Teaching Ambassador Fellowship
2011 Alumni Classroom Fellow
Bio/Overview: Taterka is a science teacher at Mendham High School in Mendham, New Jersey. In his time as a Teacher Ambassador Fellow, Taterka ran state and national workshops for teachers and administrators on teacher -evaluation strategies, published newspaper columns opposing the use of test scores in evaluations, and testified before the NJ Board of Education on the state’s proposed teacher-evaluation system. He has an M.S. in Geology and began his career as an environmental consultant. While working on polluted sites and industrial facilities during the day, Taterka earned his J.D. at night and soon embarked on a career as an environmental lawyer. Legal work was challenging and fascinating and allowed him to travel and learn about our government, the business world, and environmental science but it left him unsatisfied. At the same time, Taterka began working in his community, volunteering in his daughter’s school, organizing his local science fair, and helping out with youth sports and scouting trips. Taterka realized that what he enjoyed was teaching and working with kids. So, after a 13-year legal career, he gave up his job at the international powerhouse law firm Latham & Watkins and became a high-school teacher. Taterka’s passion is the outdoors, and teaching environmental science gives him the opportunity to instill an appreciation of nature in his students.
Educational Values/Philosophy: As a teacher Taterka enjoys creating meaningful lessons and experiential learning opportunities, both for his students and himself. Taterka’s proudest achievements as an educator are when he can inspire his students to devote themselves to further study and even careers in the environment.
Achievements: Taterka had the opportunity to enhance his own environmental education when he won an Earthwatch Fellowship to study caterpillars in the cloud forest of Ecuador in 2009, and by participating in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Teachers-at-Sea program aboard the NOAA ship Oregon II in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, during the BP oil spill. Taterka was awarded the 2011 Public Education Prize from the Raritan River Collaborative for the Raritan River Watershed Project, an innovative after-school environmental education program he designed and directed. Taterka was awarded the Stanford University Teacher Tribute Award in 2010 and the University of Chicago Outstanding Educator Award in 2011. In 2013, Taterka was selected to participate in PolarTREC, a National Science Foundation-funded program that took him to the north slope of Alaska to study the effects of climate change on the tundra ecosystem. In 2014 Taterka continued working in Alaska, serving on the faculty of a professional development course for teachers run by the Alaska Geographic Society in Denali National Park. In 2015 Taterka traveled to Newfoundland where he participated in rescue operations for fledgling Atlantic Puffins and conducted research on Atlantic Salmon restoration efforts. In 2016 Taterka will travel to Borneo to work on rainforest conservation with the non-governmental organization Orangutan Foundation International.
Leadership Experience: During 2011-2012 Taterka was one of five teachers who served on the New Jersey Department of Education Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee, providing advice to the Department on the development of a statewide teacher and leader evaluation system. Taterka has also published and given presentations to national, state, and local audiences on ecology and climate change. He has created and shared lessons to teach complex environmental topics such as carbon cap-and-trade regulation, human population dynamics, trophic cascade relationships, and global climate change. Under a grant from the Alliance of New Jersey Environmental Educators, Taterka helped to draft the state’s Environmental Literacy Plan. He served as a Trustee and volunteer educator at the Schiff Nature Preserve in Mendham, where he helped to design, fund, and lead innovative environmental education programs for local teenagers. Taterka’s community involvement is also reflected in his role as founder and president of the Erika L. Taterka scholarship fund.
Affiliations: National Science Teachers Association, PolarTREC, Orangutan Foundation International, NJ Science Teachers Association, Alliance of New Jersey Environmental Educators, Earthwatch, NOAA
Education: Taterka has a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.S. in Geology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. For his M.S. thesis Taterka spent two summers mapping the rocks in Central Park in New York City and created the first large-scale geologic map of the Park. After graduate school Taterka began his career as an environmental consultant, but soon went back to school at night to earn a J.D. from the Pace University School of Law.
Areas of Interest/Expertise:
- Environmental education
- Climate science
- Teacher evaluation
- Alternate paths to teaching careers