Thinking about Anna Pliscz's teaching has prompted me to reflect on what outstanding teaching looks and feels like. I was blessed with many outstanding teachers during my time at St. Mark's. I hope you feel that the same is true for each of you. I suspect you will agree that teaching excellence comes in many forms. Indeed, defining what makes an outstanding teacher, based upon personal examples, can be a fun intellectual exercise.
Here is what, in my judgment, made Miss Pliscz a great teacher. First of all, she cared deeply about me and my learning, and I knew it, even though she never once said that directly. During the many hours I spent in the biology lab inspecting and drawing the organs of my mouse cadaver, Miss Pliscz was frequently at my elbow answering my questions and asking questions that helped me see more than I otherwise would have. I felt that Miss Pliscz was as invested as I was in my quest to master anatomy and physiology.
A second quality that made Miss Pliscz a great teacher was her absolute fascination about the subject matter. You could tell, from the sparkle in her eye and the passion in her voice, that Miss Pliscz absolutely loved learning more about—and teaching us more about—liver function. Her own passion for the subject matter in Advanced Biology was infectious; how could we not find liver function fascinating too?
Third, Ms. Pliscz knew absolutely everything there was to know about anatomy and physiology. She was a walking encyclopedia, and the depth of her knowledge, which she presented in a way that we students could understand and which we knew she was constantly building, engendered tremendous respect.
Ms. Pliscz's investment in my success, her love of her subject and her knowledge about her subject, created some sort of alchemy within me and my fellow Advanced Biology students. There was no way in the world I was going to let Ms. Pliscz down as a learner. I was going to do whatever it took to meet her high standards, to earn that smile, to earn that slight nod of the head which indicated, "yes, Mr. Warren (she always called us by our last name), that is good work." Even if the grade I managed to earn was not the best, the effort would be, and she would know that the effort was everything I could possibly give.
Miss Pliscz, as with other outstanding educators I have been blessed with—teachers and coaches—taught me what hard work looks like and feels like. She also engendered a fascination in anatomy and physiology and other aspects of biology that continue to this day. For a number of Miss Pliscz's students, the fascination in the subject she inspired influenced the decision to become a medical practitioner, a doctor or a research scientist.
Michael Jensen, Class of 1982 and uncle of 2020 St. Mark's graduate Grace Zawadzki, is one of those students. Dr. Jensen currently directs a childhood cancer research center in Seattle where he is leading a promising project to genetically engineer T-cells as a way to fight certain cancers afflicting children, an alternative to chemotherapy and radiation.
Dr. Jensen will tell you that Anna Pliscz changed his life. He found Miss Pliscz's advanced biology course so fascinating that he decided right then and there to pursue a career in biological research. Dr. Jensen describes his cancer research in a fascinating TEDX talk he gave here at St. Mark's in the fall of 2015. I encourage you to invest the ten minutes to watch that talk, which you can find on YouTube. Dr. Jensen feels such a debt to Miss Pliscz that he reserves two highly sought-after intern spots in his laboratory every summer for St. Markers, spots normally given to college students. In the summer of 2019, Sam Leslie and Sam Wang had that privilege.