Research Scientist Turns to Teaching

Ms. Noel: ‘Science will find a way to solve climate change.’


Leah Zagori

Ms. Noel teaches Earth science at de Toledo High School.

Prowler: What made you decide to become a science teacher?

Ms. Noel: Haha. I randomly applied for a very exclusive, accelerated teacher program called the New Teacher Project at a random job fair that I took my lab assistant to back when I was still a working scientist. My assistant encouraged me to apply, and I figured that if I got into the program, I’d try teaching. Why not? This was during a very hard time in my life when I was dealing with family issues like losing my mom, I was having to deal with the mental fallout from being sexually assaulted, and I was killing just so many rats for my science job! So when I was accepted to that teacher program and started teaching, it was like my life started over again. I was finally happy! I’m pretty sure this career change saved my life; it still makes me crazy happy. I think my attitude sometimes makes me seem very annoying in the eyes of other teachers, but that’s okay. 

Prowler: What other schools have you worked at?  

Ms. Noel: I worked at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, Notre Dame High School (a Catholic school in Salinas), and a couple different public schools in Texas. I’ve been teaching an online college anatomy and physiology course for Monterey Peninsula College for the last five years as well (but you know you’re my favorite, dTHS!)

Prowler: What college did you go to? 

Ms. Noel: The University of Texas at Austin for my Bachelor’s in Biology, and the University of Texas Marine Science Institute for my Master’s in Marine Science. I still daydream about doing a Ph.D. one day. Imagine: Dr. Noel, dinosaur climate expert!

Prowler: How did you find deToledo?

Ms. Noel: It’s a weird story of kismet: I knew I wanted to leave the Bay Area, but I still wanted to work with Jewish students because I’ve found this group to be more inquisitive and logical than the average student, and right when I was looking for a job in LA, dTHS was looking for an earth science teacher. It all worked out perfectly! 

Prowler: If you weren’t a teacher what career would you choose?

Ms. Noel: I was a research scientist before I became a teacher. I’d probably do that again but in a different field. I ran a lab that looked at how the brain changes depending on stress, which was fun mostly, but also involved killing a lot of rats. I don’t want to kill any more rats! I’d love to work with a natural space or camp to create high school lessons or activities about the environment and climate change. They are usually just for younger kids, but everyone should have the chance to learn about their ecosystems and appreciate nature throughout their entire life.

Prowler: What have been some of your challenges and successes this year?

Ms. Noel: It was so, so hard to be on zoom and see how sad and out of it students were, being isolated from each other. It’s going to take some time for us all to get back to normal, which we need to make sure we allow for and treat everyone with grace and patience–especially ourselves. But in that struggle, it feels like we really realized how important mental health is for everyone, both teachers and students, and I hope we continue to make sure we take care of our own and each other’s mental well being.

Prowler: What is your biggest fear? 

Ms. Noel: That my dad or brother will die unexpectedly, like my mom did. Also that I’ll meet Henry Cavill at a grocery store or something and just make a total fool of myself in front of him because he is so pretty and I cannot handle it. 

Prowler: What is your favorite food? 

Ms. Noel: Pizza. Basil and plant-based sausage for toppings! 

Prowler: What is your favorite song? 

Ms. Noel: This is honestly the hardest question, but right now I’m enjoying a cover of “Eleanor Rigby” by Dirt Poor Robins

Prowler: What is your favorite science fact?

Ms. Noel: That we will never really be smart enough to know everything. There will always be more to explore. For example, wild elephants have been recently observed doing what might be some form of religion–some elephants have been seen to get in groups at the full moon and wave palm leaves at the moon. Why?? Is it religion? Are they fighting bugs? Fanning an invisible fire? Pretending to be human? Is it something we will never understand because we are not elephants?? How come no one noticed this before? Is it a new behavior? If so, why is it happening now?? I want to learn something new and crazy like this every day! 

Prowler: Why is it important for a student to learn science? 

Ms. Noel: To train yourself to be skeptical but not cynical,  to learn to question everything but accept the good research that is being done or has been done. Keep your eyes open and enjoy the beauty in the world, but always look at where the information you take in is coming from.

Prowler: What is the most important problem that science can solve today? 

Ms. Noel: Climate change!! It affects us all! But sadly, not everyone listens to science, and some major corporations put profits over people and the environment. Joke’s on them, they will still be affected by climate change! I do believe science will find a way to solve climate change, and that my students will be in the group of people who help the Earth recover from this rough period of human- and geological- history.