Eric Pfeiffer – Science Teacher
Eric Pfeiffer: Challenge, connectivity and a little snowfall—the elements of success for Mr. Pfeiffer!
From the journal of: Eric Pfeiffer
Position: High School Earth Science Teacher
Years in the Agora family: Eleven
Given that an overwhelming number of Agora’s teacher journals start with the fact that the individual knew they wanted to be a teacher from a young age, Eric Pfeiffer marches to the beat of a slightly different drummer! Like many of his colleagues, Eric has always had a mind hungry for knowledge and a curiosity about the world around him, but it wasn’t until adulthood that he discovered his calling as an educator. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and master’s degree from Hahnemann University, Eric started on his PhD in clinical psychology. He published articles on topics including the dynamics of a family coping with schizophrenia. Deep into clinical research exploring the effects of psychology on the immune system, and only needing to finish his PhD dissertation, Eric became extremely ill with Lyme disease. His experience and long, arduous recovery caused him to reflect on what he really wanted to do with his career and life ahead of him. Before his illness, Eric was headed down a career path defined largely by patients approaching end of life and families in extreme crisis. But after his own dire experience, he decided he wanted a more hope-filled career—something defined by growth, positivity and empowering the lives of others. He realized there was no better way to pursue this than as a teacher.
“I changed it up completely and got my master’s in education,” said Eric. “Working with kids—helping them to grow—is so rewarding. Going into a more positive, growth-oriented field changed my life. I’ve always looked for the next challenge, and Agora and my students give me the drive of being challenged every day. It is one of the things I love about teaching.”
The journey to Agora
Before joining the Agora family, Eric built a wonderfully diverse portfolio of teaching experiences. He has taught every grade from K through 12, plus graduate school. He was a science specialist in a large Philadelphia elementary school, taught first grade in a small school in Camden, was a middle school educator in Philadelphia, and taught in the bachelor’s and master’s program at Temple University. Every day, Eric is grateful for this background.
“This is a giant advantage for me as a teacher at Agora and for my students. I’ve gotten to see the progression of how kids learn and how concepts develop.”
Much like fate intervening with Eric’s illness and change of career direction, a similar change of events beyond his control—the closure of the school at which he was teaching—turned his path toward Agora. Around this time, Eric’s son, Harry, was born. In love with being a dad and not wanting to miss the important moments with his son, Eric started to explore the options for being a cyber schoolteacher. His attention became focused on Agora.
“I admit, I had trepidation. I didn’t know if cyber was possible as a model. Frankly, I tried to do remote learning at Drexel and was terrible at it. But I realized this model—Agora’s model—had something different. I’d be talking to the kids all day long. I fell in love with it immediately.”
A decade later, being able to teach from home works wonderfully with the schedule of Eric’s family. Along with his wife, Lisa, who is director of the Burlington County Historical Society, Eric can navigate getting Harry to and from countless extracurricular activities.
Being the difference
Eric is locked into the fact that earth science embodies the most critical issues in life, the elements that sustain life, and the constantly evolving influences that people will have to deal with for the entire duration of their life. This makes earth science extremely important and exciting. His mission as an educator is to instill that sense of importance in his students and ensure they share his same level of excitement—that is, a fire for the subject that will ensure they always stay informed and involved in earth science long after they’ve graduated from his classroom.
To achieve this, Eric continues to educate himself. He is currently working on his national board certification and keeps up with new journals, studies and information sources that his students are reading. “Earth science is different every year, so if you want it to be relevant, you must be up on it. Kids are smart. They are taking in content on their own, so I need to stay fresh.”
Eric also teaches his students the process of earth science, not just the facts. He believes that by demonstrating earth sciences as a fluid, living entity that surrounds and shapes each student’s world, he will give them the skills to use science to their advantage and help forge a lifelong relationship between child and science. “People think science is a set of facts. Not true. It is a method, a process, and a way of thinking and approaching the world. My students are going to have to decide where to live, where to find resources, where to invest money—and all of these are affected by climate and earth science topics.”
Making everything he can out of the wonderful opportunity of having “classrooms” all over the state of Pennsylvania, as well as personal backgrounds that extend even farther, Eric works to make sure his students learn from each other as much as they learn from him—whether it is a student sharing how they draw well water to take care of goats on their farm or an inner-city student discussing the “funny fluoride taste” of municipal water. “For weather lessons, we make real-time weather maps by having students report what it is like outside their house. Then we can track storms coming across the state. You can’t do this in a brick-and-mortar classroom, where every student is in the same environment, experiencing the exact same thing.” In fact, one of Eric’s most important values is building community in the classroom. “Students from all over the state get to know each other, their similarities, and their differences in the safety of an accepting classroom.”
Lastly, Eric insists on making lessons exciting and interactive, with a degree of relevancy to students’ lives. For example, the challenging lesson of topography becomes a piece of cake (pancake, that is) for his students. Eric walks them through using different-sized pancakes to build topographical maps. And if that doesn’t sound exciting enough, how about the fact that Eric teaches every lesson outside? From warm and sunny to snowy and icy, he braves the elements in order to teach the elements of earth science!
The next chapter
Because Eric has a background in the performing arts—playing guitar and cello for a new world rock band, among other activities—he started out his journey at Agora with a strong belief that performance and presentation need to be the foundation of everything. Many of his students will experience a unique or “flashy” performance or presentation being used to hook them into the day’s lesson.
Eric’s next chapter at Agora will continue to be driven by his dedication to his students. It will also be shaped by his recently acquired designation as a Keystone Technology Innovator (along with other recent honorees Emily Sattler and Allison Keefe) and participation in the Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Through these activities, he will advocate for the use of technology as a transformative tool in nurturing the intellect, innovation and imagination of students, and help Agora continue to grow.