Lubbock teacher says summer science program changed her life

Caylene Caddell recently celebrated a milestone, completing her 25th year as a teacher at Estacado High School.

Though not uncommon, that fact is nothing short of miraculous to Caddell, who nearly 16 years ago was ready to quit teaching altogether. But thanks to ASSIST - the Academic Summer Science Institute for Secondary Teachers at Wayland Baptist University - she said she now feels at home in the classroom.

It was 1986 when Caddell realized she wasn't enjoying her teaching stint. A physical education major at Texas Tech, she'd picked up biology as her second field because the law then required a second field for coaches, the position Caddell really had in her sights.

"I don't know why I picked biology, because I didn't really like it," she said. "I'd had a great teacher in high school, though, and thought it might be OK."

Earning both her bachelor's degree from Tech, Caddell was ready for coaching. But she couldn't get the certification needed to teach, and she returned to Tech for a master's degree. By then, she was able to teach health while coaching track and field and cross-country. All was well.

But when the curriculum changed health to a half-credit course, suddenly her teaching load was cut in half. Her principal suggested she put that biology minor to work, but she dreaded it. That meant retaking some college courses and getting the certification for secondary science. And that, of course, meant summer school, something about which Caddell was not excited.

"I got a pamphlet about ASSIST and threw it away because I was not wasting my summer on school," she recalled. "But I really had no choice. If I wanted to keep my job, I had to either go there or to Sul Ross."

She completed the necessary forms for the program, a special graduate-level science series Wayland had just started offering thanks to funding from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Grants meant teachers were out practically no money for the opportunity to learn new teaching techniques for science and earn graduate credit.

Even knowing it was her only chance to gain the certification, Caddell was not looking forward to the experience.

"I had a bad attitude. I was already determined that I wouldn't like it," she said. "I walked into the classroom and went to the back of the room and put my feet up on the desk."

She recalled Dr. Hoyt Bowers, the program's director and the course instructor that year, as "letting me be bad." Once she began making friends, her attitude softened a bit. But soon, the class would have to take a field trip to Balmorrhea and Caddell met another challenge.

"I was afraid of snakes and spiders and all those things, and I didn't even want to get out of the car," she said. "Dr. Bowers paired me up with his lab assistant and pretty soon I was actually enjoying myself."

"That class completed changed my attitude about everything: about teaching biology, about education and about how to let kids learn. I initially just wanted to coach and didn't care about anything else. But I really became a better teacher."

Caddell said the summer program was an encouraging environment where something finally clicked inside her that literally changed the path of her career. Instead of quitting, she stayed at Estacado, teaching biology and coaching and loving both. After that first summer, she enrolled in the ASSIST program almost each summer afterward, missing only a few sessions. It's had an impact on those under her care.

"Dr. Bowers and Dr. (Gerald) Thompson and those guys get the credit for what I've been able to do in science at Estacado," she said. "I've gotten lots of grants and implemented a lot of programs that are based on how the ASSIST program runs. If it's impacted anyone the way it has me, ASSIST is a great thing. And many have gotten degrees that they might not have."

Bowers, who also serves as the chair of Wayland's Division of Mathematics and Sciences and is a professor of biological sciences, sees Caddell as one his prized successes from the program and an example of why the summer series is so valuable.

He also hands over much credit for Caddell's success to his wife Joanne, a longtime science teacher with the Plainview schools and a regular instructor and helper in the ASSIST program.

The ASSIST program, and a related program for elementary teachers called ASSET, meets daily for three weeks during the summer and once each month during the upcoming fall and spring semesters. Participating teachers earn eight hours of graduate science credit and receive extra materials for use in their classrooms. The entire program is free to participating teachers.