Scarlett Chan: The Path to Niles West


By Emma Schieffer, Staff Writer

Scarlett Chan, Niles West’s biology teacher, thinks it’s pretty cool to be her. In just her first year, Chan has had to make the quick adjustment to online teaching in a class that isn’t truly her own. She’s taken this unprecedented time to heart and used her youthful and relatable age to formulate a welcoming digital (and now in-person) classroom environment.

Chan didn’t think she’d ever become a teacher. Instead, she was seriously considering a career in math or engineering. But, with encouragement from her Niles North teachers and college professors, she began to think about teaching as a career after college.

“That kind of encouragement told me, like, I can do something else if I wanted to.” Chan said.

Taking honors classes in high school is what got her into science. Freshman year she took biology and was interested in the course. Chan took AP Biology her senior year as well, which opened her to apply to college with a major in Biology.

Her teaching abilities were something that Chan didn’t have to learn. In high school and college, she tutored fellow students, and her chemistry professor introduced the idea of teaching to her since she was able to explain ideas well without giving away answers. Taking their advice, Chan applied for a teaching program, and a few years later she landed her current position at Niles West.

At the beginning of October 2020, another biology teacher, Riva Ardam, went on maternity leave. The school had an opening and Chan took it. According to her, teaching online has had its ups and downs. Kids don’t turn on their cameras, so it’s hard to make personal connections that teachers usually have with their students.

“That’s been a challenge, getting people to talk, but on the other hand, it’s been super flexible with my schedule. If something goes wrong in my first period, it’s fixed by the time I get to [the next class].” Chan said about teaching online. “To say the least, it’s been interesting because I actually student taught here at Niles West in 2019, and that was in-person.”

Chan would go into teaching full time if the opportunity arose. “I kinda just take what’s available. So I don’t know, we kinda see where the future goes. I just take whatever positions come to me,” she said.

She’s been fortunate to have had basically the whole year to teach her classes, so she’s been able to take the approach of a full-time teacher with her classes this year. “[My science teachers] were really kind people at the forefront. These teachers really tried to connect with their students, they joked around with them, they held conversations with them that didn’t have anything to do with class, and so they were just really approachable. And they never pressured me into anything,” Chan said.

Every one of Ms. Chan’s classes starts with her playing instrumental pieces from video games. The chat blows up with conversations to which she’ll jump into and comment on occasionally. Her laid-back demeanor and instruction during her classes have taken the experiences she’s had with her own teachers and applied them with her own students. Especially in remote learning, this is something that many students have been able to appreciate.

“She is so kind, relatable, and understanding. She has a great and unique sense of humor that contributes to the interest factor of our class. She truly makes Biology fun.” freshman Rylie Lawrence said.

“Ms. Chan is one of my favorite teachers. She is always really fun and understanding, and I always look forward to her class. But she also makes sure you’re learning and participating, so everyone puts in equal effort. Her class blurs the line between e-learning and in person, so it makes class really enjoyable too.” Kaitlyn Repta, another freshman, wrote.

One thing that students will pick up on after having her as a teacher is that she loves video games.

“It literally takes you out of this world and puts you in another one. With all new laws, new environments, new things that you can do. And sometimes I don’t want to be me, I want to be someone else, and that feels good,” Chan said.