by Lorie Lewis Ham
From time to time, we at KRL like to recognize some of the unsung heroes in our school system. This week we are profiling Reedley High School teacher Lesley Gates, who teaches biology and forensics.
While only a public school teacher for four years, Lesley said that she has been a teacher of some sort for what seems like forever. “It started back in eighth grade when I taught dance after school at Jacki’s Dance Studio here in Reedley. I did that for six years. I was a volunteer educator at Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz (a working marine laboratory associated with UC Santa Cruz) where I gave tours to school kids for four years while going to UCSC. I was a Park Ranger for a summer where I taught about nature to lots of kids.”
But her first official job after graduating from college was as an education specialist at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, where for 12 years she developed and taught numerous programs from “Mommy and Me” classes for preschoolers, all the way up to college science classes. “My favorite program that I developed while at the zoo was a math/science program for G.A.T.E. (gifted and talented) students third through eighth grades. G.A.T.E. programs would send their students to me for a week and I used the zoo to teach math and science. It was always a challenge to come up with ways to challenge these students! I also had the opportunity bring animals from the zoo out into schools all over the Valley.”
Lesley is a Reedley girl who left to attend college at UC Santa Cruz where she got a Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Biology and Masters in education. She returned to the Valley after getting married, and then to Reedley seven years ago.
When her youngest daughter was preparing to start school, Lesley decided she needed to find something different to do as her work at the zoo kept her busy during school breaks–time she wanted to be able to spend with both her daughters. So, Lesley decided to see if there were any openings to teach science in KCUSD since she had her teaching credential. A teaching job in the district would give her the exact same breaks as her girls
“It just so happened that there was a biology position opening up at the high school and I was thrilled,” shared Lesley. “I was [also] nervous because even though I had twelve plus years of teaching experience, none of it had been in a classroom setting. I am so grateful that the administration took a chance in hiring me!”
What Lesley loves best about teaching are her students. “I love getting to know the students and building relationships with them. Now that I’ve been at the high school for four years, there are students that I’ve known now for their entire high school career. I love seeing them grow up and become these amazing young adults. I love being a Pirate again, since I am an RHS alumnus. And, I love being able to talk about biology every day. Science is exciting and I love the challenge of trying to pass this excitement on to my students.”
She also loves it when the “light bulb” goes off for a student! “These are my favorite moments in class. I do some crazy things to help students remember concepts and I love it when a past student comes by to say hi and talks about some of the silly things that they still remember!”
Lesley’s students love her too. “Mrs. Gates was an INCREDIBLE teacher and someone I now consider friend,” said former student Elizabeth Amaya. “I had her my second year at RHS, and with her being my teacher, she made my sophomore year a blast. She taught me so much in biology but she basically talked to me like a friend more than a student.”
The hardest part for Lesley about teaching is again the students, when they aren’t motivated to learn. “It is hard to see my students struggle, whether it is struggles at school or struggles in their personal lives.”
Lesley feels she has a perfect schedule at work. For the last three years, she has had first period prep which allows her to ease into the day. “I am kind of a perfectionist when it comes to my lessons so I can do any finishing touches to my lesson before the students arrive. Then I teach one period of Forensics. Then after break, I teach five periods of Biology. I am usually at school until around 4:30.”
“Mrs. Gates is a tremendous teacher,” said RHS principal Rodney Cisneros. “Inside and outside the classroom; she is a great asset to our school.”
Her coworkers seem to agree. “Leslie has proven herself to be an extremely creative, energetic, and effective teacher,” said Kirby Kauk, RHS Science and Sports Medicine teacher. “She actively engages her students and makes learning science fun and entertaining for them. Also, she has become a very integral member of the science department. She is highly respected by students and faculty, alike. We are very lucky to have her on staff.”
Lesley’s rare spare time is mostly focused on her children. She and her husband Tony have been married for 16 years and their daughters are 12 and 9. She also loves to read when she can find time.
Another perk of her job is being an advisor for the When I Grow Up club on campus. The club’s mission is to bring awareness about children living in extreme poverty. “Our club supports the larger organization of the same name. We started it on campus last year and the club is slowly growing. We do a few fundraisers/awareness campaigns throughout the year. I am extremely passionate about this club and so proud of the students on campus that also share this passion!”
Lesley intends to continue teaching for as long as she can, and to continue sharing her passion for biology with her students in new and creative ways.