Humans of Northwood: Ms. Jill Walker

I grew up in Minnesota, in a neighborhood where kids just ran around and played and had fun. We were outside all the time, and I played many sports. I was a good student; I wasn’t a great student. Very early on, I learned that I loved math and science. I went to college to be a math major and then switched because I fell in love with biology. I originally thought I would be a math teacher since I loved working with people, and I didn’t like sitting still. So, I thought I’d be a teacher there and then.

I got involved in some scientific research, and I loved it. I received my master’s degree and was going for a Ph.D. and becoming a college professor, but I realized a large part of that was writing grants and looking for money and not really doing the hands-on stuff, which is what I liked. So, I went back, and after I got my master’s, I started teaching high school.

That’s been the last 24 years. I’ve been teaching high school for a long time and have taught at the university level. I taught for two years at the university and did research. Before I went to grad school, I worked at Outward Bound. I was an Outward Bound instructor for three years, where we took kids in the woods and taught them how to hike, whitewater, canoe, backpack, and camp. I did that for three years, and I loved it, but three years was long enough—I didn’t need to keep doing it. I went to graduate school after that. So chronologically, it was college, Outward Bound, graduate school, and I started teaching high school.

My husband and I lived in Rochester, NY, about four hours away. And every time we had time off, we would drive here to do outdoor activities like rock climbing and camping. I was teaching there, and my husband works for a publishing company so that he could work from home. He still works from home, so we decided to go to the Adirondacks because I can get a teaching job anywhere, and I taught at the public school here in town for a year. Then, I came to Northwood for one year to teach biology. It was a maternity leave job. As it turned out, the position became vacant after that year, so they reached out to me, and I continued working here. This is my 19th year now.

My favorite cuisine is probably Indian food, but anything ethnic would do: Ethiopian, Korean, Chinese, or anything with many flavors. I do like spicy food also. I like to ride my mountain bike, cross-country ski, and canoe. My biggest hobby is my dog, who’s 16 now. I also like to read, cook and garden, so there’s a lot of them. My favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. It might be an older person kind of movie. I don’t know if it would resonate with a younger person, but it’s an excellent book.

One of the things people might not know about me is that I spent over a decade as a high-level rock climber. That was my sport; we, my husband and I, climbed all over the country, and I loved it. It was only when I got into teaching that I started running out of time for it. I don’t do it at all, mainly because I’ve hurt my feet doing it too much for so many years, but I’ve rock climbed all over the place.

My teaching philosophy is not that any student leaves my classroom remembering a detail. The number the bones in the body, etc.? Whatever. It’s that they have enjoyed the class or learning the material enough that when they leave, they might want to look more into it. I don’t have any goal for all my students to become biologists.

It’s more if you’ve learned something in my class that you thought was interesting or fun, then maybe ten years from now, you’re reading the newspaper, or you hear something, and you’re like, oh, that’s cool, so you read or listen to it. It’s just about igniting an interest in science in the world around us and making kids enjoy learning and learn how their brains work.

I think any kid can do whatever they want now. Maybe you’re not going to be an NHL player. Perhaps you’re not going to be a Yale University doctor. But I think you can do anything if you are passionate about something. If you want to be a doctor, you can be a doctor. What are you willing to give to it, though? Academically, if you find what you’re passionate about, you can do anything you want, and it’s just a matter of putting in the time and work. I hope I can help kids learn that they can do anything they put their minds to if they’re willing to put in the time to do it and that they shouldn’t be stopped by thinking they’re not smart enough.

As told to Hung Nguyen ’25. Photo by Mr. Michael Aldridge.


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