“Don’t know much about history . . . don’t know much biology . . .”
The late Sam Cooke may not have made such a declaration in his song, “Wonderful World,” had Myron E. Blosser of Harrisonburg, Va., been his teacher.
Blosser, who teaches biology at Eastern Mennonite High School (EMHS), has received national recognition for his ability to engage students in the realm of life science in the classroom and beyond.
The National Association of Biology Teachers has given its “Outstanding Biology Teacher” award for 2013 for the state of Virginia to Blosser. He will receive the award on Nov. 22 at an honors luncheon hosted by the NABT in Atlanta, Ga. Before that, he will also receive a certificate from the organization at a Nov.15 Association of Science Teachers conference in Norfolk.
This honor, given each year since 1961, identifies a teacher for each state “who has made valuable contributions to the teaching profession and to students. Criteria for the award include teaching ability, experience, creativity, initiative and collaboration in the school and community.”
“It’s meaningful to me to be recognized by your peers in the profession,” Blosser said of the award. “It means that you’re doing something right and [it’s] an affirmation that raises my energy level and helps keep me going.”
Blosser, himself a 1979 EMHS graduate, earned a BS degree in biology with secondary education endorsement from Eastern Mennonite University in 1983 and an MA in education with a concentration in curriculum development from EMU in 1998. He taught biology courses three years at Strasburg (Va.) High School, then at Harrisonburg High School from 1986 to 2002 before joining the EMHS faculty in the fall of 2002.
“My years at Harrisonburg High School were transformative for me,” Blosser said. “I grew up in a hurry and learned from three teaching colleagues in particular what it means to be a professional educator.”
These former associates – Gary Riner, math department chair, Judy Warren, English department chair, and Henry Buhl, social studies chair– will be the title of a book Blosser is writing on teaching methods and pedagogy – “Gary, Judy and Henry.”
At EMHS, Blosser teaches grade 10 biology, advanced placement biology, and anatomy and physiology one semester, and biotechnology another semester. He is also chair of the science department.
Blosser says his approach to the learning process is “content-centered,” as compared to making the teacher or the students the main focus.
“Biology is an exciting field because it’s the study of life on earth,” he said. “We are born curious. Therefore, I seek to gather with my students around the subject under scrutiny and together seek to keep that curiosity alive. It’s exhilarating – for me and for the students.”
Blosser is passionate about getting students involved in research projects.” That’s where students really learn,” he declared. He currently has six EMHS students doing individual and group research projects.
Every year in March, Blosser hosts a biotechnology symposium and invites students from area high schools to hear a noted speaker and to spend a half day doing lab work.
His craving for integrated learning extends to a “Discovery” program held every other year in which 30-40 EMHS students spend a month on a coast-to-coast field trip, mixing factual material with hands-on learning, employing a different theme each time.
These Discovery trips study a variety of environmental issues – water, soil, timber, megafauna, energy – utilizing local farmers, research scientists, politicians and others as their instructors. These have included Wendell Berry, author and activist; Wes Jackson, founder of The Land Institute; and Rick Wallen, head bison biologist for Yellowstone National Park. Participants camp in tents and travel in a modified motor coach equipped with power, a networked server and laptop computers.
“My goal is to take students who start out as consumers and help shape them into producers of knowledge themselves,” Blosser stated. “It’s hard to do, but it does happen.” He uses the analogy of students “climbing a mountain” rather than “running on a treadmill” in their pursuit of academic achievements.
Blosser enthusiastically endorses EMU’s teacher education program, noting that “it was exactly what I needed to begin developing a sound pedagogy and confidence to face the day-to-day challenges of teaching.
“EMU asked me to do my student teaching at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School [in Lansdale, Pa.], which pushed me outside familiar territory,” Blosser noted. “I was all alone for the semester, having to deal with all the issues, newness and complexities of my first long experience in the classroom. This gave me more confidence and even the desire to launch out into uncharted waters, which I have done my whole career.”
Blosser also credits his upbringing for his ability to break new ground. “My parents provided an environment where I developed a healthy self-confidence, the habits of hard work, ability to take risks, and a sense that my work is really God’s work.”
The extended Blosser family has left a deep footprint at EMU. Myron’s great-grandfather, Daniel A. Blosser, was a member of the first board of trustees soon after EMU began as Eastern Mennonite School in 1917. Grandfather Mahlon Blosser and Myron’s father, Glendon Blosser, served many years on the board, and Myron Blosser is in his 12th year as an EMU trustee.
Blosser is married to Rhonda Graber Blosser, a 1985 EMU graduate who teaches kindergarten at Smithland Elementary School in Harrisonburg. All three Blosser children are currently enrolled at EMU – Kurtis, a senior environmental sustainability major; Kelsey, a junior nursing major, and Bryce, a first-year biology major.
Blosser’s siblings are also EMU alumni – Floyd, class of 1976; Diane Blosser Burkholder, class of 1978; and Phil, a 1982 graduate.
This article was first published Nov. 12, 2013.