NU-TEACH Launches Peter Goff on Path to Professorship

NU-TEACH Launches Peter Goff on Path to Professorship

Peter Goff

Peter Goff had a choice between joining the circus or enrolling in the NU-TEACH alternative teacher certification program at SESP. Instead of becoming an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil, he came to NU-TEACH, and his high-flying act in education has taken him from the high school classroom to a tenure track at a university.

Starting in September, Goff will be an assistant professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After earning his teacher certification through NU-TEACH, he became an award-winning high school chemistry teacher. From there he completed a PhD in education and landed his tenure-track job at Wisconsin, where he will continue his work on educational policy analysis.

Like many other applicants, Goff sought out the NU-TEACH program to change careers. After graduating from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, he worked as a chemical engineer with Cargill in Chicago. Two years later in 2002, he wanted a change, so he auditioned for Cirque du Soleil and applied to NU-TEACH, and he was accepted to both. He opted “not to run away and join the circus,” as he puts it, and began his career in education instead.

“I had an amazing experience with NU-TEACH — video reflections with Miriam Sherin and wonderful discussions with Sylvia Smith-DeMuth and Gary Sircus. The NU-TEACH program has been a huge asset from the first day through the present. I still draw on our conversations and readings regarding school reform, social policy and the aims of education.”

He was challenged by Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon's philosophy of education course but still feels its influence. “When working with new teachers, I find myself repeatedly pressing them to refine their own philosophy of education and unite their lessons, classroom management, discipline policies and day-to-day conduct with their philosophy. Every part of that first year was like drinking from a fire hose, not least of which was Jim Spillane's introduction to school policy. It was perfect, though— it quenched our immediate thirst, gave us the skills and insights we needed for the moment, and provided rich resources to which we could return when the chaos subsided.

Beginning in 2002, he taught at Farragut Career Academy for four years. He started an AP chemistry program and a tumbling club, and the school had more graduates declare undergraduate chemistry majors than the national average. He also worked with NU-TEACH as the summer science coordinator, collaborated with UIC and their Chemistry Inquiry program, hosted Illinois State University's chemistry student teachers’ urban teaching experience, and was one of two American Chemical Society curriculum team leaders for Chicago. He was selected for several peer and student nominated teaching awards. 

He left the classroom and veered toward academia in 2006. “Because of the great experiences I had working with new and veteran educators in Chicago, I decided I wanted to pursue a PhD in chemistry curricula and instruction,” he says. He started Illinois State University's chemistry master's program to deepen his content knowledge, but decided that he could make more of a difference in addressing the equity issues in education through policy studies. “I realized that the problems that really made learning so challenging for my students in Little Village would be little improved by better chemistry curricula — these were deep, systemic issues regarding the social context, policies and organizational structure of schooling,” he explains.

From 2008 to 2012, he was “splashed into the world of educational policy analysis” at Vanderbilt University. He says, “I was overwhelmingly fortunate to work with Ellen Goldring, an expert on school leadership and organization. Early on I saw that school leaders are in a unique position to leverage the teachers, parents, and greater community to maximize student development.”

Starting this fall, he'll be continuing his work on the selection of school leaders, school finance, measuring leadership effectiveness, and examining how leaders use feedback to improve practice as a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Associate professor Miriam Sherin noticed Goff’s talents early on. "Pete's enthusiasm for teaching was clear from the start. And with that enthusiasm came a sharp eye for making sense of student thinking, for reflecting on practice, and for understanding the challenges that teaching involves," she says

NU-TEACH program coordinator Gary Sircus too was impressed with Goff as a student and has kept up with him over the years. “He has done great things down in Nashville,” Sircus says. At Farragut, he managed to be a very rigorous teacher and at the same time be very approachable, according to Sircus. “His passion for chemistry was infectious. He was a thoughtful, creative teacher and helped students having difficulty.”

“It’s wonderful that he’s helping new teachers get their start,” Sircus says.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/20/12