Broadneck High School’s Matthew Bem was recently recognized for his outstanding work inside the classroom.
Bem is one of the 14 teachers from across the county who were named semifinalists for the 2020 Anne Arundel County Public Schools Teacher of the Year in December.
He is honored for the recognition but equally humble and quick to shift praise toward his colleagues, staff and faculty at BHS. However, his principals says the recognition is well-deserved.
“Mr. Bem is passionate about science, teaching, and most importantly his students,” said Jim Todd, the BHS principal. “Mr. Bem challenges his students and has an incredible feel for when it is time to give feedback or provide support.”
Matthew Bem | Biology | Broadneck High School
A 2010 graduate of Broadneck High School, Bem returned to his school after earning his Bachelor of Science degree in biology from George Mason University in 2014.
“I got really lucky, Bem said. “I graduated college a little bit early, and I was able to get in here mid-year. I was extremely fortunate, because this is an amazing school.”
Though Bem was inspired by teachers like Shonda Payne, who now teaches at Glen Burnie High School, teaching was never part of his original career plan - while in high school or even the first part of college. In high school, he was interested in social studies but had always wanted to do something with science - biology in particular. His time in school, and an internship in London, helped shape his path toward translating his passion into a career.
“I kind of always had a dream since I was a kid of being a scientist. My mom, she worked at the Naval Academy, and she brought me home a lab coat from one of their labs there when I was a kid. I still have it here,” Bem said. “Going into science had been an ambition for me for a long time, but it took college to really figure out where I wanted to channel that.
“As I progressed in my studies, I realized that the research side was fun, but it just wasn’t for me,” he explained. “What I really wanted to do was share. I thought this stuff was really, really cool, and I have a passion for it.”
He started taking education classes at GMU, and teaching presented its own new and unique challenges for the self-described introvert.
“It took a lot of practice, and I eventually found out that there’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” he said. “I kind of stumbled into it, but I'm really, really happy I did.”
As a student at BHS, his grades were good, but he was never outgoing and recalls being someone who flew under the radar. This gives him an interesting and valuable perspective as a member of the faculty.
“One of the big things for me coming back as a teacher was being able to meet the needs of students like me who don't really flourish in really extroverted situations - being able to accommodate what’s best for different types of students.”
Throughout his return at BHS, he has continuously worked to develop and refine his philosophy and style in the classroom.
“We learned about this philosophy called constructivism in education; it’s basically this idea that students learn best when they’re building their own knowledge, not just being fed the information,” Bem said. “So that’s kind of my guiding philosophy in this - we’re going to try to build it ourselves, and then we’ll talk about it. I’m not a lecture-centric teacher at all. I try to take the approach of, ‘We’re going to be exposed to the content through labs, activities, and then we’ll discuss it afterward.’”
His style and philosophy mesh perfectly with a partnership started this year with Anne Arundel Community College. He teaches an after-school program called Restoration Ecology for BHS students alongside AACC’s Dr. Stephen Ailstock, the academic chair of AACC’s biology department. The course aims to provide students with some exposure to a college-type course, while discussing success stories related to environmental restoration and exploring potential future solutions using a variety of technology. Bem is also involved with the school’s signature program focused on environmental literacy.
“I’m working with the AACC program, and I’m working with Michelle Weisgerber now as part of the signature program, which is fantastic,” Bem said. “It has just enumerable connections with our local environment and communities - with the bay, with careers, and jobs across this area - with every different discipline, we can make environmental connections. I love the program and am really happy to be a part of it.”
Experiences like this have also helped him discover a passion for environmental science, a subject that is the focus of his classes with the University of Illinois Springfield where he is working on a master’s degree. His love for biology has never faded, though.
“There’s no concentration in biology that I don't enjoy, especially when I teach it,” he said. “Every time we move on to a new topic, I get excited again. No matter what, every day I feel like I’m coming in and I’m doing something positive.”
As far as being recognized as a Teacher of the Year semifinalist, Bem humbly said that, “It could have gone to anybody in this building; I’m just really thankful to be here in this school. I don’t think there’s another school in Anne Arundel County that I would rather be.
“I have been supported by just an amazing team here. I really cannot say enough how amazing and awesome everybody here is,” Bem added. “Everybody is phenomenal.”