SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, TN (WRCB) - When you hear the term "new teacher," you may think of a fresh-faced 22-year old, right out of college. But at Signal Mountain High School, an award-winning new teacher has a bit more life experience.

At an age when many folks wind down their working careers, and head for the easy chair, Dr. Dean Cress set out to find a whole new challenge: teaching biology to high schoolers.  He's done so well at it, he's won a national science award for new teachers.

Dr. Cress spent the first forty years of his career doing scientific research, working only with grown-ups.  Two years ago, at age sixty, he decided it was time for a big change. "In some ways, it's the hardest job in the world," he said.  But part of that is my innate excitement about doing  this.  You can really have a positive effect on young people.  It is an extremely rewarding job."

Dr. Cress enrolled in the Teach Tennessee initiative, which recruits professionals from the engineering, math and science fields into classrooms,  filling hard-to-fill positions.  Now at age 62,  he's one of only 13 teachers to receive an award for new teachers from the National Science Teachers Association.  He's getting rave reviews here at home too.

Junior Sarah Clay said, "He's really good, he stays after school to help us. He makes the labs really interesting and fun."  Ellie McCain, also a junior, adds, "We're serious about learning, and he really appreciates that."

The last time Dr. Cress was in a high school, it was filled with typewriters and chalk boards.  He admits he was concerned about how today's teens would react to him. "I was a little nervous the kids would think I was odd, but they've taken to me real well. I guess they think I'm a grandfather or something," he said.

Dr. Cress says his goal is preparing his students for life after high school.  And despite being a new teacher, he says his forty years in the real world,  just might help him give them a head start.

"I'm hoping to teach them more than biology to make them successful in college and life," he said.  "I want to instill the traits they need to be successful, and I want them to be good people."

Principal Dr. Tom McCullough praised Dr. Cress.  "He's adapted so well to the classroom, and the students really enjoy learning in his classes.  Getting a new teacher award at his age is very special."

Dr. Cress will receive his award, and participate in professional development activities at the National Science Teachers conference in San Antonio, Texas later this year. 

The deadline to apply for this year's Teach Tennessee initiative is February 28.  For more information, visit