“It’s a challenge every day, but at the same time there’s a reward every day. I don’t think many professions have that,” he said.
Bowen, an eighth-grade science teacher at Liberty Bell Middle School, was recently named one of nine statewide finalists for the 2013-14 Tennessee Teacher of the Year Award.
He said he found out by email the day the finalists were announced and was floored and humbled to be named a finalist.
Bowen, who moved with his family from Allentown, Pa., to Richmond, Va., and then to the Washington, D.C., area when he was younger, said he’s lived in the area since his high school days at Daniel Boone High School.
He said after high school he stayed in Johnson City to attend East Tennessee State University as a biology student.
“This (teaching) was not my first career choice. My (undergraduate degree) is in biology and initially I wanted to be a veterinarian or a marine biologist,” Bowen said.
He said he applied to veterinary school, but said he was thinking up backup plans just in case he didn’t get accepted. Bowen consulted his marine biology teacher at the time, and told her he was thinking about teaching.
“She just smiled and she said ‘I always thought you’d make a great science teacher.’ For me, that was just some sort of assurance that I was doing the right thing,” he said.
Bowen said he pursued teaching and said he switched from wanting to teach high school biology to early childhood and then finally landing on upper elementary, where at the time the graduate program offered certification in grades K-8.
“As student teaching progressed, I student taught at Indian Trail in seventh grade and for some reason something just clicked. Making connections with middle school students seemed to be an easier thing for me to do,” he said. “I decided to apply for a middle school position and (I) have loved it.”
Bowen said he started his career at Indian Trail Middle School under Principal Tammy Pearce, teaching seventh grade science and social studies his first seven years. He said when Pearce moved up as principal at Liberty Bell, he followed.
“I moved two years ago to Liberty Bell and taught eighth grade science and social studies for one year and then ... this past year was my first year of just teaching science,” Bowen said.
He said teaching has also led him to take on leadership roles, which have included training other teachers on the Common Core curriculum in science literacy, as well as teaching undergraduate and graduate students as an adjunct faculty member at ETSU.
Bowen said next month he’ll travel to the state Department of Education in Nashville for his finalist interview before, what he believes to be, a panel of educators including teachers, principals and superintendents.
He said in October the nine finalists — three each from the state’s East, Middle and West divisions — will go to Nashville for a banquet that will recognize the top educators from those divisions. Bowen said three will be chosen from each division and those final three teachers will be in the running for the overall Tennessee Teacher of the Year Award.
“The thing that was really cool about this award is sometimes you’ll get awards in jobs and they’re from your boss or they’re from your boss’s boss. This was a nomination by my peers, the other teachers who deserve this as well. To me ... that makes it probably worth a little bit more to me,” he said. “It made me reflect on what I’m actually doing. I am making a difference, not only in my students’ lives, but I must be making a difference in my colleagues’ lives, because I know they’re making a difference in my life.”