If we’ve seen one thing over and over again in this series of stories about influential teachers, it’s that a little personal attention and encouragement from a teacher can change the course of a student’s life.

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Jim Krupa is a professor of biology at the University of Kentucky (UK), member of the Kentucky Academy of Sciences, and 2012 recipient of the National Association of Biology Teachers Evolution Education award. During his 25 years at UK, he has taught more than 23,000 students and I think it’s safe to say that not a single one left his classroom without a solid grounding in the theory of evolution and its central role in biology.

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It’s hard to imagine that tree twigs could change someone’s life, but this week’s Thank a Teacher started with just that.  And not just twigs, but leafless winter twigs that might seem to shed little light on a tree’s identity. Such were the tools that one teacher used to intrigue a small group of students who would grow up to change the world.

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All previous “Thank a Teacher Thursday” posts have been about the positive inspiration science teachers can provide. And you know I believe they deserve a lot more recognition for the huge but largely invisible role they play in inspiring the next generation of scientists and building a scientifically literate society. But, hey, it’s pouring rain today and I had a crummy commute, so I’m going to go a little dark and point out that with great power comes great responsibility.

In illustration, I give you this cartoon by Zach Weinersmith:

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Great science teachers don't just inspire some kids to become scientists. They also inspire legions of future non-scientists—bankers and writers and ballerinas—to embrace the joy of discovery, to grasp how science works and understand how to ask critical questions and evaluate evidence.

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