Marta Woodward, Shares Her Story As An Ethiopian Biology Teacher In Maryland
A treasure chest of experiences
Blair biology teacher shares her unique path to teaching through science and service
Marta Woodward is sure to brighten up your day. She has an infectious smile and wears colorful headbands. She walks with a burst of enthusiasm and her voice is always cheerful. Whether teaching biology, singing for her choir or simply being herself, Marta Woodward keeps with her a treasure chest of wisdom and diversity.
She begins her treasure chest in her early childhood. Woodward recollects the troubled political ambience during her childhood in Ethiopia, where she was born. “Ethiopia became very politically unstable,” she says. At age four, she and her family moved to Kenya. “My father got a job there with the United Nations,” she remembers. Kenya was a cradle of international exploration for Woodward. “It was very relaxed and very international,” she describes. “It was kind of like a door to the world and a fertile place for global interaction.” Among her international schoolmates and friends, Woodward engaged in a host of group activities in her community. “I played a lot of basketball and sang in choirs,” she says. In addition, Woodward was a dedicated student who completed the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. She also met her husband while in high school. “He is my high school sweetheart,” she reminisces with a smile.
Biology teacher Marta Woodward.
Woodward had high hopes of attending university in the United Kingdom. “The European system is very specialized. You apply and in England they give you a conditional offer,” she says. This means that test scores following the application process can make or break your offer. The process was intensely nerve-racking and uncertain. “You bite your nails and hope you get in,” she remembers. For Woodward, the IB diploma was essential.
On being accepted to King’s College in London, Woodward’s goal was a career in biomedical sciences. She attributes her interest in the subject to her schooling in Kenya. “I had a phenomenal teacher in high school during the onset of the AIDS epidemic,” she says. “I saw a page in my textbook in reference to the discovery of DNA.” Woodward immediately knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I wanted to be a geneticist,” she says.
However, during her time at King’s, Woodward’s interests veered from her initial plan to pursue genetics research. This troubled her, as the university system didn’t offer much flexibility in changing majors or specializations. “By the time you’re 18, your future is sealed,” she says. Discovering that lab work wasn’t for her, her interests grew towards neuroscience and public health. “I’m a people person. I’m not detail-oriented…I hated the lab,” she remarks. Her interest in the human brain blossomed during her university years. “I could see these beautiful clusters of cells in the brain,” she comments with a sparkle in her eyes. “This one organ is responsible for everything we do.”
After college, Woodward’s intention to work in public health met a timely opportunity. The crisis in Rwanda had just come to an end and humanitarian aid was in great demand. “I spent two months in Rwanda with UNICEF, [doing] support work,” she says. After working with UNICEF, Woodward returned to King’s to complete her master’s degree in biomedical sciences. However, after completing her degree, she struggled to find employment. She landed a job at Johns Hopkins University collecting data for nursing studies, but did not enjoy it. “It’s that odd period after graduate school,” she explains. “You are at the lowest rung in everything you do. That was challenging.”
After working at Columbia University, Woodward married, had children and stayed home for ten years. “I never went on to do my PhD,” she comments. “It just wasn’t who I was.”
Following a break from the professional world, Woodward’s passion for biology, originally kindled by her host of inspiring teachers, lit up again. Now, as she teaches both Advanced Placement and Honors Biology, she has no regrets. “There isn’t a day I’m sad to go into school,” she says. Teaching two levels of biology is no easy task, but Woodward approaches her teaching in a balanced manner. “This is the great challenge of my job…to calibrate styles between groups,” she states. The diversity of her students’ levels has also increased her depth of understanding of material. “On any given day, you change levels from the shallow end to the deep end and [vice-versa],” she says.
Woodward gets out of her chair to guide a student with his textbook reading. She chuckles, “I’m still learning the craft day by day.” She has gone through man