Santiago Del Pozzo '20 and Lucas Carlile '20
Wondering whether the bell will ever ring, you are desperately searching for an escape from the long, tedious lecture that has been going on for what seems like centuries. All of the sudden, a video of dancing robots appears on the screen. You look up and see your chemistry teacher, Mr. McKnight, laughing away, looking for other silly, nonsensical videos to show the class. Whether it be watching videos of dancing robots, going off on a tangent with his students, or sending corny jokes to his colleagues, US Chemistry Teacher Shaen McKnight always finds a way to brighten everyone’s day in the FWCD community.
“I love all the random stories and conversations that we have in class, whether it be related to chemistry or something entirely different,” Ella Li ‘21 said. “Chemistry can be a lot of things at once, so it’s nice to briefly go on a tangent before getting back into even more chemistry.”
McKnight has always dealt with beakers, chemicals, and solutions. But, it hasn’t always been in a classroom setting where he is the one giving lectures. Graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington with a B.S. in Geology and a minor in Chemistry, McKnight initially thought that he wanted to be a pharmacist. However, he later decided that the tedious routines that came with the profession were not for him.
“I couldn’t take counting pills into little bottles day in and day out,” McKnight said.
And so, he traded out this job for another one—one with Dow Chemical Company. Working as a field engineering representative and a research chemist, McKnight couldn’t imagine himself with any other job than the one he had. Little did he know, he would later find that teaching students was his true calling. And for McKnight, high school was the perfect age group to teach.
“I could probably deal with teaching at the college level, but I wanted to work with students as young as possible that I could still communicate with, and for me, that was high school,” McKnight said.
It was not until 25 years after teaching in public education that he reached the final destination in his teaching career: Fort Worth Country Day. A member of the FWCD community for seven years, McKnight has taught both Honors Chemistry and AP Chemistry. In these classes, he is commended by both his students and his colleagues for his unique approach to teaching the puzzling concepts of chemistry.
“When we learn a new topic, Mr. McKnight likes to carefully outline each step of the process,” Li said. “He always makes sure to explain why it is the way it is.”
But just to be clear, he does not just give his students the answer either.
“He makes his students really think about [the problem] instead of just giving them the answer,” US Science Department Head and Biology Teacher Sherri Reed said.
Though challenging, students are able to find joy in chemistry because of the thrilling atmosphere that McKnight cultivates in the classroom. By arranging a variety of labs for chemistry students to participate in throughout the school year, McKnight makes this technical subject both relevant and entertaining.
“Mr. McKnight has always incorporated classroom topics into the best and most memorable activities, some being the gummy bear sacrifice, setting our hands (safely) on fire, and launching mini fizzy rockets,” Paloma Casanova ‘21 said.
With these hands-on labs, students have the opportunity to see how chemistry is not just full of symbols, equations, and chemical elements that do not have any meaning, but also how it is actually a pertinent subject that applies to the real world in more ways than one.
When he is not lighting methane bubbles on fire and performing a multitude of other fascinating experiments with his students, McKnight and several of his students can be found at the National Chemistry Week at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. With hundreds of students and volunteers converging at the museum each year, the purpose of the National Chemistry Week is to pique the curiosity of young minds and encourage them to explore the mysteries of science through the use of chemistry. Here, students are able to venture outside the classroom and investigate this complex subject on their own.
“I like seeing my students step to the other side of the table and have to become the teacher for a while,” McKnight said. “It’s fun to watch, and I think it’s a good experience for them.”
At National Chemistry Week, high school guests have the opportunity to interact with nearly 200 chemist volunteers from universities across North Texas as they delve into the gripping world of chemistry. Looking back, McKnight treasures the interactions between these two groups in which age and years of experience were labels that did not have any significance.
“When we did the hydrogen peroxide rockets, none of the college professors had ever seen it before,” McKnight said. “I thought it was so cool how we were a high school group that knew something that they thought was neat and had never seen before.”
As the school year comes to a close, so too will the career of a teacher who will be long remembered for the truly remarkable impact that he has left on his students, colleagues, and the entire FWCD community—Mr. McKnight.
“I will miss teaching, but I will not miss grading,” McKnight said. “Just teaching, that’s fun. Grading and writing tests, not so much.”
Gaping deserts, resplendent constellations, and breathtaking panoramas are all that lie ahead for McKnight and his wife, Paulette, in the years to come as they plan to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, following McKnight’s retirement.
Soon, rather than watching videos of dancing robots in the classroom, McKnight will be watching the vibrant hot air balloons as they float throughout the vast blue sky of New Mexico.