By Jackie Stone
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE – It took time for Robert Cummings to adjust to being the center of attention in a high school science classroom after years as a researcher, but he found fulfillment there that he wasn't expecting.
"I was kind of reluctant to be a teacher, but it ended up being more satisfying," Cummings said. "It's just the students – you've got a lot of pain in the butts, but then there's a lot who give you a lot of positive feedback. You see them at the store, they come back from college and tell you how much a difference you've made."
Cummings recently won a Killeen Daily Herald Excellence in Teaching award.
In addition to his classroom time teaching Advanced Placement chemistry, Cummings sponsors several after-school activities and clubs and is head of the science department at Copperas Cove High School.
Last month, Cummings saw a dream of his for several years come true when the Copperas Cove Education Foundation awarded the science department a grant to build a greenhouse.
"I'm really excited we finally got it because there's all kinds of things you can do in biology, chemistry – it's hands-on, it's community involved, so I'm pretty happy about it," he said.
The school's campus instructional coordinator, Gina Zook, nominated Cummings for the award. She said Cummings leads by example, shares his experience and is always dedicated to his students.
"He doesn't expect anything like congratulations or awards, and I think that's another reason he deserves it," she said. "He really cares about the students and goes the extra mile, even staying after school sometimes and on the weekends to help them study or prepare for exams."
Cummings was always interested in science growing up, and he studied environmental systems and biochemistry at Texas A&M University. He has a master's degree in biology and worked for the Agriculture Department before moving to education before his twin sons were born.
"I was a lab technician for the Department of Agriculture and was doing cotton genetics and pest management," Cummings said. Essentially, he worked to make more productive cotton plants.
Cummings said he worried about becoming a teacher after his introverted experience in the lab, but he knew he wanted to teach at the high school level.
"I get to teach at pretty much the level that I was taught at in college, and I think I do a good job explaining it," he said.
Cummings said at the higher levels, chemistry is hands-on; students get more interested in seeing chemistry work in the real world. Some students have trouble getting into chemistry, he said, but it's the ones who fall in love with it that made him stick with teaching.
"A lot of kids don't like chemistry, but at the same time there are a lot of kids that love it and that's the reason I'm still there. Those kids really make me feel worth it," he said.