It was clear that my teacher wanted his students to think creatively and would motivate us with many quotes, such as “Details Matter.” and “Perfection isn’t required, perseverance is.” Of course, I continued to diligently study the content because the work felt so satisfying to me regardless of how challenging a problem was (or how many mistakes I made), but I also began connecting what my teacher was saying to my other classes. This switch allowed me to be just as enthusiastic about my other courses. Yes, details do matter when writing a paper, or writing a lab. Also, persevering through challenges offers meaningful learning experiences.
My high school yearbook states my aspiration as, “High School Mathematics teacher.” I am proud to be living my dream and am grateful to be in this profession. One of the many reasons why I chose to study mathematics is due to the work I did with my youngest sister, Ashley. Mathematics didn’t come easy to her, and she was often frustrated with the discipline even though she loved school. I understood that Ashley would most likely never love math as much as I did, but I knew that we could change her relationship status from complicated to amicable with consistent practice. During each of my tutoring sessions with Ashley, I turned into my junior year high school teacher, motivating her with the quote, “Perfection isn’t required, perseverance is.” We discussed the importance of trying something even if you aren’t sure of the outcome; learning comes out of making mistakes. Ashley made mistakes during our sessions, which was supported by me because through consistent practice she was able to ultimately learn and feel more confident with math.
If you are lucky enough to speak to any of the Ellis math faculty, you will hear that they believe that one doesn’t necessarily have to love math to be a strong math student. We want all of our students to continue building confidence and ultimately say, “I had a good year in math. At times it was hard, but I learned a lot because I was able to stick with it.” We also understand that even though we, as math teachers, may absolutely love mathematics and that’s why we have chosen to teach it, there are times when students may find aspects challenging. Mathematics Department Chair Cara LaRoche’s classroom mantra is, “Just because this is hard doesn’t mean that you can’t be good at it.” She reminds her students that they are to consistently practice problems inside and outside of the classroom to support their mastery of the subject. She believes that it’s important for students to see their teachers excited about what they are teaching and recognizes that learning is a collaborative process. While she enjoys witnessing her student’s light bulb moments when they learn from her, she confessed that it is a truly joyful experience when she has the opportunity to learn from her students.
Recently I sat in on the Algebra I class of Kristy Tomashewski (lovingly called Ms. T.), where students were learning the magic of factoring by grouping. Ms. T. began the class by reviewing the factoring skills that were previously learned—they needed to factor the greatest common factor (GCF) in various polynomials. Students took this opportunity to ask clarifying questions since each problem was different from the previous one. They were so proud to share their ideas with the class and shared how to recognize how to use this skill. Once the class appeared confident with using the GCF, Ms. T. introduced the new topic, “Factoring by Grouping.” Some of the students expressed their concern around learning the new topic. Ms. T then reminded them that that’s what happens whenever we learn something new, but with consistent practice we will have the ability to master this new concept. Her mantra is, “The more we do, the better we get.” After going through the steps of how to factor by grouping and going over problems, students were invited to practice in pairs. Of course some students made errors (they had only just learned how to do this type of factoring), but I was so happy to witness the types of questions they were asking their peers, as well as the advice they were offering to each other. “Remember what we did with the warm up? The GCF could be a number or a variable.” “Oh yeah…it could even be a number and variable together.” Even though some of them were nervous about taking on the task of factoring by grouping, they understood the importance of practicing the concept even if they made mistakes, because they will ultimately learn from them.
You can see our Ellis pillars in action throughout campus on any given school day, but I am pleased to say that the mathematics classrooms offer an especially safe learning environment that encourages students to be creative, critical thinkers. This results in our students possessing what we like to call “vibrant intellects,” being genuinely curious and intellectually ambitious, delighted by learning, and equipped with all the skills necessary to be successful, independent, life-long learners. Some of our students have aspirations to pursue STEM, and some have other goals in other realms, but we want all of them to be confident about the math that they are learning and ultimately understand that perfection isn’t required—perseverance is.