Oliver to be Recognized at White House

Mrs.+Oliver+demonstrates+squid+dissection+to+Haley+Collins+%28%2715%29+in+a+biology+lab.

Photo K. Corwin

Mrs. Oliver demonstrates squid dissection to Haley Collins (’15) in a biology lab.

Isabel Giovannetti, RHStoday Editor-in-Chief

When biology teacher Tiffany Oliver checked her email Monday night at 11, she was not expecting to find a message from the President of the United States. Her first thought was that it had to be spam. Upon further inspection, however, she decided it was real. She was invited, along with about 60 other teachers from across the country, to be recognized by Barack Obama on May 3. And then she was nervous.

“There’s so much that goes through your mind when you read something like this because it’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Oliver said. “Truthfully, what I thought of right away was ‘oh no, the day is Tuesday, May 3.’ And that is the day before my seniors take the HL Biology exam.”

Every year, Oliver stops by the exam location an hour beforehand and brings the students breakfast, hugs and some enthusiastic encouragement.

Even though that will not be happening next month, her students know that she will have them in mind while shaking the hand of the President.

“I know that if she could have, she would’ve done both so she could still teach us,” said biology student Keely Clanton (’16). “She’s told us she’ll be there in spirit and help us in every way she can.”

It is that level of commitment that has earned Oliver five teaching awards in the last two years. But this time will be different. This is the White House.

“It’s so amazing that I’m going to have this opportunity but it’s also so humbling because, honestly, who am I? I’m just one teacher among many, many good teachers,” Oliver said. “I’m being recognized but really, I’m thinking of it more as a recognition on behalf of Robinson and on behalf of science teachers across the county.”

Before ever setting foot in a classroom, Oliver worked as a marine biologist, conducting research at University of South Florida. Her decision to teach at Robinson was purely one of convenience.

“I never intended to be a teacher. I see myself as a scientist first and a teacher second. And that’s because I love science. I love biology, I love marine biology, I love echinoderms… My research is a huge part of my life,” Oliver said. “When I first started teaching, it was honestly just because I needed income. I never realized how much I was going to love it.”

As award after awards rolls in, even after being invited to the White House, Oliver still feels most fulfilled by her students.

“The joy and feeling of accomplishment for me is not necessarily  now. It’s when students come back after a year in college or a couple of years outside of school and they say that because of something that sparked their interest in my class… that allowed them the freedom of exploring a new topic they had never considered before and are now entering a career in STEM.”

Oliver views her job as a teacher as an opportunity to pass on, not only her knowledge, but also her passion for STEM and for learning.

Throughout her twelve years of teaching, Oliver has come to understand that this passion is what makes teachers so special and is why she finds this White House recognition to be so meaningful.

“Every teacher that I know pours their life into students. Not for themselves but for the benefit of the students and their futures.”