When Kristin Griffith was told that she would be hired as an Anatomy teacher at Colton High School in Colton, California, she was surprised.
It was not the teaching aspect—Griffith always wanted to be a teacher. In middle school, she remembers poring over textbooks, gravitating to the strange phenomenon of black holes. She gobbled up whole entries in encyclopedias, too. At home, she’d enlist her younger sister to “play school,” a chance to showcase her newfound knowledge and love for learning.
But anatomy? “I had no desire to go into medicine… so I had almost no training in anatomy,” said Griffith in a recent interview for the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System podcast. As an undergraduate and then master’s student of General Biology at Point Loma Nazarene University, her focus was evolution and ecology. She knew a thing or two about immunology, but she never took a course that “required learning names of bones or muscles.”
Her superiors were not worried. “You know how to teach students,” and that skill, they told her, is harder than learning the specifics of anatomy.
Since her hiring, Griffith has taught Anatomy & Physiology and Zoology courses. She now finds herself the Lead Teacher for the Heal Pathway at Colton, a school at which about 98% of students are Hispanic. Those that go on to college will often be the first in their family, most of whom have recently immigrated from Central America.
Most of the nearly 200 students that enter the four-year program tend to think about wanting to be doctors or nurses. Then, they get exposure to the nearby Loma Linda University and Arrowhead Regional Medical Centers and the California University of Science and Medicine. They participate in American Medical Response trainings at Colton. They meet pathologists, physical therapists, and firefighters, who come to speak at the high school. By the time they are seniors, students become aware of the variety and the “huge possibilities that exist for careers in the medical field,” said Griffith.
So, how does a trained biologist teach anatomy?
“A lot of what I use to teach my students is what I used to teach myself,” said Griffith. One tool, recommended by a fellow teacher, was of particular use in her self-teaching: Anatomy in Clay’s Maniken® Model. With the help of clay and colleagues, she learned to label bones, to build muscles, to locate origin and insertion points. The learning process, for Griffith, was hands-on. It’s an aspect that she tries to bring to her students in the classroom.
“They love it—anytime they can touch anything, participation shoots up,” Griffith says of the students and models. The physical act of dressing the skeleton improves knowledge of human anatomy, makes it more concrete.
Griffith’s favorite anatomical tidbit? The trapezius muscles. Apart from sounding cool, “it’s just beautiful,” says the teacher of the diamond-shaped muscles in the upper back.
She also enjoys teaching the digestive system, as it is full of “all these organs that do different things.” Whatever system Griffith teaches with Anatomy in Clay® Learning System, she feels that she is “giving students the tools they need to make decisions about their health.”
To hear more about Kristin Griffith’s work as a teacher at Colton High School, listen to the podcast in full!