being a teacher, he never imagined he would find success before entering his own classroom.
The 22-year-old was recently named a Teaching Fellow by The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, which recognizes beginning high school teachers of biology, physical science and mathematics. The organization invests $175,000 over five years to each fellow, which can be spent on attending teaching workshops and purchasing classroom materials.
The award works to combat the statistic that 50 percent of educators leave the profession within the first five years of teaching.
“I understand why 50 percent of teachers leave — the career is very demanding and challenging,” said Burton, who graduated from the University of Kansas in May. “My goal is to not just keep my head above water, but do some amazing things with the knowledge I have.”
The Overland Park native still can’t believe his luck. He believes the award will be immensely helpful to him when he starts his first gig — teaching freshman biology at Olathe Northwest in August.
“This honor has given me confidence to have a voice among veteran teachers,” he said. “I feel like I have something to share right away.”
He’s also pleased the fellowship will help pay for special lab equipment a school district normally couldn’t budget.
Burton has several other honors on his resume as well.
He was named the KU Teacher of Promise in February and received the prestigious AFCEA scholarship two years in a row, which will provide him with $1,000 to spend on his classroom for his first two years of teaching.
His success doesn’t surprise his instructors in the UKAN Teach program, which prepares college students for becoming math and science teachers.
“Camden has distinguished himself with his passion for sharing biology learning with others – students, teachers, anyone who is fascinated by living things,” said Carol Williamson, a master teacher with the KU program. “He creates opportunities to network with other teachers. He has taken the reins of his own professional development and I predict that he will never stop learning and sharing biology. “
Despite being honored so highly in a profession he hasn’t even tackled yet, Burton admitted he is a bit nervous about his first day as a teacher.
“I’m looking forward to finally running my own classroom,” he said. “Having 120 kids to watch and teach is both scary and exciting. I’ll never be more prepared than I am now, so I just need to jump in.”
His goal is to become a guide, rather than an all-knowing lecturer.
“I don’t want to just give my students all the information and answer all their questions,” Burton said. “That’s not how you learn and that’s not how it works in the real world. I want to help them discover the answers themselves.”
And while he hopes to encourage kids to be excited about science, he acknowledges that he’s not out to create 120 future biologists.
“I want my students to realize that science is fun, because it’s about discovering something that nobody else has known before,” he said. “I want them to investigate and get their hands dirty. I want them to learn skills they will use the rest of their lives.”