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Commonwealth School biology teacher Eva Earnest, wearing a tan jacket and black shirt, stands smiling next to a microscope.
Meet Commonwealth Faculty: Eva Earnest, Biology Teacher

Biology teacher Eva Earnest has studied many forms of life, but for her, people and their perspectives may be the most fascinating of all. Her curiosity about others is what motivates her work as an EMT, keeps her glued to reality TV shows, and influences her teaching at Commonwealth—where, she says, people "have particularly compelling views of the world." Keep reading to get to know this longtime Massachusetts resident, why she loves yard sales, and the topic that made her fall in love with biology.

Getting to Know You

Where are you from? 

My family is from Salem, and I grew up in Brookline. I'm very, very pro-Boston sports teams!

What do you enjoy reading?

First of all, I love advice columns—they are very fun—and the news. I really like books that are based around a central topic, like The Empathy Exams [by Leslie Jamison], which I read recently. I think Rebecca Solnit is excellent; her first book that I loved was Men Explain Things to Me, and she wrote one all about motherhood [The Mother of All Questions] that I really enjoyed reading.

What was your favorite class in high school? 

I loved chemistry. I wasn't particularly amazing at it, but I just enjoyed thinking about chemistry. It was really hard, which is what made it more interesting—like, "This thing challenges me. I want to do more." It's puzzle solving. My chemistry teacher was also an awesome woman who graduated from Wellesley College and then got her Ph.D. in chemistry from MIT—in the 1970s! It was a rarity then, and she was a very inspiring person to talk to.

What do you do in your free time?

I like to be outside. I'm not a super hiker or anything, but I really enjoy being outdoors. I spent two years in Rochester, New York, and that was a different climate. I still appreciate seeing mountains, going to national parks, being in nature, going to the beach—having moments of peace and quiet.

I like to drive to cool new places, go to museums, and go to yard sales, too. And I like to walk around Boston. When I was a kid, I walked down Comm. Ave., and dreamed that my older, adult self would live in a beautiful brownstone. So working here [at Commonwealth] makes me feel very connected to the city of Boston and fulfilled in my childhood dreams. 

What's your best yard sale find? 

I have this book, from the 1940s, I think, called How to Train Your Guard Dog. I have a pug, and one of the lines in the book says something like, "You can train any dog to be a work dog...except for pugs. They're useless." I just thought that was really funny! 

Describe Commonwealth students in three words or less.

Driven: They're stubborn in a good way. They don't yet see the world as a place where things can't get done—so they just get stuff done. And that's awesome. 

Exceptional: Some of the stuff we're teaching in biology is incredibly challenging. They amaze me every day. 

Creative: They're multidisciplinary, willing to integrate different ideas from all their classes and build something new. 

Life as a Commonwealth Teacher (and Beyond)

What led you to teaching and to Commonwealth in particular? 

I have wanted to teach my whole life. I worked at one summer camp [SMASH Camp at the Rochester Institute of Technology] where I taught students how to do things like mathematical logs for the first time. I had to break down my knowledge to the very basics and think about, if you're seeing this kind of problem for the first time, how might you reason it out? And how might you reteach a concept in a way that works for different students? It's similar to the type of problem solving I love: predicting what questions people are going to have and how you can lead someone through a thought process. 

But I did not want to be a teacher immediately after college. I was nervous, because I'm somebody who throws my whole self into whatever I do. As a teacher, that can be wonderful, because I care a lot about my students—but that can also lead to burnout. Then I saw Commonwealth, and I got to have conversations about the school and the community, and I thought, "This environment is going to be supportive and wonderful." I have been proven right time and time again.

I find people very interesting, which is why I like reality TV—currently, I'm watching Love is Blind—and I think that's why I like yard sales, too, because I get to look at how different people live their lives through the objects they own. That's why I like teaching as well, because I get to think about how students learn and perceive the world. And the people who come to Commonwealth have particularly compelling views of the world, for sure. 

What does a typical day look like for you?

I take the T, get my coffee, and then either teach or prep for a class or lab. I also might meet with the rest of the science department or just with Emma [biology teacher Emma Sundberg]. We talk a lot about making sure our curriculum is cohesive, and we adapt depending on students' needs, making on-the-fly changes. 

What's your favorite biology topic to nerd out about?

There are lots of them! The specific topic that made me fall in love with biology and biochemistry is operons and gene expression. It's how our cells decide what proteins to produce at what point in time, which is pretty cool. This helps bacteria with survival in ever-changing environments. I was always fascinated by developmental biology and with the questions "how does our skin cell know to be a skin cell?" or "how does our heart cell know to be a heart cell?" Gene expression and cell signaling held all of my answers.

You also serve as an EMT; what is that like?

I have always had a high interest in medicine. Being an EMT was one of the steps I took to figure out if I wanted to go into that field. I started EMTing six months into the pandemic, doing what's called transfers. A lot of people don't realize that our healthcare system relies on EMTs to get people to and from doctor appointments all the time. If you're not able to get yourself to those appointments, an ambulance can often bring you. I did that for eight months. It's very routine and helps you get to know individuals, orient yourself into the medical world, and develop basic skills. 

After that, I moved to my current company, where I started working on 911 trucks. Right now, I work 911 in the city of Malden on Saturdays. I get a lot out of the time that I spend in healthcare. It definitely helps me stay calm, cool, and collected in emergencies. It's really strengthened my ideas of what I want out of my life and what I value. That is a very special thing. You don't always get that kind of perspective, and to see people on really tough days helps make you thankful for what you have. It can sometimes be the little spark I need to get up and do something.

What does success look like in your classes?

Because I teach ninth grade, everybody is just learning the ropes. There are always things that they just have never seen or heard before. Some students are learning how to orient themselves in the world of science—getting used to how people talk and write about science. Other students are learning study skills, like how to take good notes. 

Another aspect is reading comprehension. Learning how to read scientific articles and textbooks is very different than learning how to read in all of your other classes. It's a totally different vocabulary, and there's a lot of nuance. 

So success in ninth grade biology is: Can you show growth? And a lot of the class, because it's pass/fail, is about getting those basic skills under your belt so you're ready for next year. 
 

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