PCHS teacher trades biology career for the classroom
Lauren Parrish had always dreamed of being out in the field, wading thigh-deep through a brown swamp teeming with life to collect larvae samples. Or perhaps she would spend her days in a cramped room, combing over ancient artifacts.
These days, Parrish is right where she wants to be. She just didn’t think it would be classroom 143 of Park City High School, where she is teaching biology and embarking on a career she never considered while growing up.
"I thought that I would go do research, or for a while I thought I would go work in a museum doing curatorial work and be in a small office working by myself," Parrish said. "But I’m way too social to do that, so this became a better fit."
Parrish got her first taste of teaching as a student at the University of Colorado. She worked at a low-income high school, tutoring students in math and science. It struck something inside of her. So she was delighted when she got the chance to be a part-time aide at PCHS after moving to town for a job in property management. The feeling of excitement she’d discovered while tutoring kids in Colorado resurfaced.
Within months, her life ambitions had been replaced.
"I just fell in love again," she said. "I got hired in September, and probably by that November I was all-in. It was quick. I was ready to go."
Two years later, Parrish is soaking in her first year as a full-time teacher. Getting to share her passion for biology every day has proven to be fulfilling and energizing.
"I love biology. I mean love it," she said. "So getting kids excited about biology is just everything to me."
But it has not come without challenges. For someone who had never planned on going into education, experiencing the daily life of a teacher has been eye-opening. The hours can be long and meeting the educational needs of about 150 students who all learn in different ways is a skill that comes over time.
"I’ve had to become much more detail-oriented to figure out how I’m going to make things work for every individual student," Parrish said. "I really had the advantage of being an aide at first. So when I got to actually sit down with each student, it was much easier to learn, ‘Oh, if I present something this way,’ suddenly you’d watch a light bulb go off and it clicks. It was clear to see that a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work. You really have to start diving in on what a kid’s needs actually are."
Complicating that is Parrish’s discovery that many of her students are dealing with difficult situations in their personal lives. Not everyone has an easy upbringing, and what happens at home spills over into the classroom in a way Parrish had never anticipated. She is learning that perhaps one of the most important traits a teacher can possess is simply compassion.
"I got really lucky and had a pretty easy adolescence and childhood," she said. "But there are a lot of students who don’t have that. It’s been a steep learning curve to figure out if a kid doesn’t have internet at home, a kid’s not sleeping, or a kid’s not eating, then trying to help with that part of their life as well. Because how can you learn if you’ve got all this other stuff going on? It’s hard when students go through hard times that I just can’t fix for them."
Already, though, Parrish sees progress in her students. She describes herself as a person fascinated by everything around her — she holds a particular fascination for insects — and who is always asking questions to try to make sense of her environment. Her passion is rubbing off. Even students who once couldn’t be bothered to crack open their textbooks are taking an interest in biology.
A smile spreads over Parrish’s face as she talks about it.
"For students, when they think of math and science, it’s always, ‘Ugh, that’s my hard class. I don’t want to go do that,’" she said. "So it’s fun for me when I can get them into it, even when it’s never been their favorite thing before. That’s the best."
It is for that reason that Parrish is pursuing a master’s degree in secondary education at Utah State University. Visions of spending her life actually doing science have been replaced by a future in the classroom, surrounded by students who will love biology, too, if she can just find a way to connect with them.
"It’s definitely been rewarding," she said. "I’m excited to go to work. I feel good about what I’m doing every day. The kids make you feel great. They’re hooked into every word that you have, so to me it’s empowering. It’s great to get them excited."