For three years Dr. Catherine Croft has been teaching biology and anatomy at Fauquier High School. But she also has an extensive and interesting life out of Fauquier High School including experience in neurology research labs, a game board company, various scientific papers, and many more. Her classes are always bumbling with engaging experiments and excited students.
Croft states, “I love teaching, I love explaining things to people, I like bridging the gap between scientists and the public because there’s such a huge gap. Some people don’t know what scientists do, and scientists don’t usually like talking to people, so I feel like it’s my calling to do that.”
Teaching was not her first calling though, she recalls that in high school she loved history and wanted to pursue it. She admits, “I hated science with a passion because it was taught so badly, and it was really boring, and I didn’t understand. And then I happened to tour a lab when I was in college at Duke [where] they were cutting up brains. I thought ‘that’s amazing’ and ‘I really want to do that.’ So I took all these classes, and I really liked neuroscience.” This slice of inspiration led her to start a path towards being a research professor. She continued her four years at Duke University and went into graduate school for a PhD. in science and attended UVA for six years in neuroscience. But she didn’t stop there; she continued for a post-doctorate and went into the National Institute of Health with a focus on how the brain develops.
“I would do lots of self-biology like growing neurons [and] lots of microscopy to look at them. I would alter the DNA of the neurons and see what happened, like [with] different pathways. I would do electrophysiology, which is when you [seal] electrodes [onto neurons] using a microscope, and then you measure the activity of the neurons. [I did] lots of biochemistry to see what kind of proteins were expressed in different neurons.” She did this for five years. She then spent three years in a bioinformatics lab. Croft explains, “It’s up and coming so it’s all computer-based research. We would take all of the known genes linked to autism, so [there are] thousands of them. Then we would do network analysis to see where in the brain they are expressed how they interact with each other and we would try and predict new genes for autism. It was really fascinating.”
She was on the brink of fulfilling her dream, but it took a turn when she had kids. “It sounds like a cliché, but it’s really hard for women in science because it’s really really [hard] to have your own lab and to have babies. If you want to spend any time with your babies it’s not possible. It was really sad and heartbreaking for me.” She pushed on and decided to become a writer after her colleagues tried to convince her to stop her search for teaching. Writing, however, didn’t allow her to do what she loved: Interacting with people. So she decided to get her feet wet: Tam Pouler convinced her to be a long-term sub for Mrs. Copperthite and she was officially lured into the teaching game.
Experiments such as pulling DNA from strawberries and various dissections engage students and make them eager to learn. She says that she tries to be the teacher she never had. She admits she only had one good science teacher but every other teacher didn’t do relevant things. “I never really understood what scientists did or why we were doing anything. There was always an answer to the lab and [you were] supposed to get [a specific] answer and that’s not fun. I like making little mysteries and [therefore] you have to [learn] how to think, not just get an answer.”
Croft is also co-coach of Fauquier High Schools Academic Team. “We’re really strong; we’re really really smart. They are very assertive; I think they are growing in confidence.” Her ties to Academic Team stretch back to when she was in high school. She was part of her school’s academic decathlon but explains that it was different from the academic team. “It was ten different subjects and we took tests on them and then there’s one of them called a super quiz that’s in front of people, [and] you don’t buzz in your answers. I was really competitive with that so I kinda want to give back. It was so fun for me.”
Croft’s enthusiastic personality and engaging teaching style sets her apart from the average teacher. When asked what her favorite thing about teaching is her answer was simple, “My students, I like when they excited about experiments, that makes me happy.”
by Nayeli Arellano–Staff Reporter