Shawn Nowlin firstname.lastname@example.org
For more than four decades, Dr. Michael Bentley taught science and environmental education at all levels, from elementary to doctoral. As an educational consultant and program evaluator, Bentley worked for various higher education institutions, school districts, museums and other agencies.
They include: the Roanoke Higher Education Center, the Virginia Tech Institute for Connecting Science Research to the Classroom, the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.
Sixteen years ago, Bentley retired as Associate Professor of Science Education in the Theory and Practice in Teacher Education Department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Now retired, Bentley is the first to say that teaching today is vastly different compared to when he first started. Teachers in the 1970s, he explained, had more professional latitude and, while local districts had curriculum guidelines, there was nothing like high-stakes SOL-type testing then.
“Teachers now have to manage both in-person and remote learning situations and still meet rigid SOL curriculum ‘delivery.’ I know many of them personally because I taught them myself when I directed Hollins University’s Elementary Science Institute for Teachers, funded by grants, for seven years. I really empathize with teachers. I have been opposed to the SOL-Testing-style curriculum since the beginning of it,” he added.
Born and raised in Roanoke, Bentley attended both public and Catholic schools, graduating from Roanoke Catholic High in 1964. He went on to earn a BS in biology from King’s College in 1968.
“I was drafted in 1969 while in grad school. I was a 1-O (conscientious objector). With a science degree in biology, the draft board assigned me to teach at Parry McClure High School in Buena Vista where a biology teacher was needed,” he said.
In 1976, Bentley left full-time teaching to pursue his doctoral studies in science and environmental education at the University of Virginia. His dissertation became a study of how wilderness experience on a backpacking trip influences children’s memories of experienced phenomena.
Approximately 30 former students, colleagues and even a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter nominated Bentley for the Virginia Association of Science Teachers (VAST) Community Partner-Educator Award last year.
Elaborating on the impact the COVID pandemic had on the ceremony, Bentley said, “Initially, the annual VAST Conference was to be held in-person at JMU and I had a paper accepted to be presented. Because of the COVID surge, it was made virtual. I had to make a recording of my presentation to virtual attendees on YouTube. I’d never done that before.”
Michael’s wife is the Rev. Susan Bentley, a longtime rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Roanoke. Together, they have three children – Sarah, Alex and Matt – who all graduated from Salem High School and went on to earn a college bachelors’ degree.
Regarding the next generation of educators, Bentley’s advice to them is “unionize and advocate aggressively for better workplace conditions, better salaries and benefits, and more lobbying to eliminate the state’s neolib education policies, like the SOL regime.”