Amber Petroski: Teaching children to be free thinkers

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, June 23, 2022

By Emily Burleigh

American Press

Lifelong Lake Charles resident Amber Petroski makes it a point to teach her students to be free thinkers.

“I tell the kids at the beginning of the year that I don’t teach science, I teach critical thinking,” she said. “I want you to look at all of the information that’s available to you and make a decision that’s not what someone told you to believe, but what you truly believe.”

Petroski is about to enter her fifth year of teaching eighth-grade science at Moss Bluff Middle School. Her career as a grade school educator began when she decided to return to work after having her two children. However, she did previously teach nursing at a collegiate level.

She is a registered nurse and her bachelor’s degree is in nursing, but she did earn her secondary certification in middle school science.

Petroski said she loved being a nurse but pursued a career in education so she could spend more time with her family.

“Whenever I decided I wanted to go back to work, I still wanted to teach, but I wanted to be working more consistently within the hours that my children were at school.”

Teaching has brought Petroski plenty of fulfillment.

“I just love teaching. I love making people critically think,” she said. “I don’t want to tell them what to think, I want them to come up with the answers on their own.”

“I just love seeing those lightbulbs go off.”

The cultivation of free-thinkers is the basis of Petroski’s teaching philosophy. “I have on my board ‘learn how to think, not what to think.’ ”

Petroski’s main goal is to teach students to be independent thinkers that are open-minded. She knows she has done her job once her students absorb information from all sides, and make their own informed decisions.

“Being able to look at all the information, make your own decisions, and not believe everything you hear, that is really what science is all about,” she explained. “That’s what I try to get the kids to do. I want them to look at all the information.”

In Petroski’s classroom, time is made for debate. “I have a lot of arguments in my class, and because they do that they really work out their ideas. It helps them to be better team players,” she said. “It forces them to consider other ideas.”

This summer, along with giving her curriculum a revamp, Petroski is teaching a STEM elective for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders.

Her summer school students are learning through trial and error. “Basically, what it is is them learning to work together, and failing upwards. I give them a challenge.”

Petroski explained one challenge that she is presenting to her students. Their task is to build a marshmallow gun.

“I give them constraints and limited supplies,” she said. “They have to come up with ideas, test those ideas, and revise them to make them better.”

“It’s all about teamwork, failure, trying again, and learning from your mistakes.”

Petroski advises that teachers remain flexible, and allow themselves to remain open-minded, as well.

“Go into it with an open heart,” she said. “Be very understanding of the kids, because most of them are going through a lot right now.”

In her free time, Petroski likes to read, relax on their boat, and cook for her husband and two children.