She’s flown around the world teaching chemical-agent detection to members of the United States military. She’s played college basketball, received two degrees in chemistry and has worked as a personal trainer. Growing up in Syracuse, New York, chemistry teacher Kristyn Pluchino told herself that the one thing she’d never do was teach high school. “I didn’t like high school and I didn’t like teenagers,” she said. It only took the United States Air Force (USAF) to change her mind.
After graduating from State University of New York-Binghamton with a degree in chemistry and from Johns Hopkins University with a master’s degree in the same subject, Pluchino worked for a private company that made chemical-agent detection equipment for the Air Force. Pluchino worked there for about 14 months before accepting a job offer from the USAF itself. “I was in the right place at the right time,” she said.
Her job required her to travel to military bases around the world, training soldiers to operate the detection equipment made by the private company. “These 50-year-old male contractors would come in and be shocked to see a young 20-something-year-old woman [teaching],” she said. “It was nice to change some opinions.” She enjoyed traveling, something she did weekly. In her stint with the Air Force, she went to Germany, Japan and England, as well as many regions in the United States.
When Pluchino’s one-year contract expired, she decided “there was no need to stay,” she said. Although she enjoyed many aspects of the job, she also found it repetitive. Everywhere she went, she presented the same demonstration. “It got old,” she said.
At the same time, she realized that teaching was something she would like to try. “[I liked that] you can talk to people all day, every day and have some kind of impact,” she said.
After leaving the military, Pluchino moved to New York City and worked as a substitute teacher for around five months at the Long Island City High School. But “subbing didn’t pay enough,” she said, so she supplemented her salary by working as a personal trainer before and after school, helping people formulate and execute exercise regimens. Despite her childhood aversion to a career in teaching, Pluchino decided after a few months that she wanted to teach full time.
Pluchino got her first full-time teaching job at The Renaissance Charter School (TRCS) in Jackson Heights, Queens in 2006. Pluchino said the job was “a little bit intimidating” because she was the only chemistry teacher. “It was nice that I was in charge of everything,” she said, “but as a first-year teacher it would have been nice to have other resources.”
While teaching at TRCS, Pluchino’s friends told her to apply for a job at Stuyvesant. “They told me, ‘that’s where the smart kids are,’” she said. Pluchino heeded her friends’ advice. When Pluchino learned that she had been offered a job at Stuyvesant based on the strength of her application and demonstration lesson, she left TRCS and joined Stuyvesant’s chemistry teachers in the fall of 2007.
At Stuyvesant, Pluchino isn’t in charge of the chemistry department as she was at TRCS—but she doesn’t mind. “Here, if you have a question, you have a ton of experienced chemistry teachers to help you,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off other people.”
Pluchino said her job at Stuyvesant is the most stimulating job she’s held so far. “All the military stuff sounds so fantastic, but it was really routine,” she said. But with teaching, “there’s no way you can see 100 kids every day and have it be the same.” Pluchino’s Stuyvesant experience has also been more rewarding than any other teaching job she’s had. Here, “there is more organization, and the students and teachers are more professional,” she said.
Stuyvesant likes her, too. “She’s doing really well,” Assistant Principal Chemistry and Physics Scott Thomas said. “She’s even better than we’d hoped.” Pluchino had already delivered an impressive performance during her demo lesson when she applied for a teaching position at Stuyvesant. In the lesson, Pluchino taught how to put together long-chain molecules. “It was an effective, thorough demo,” Thomas said. “The students really understood [the concepts] and felt that they had participated in the learning process.”
That hasn’t changed. Sophomore Benjamin Xie said Pluchino “always has interesting ‘Do Nows’ that spark interesting discussions,” he said. When teaching her students how elements and compounds are named, Pluchino started class by asking students the origins of their names.
“She [...] always seems to have an amusing story to tell that relates to the lesson, usually involving fire [or] explosions,” sophomore Ida Zago said. “She is young enough to still really relate to us.”
Pluchino has definitely found that high school students aren’t so bad.