Q: How do we encourage our best and brightest to become math teachers?
A: Surround them with the most passionate educators in the state.
2015 Nebraska Teacher of the Year Shelby Aaberg, Nebraska Department of Education Math Director Deb Romanek, and UNL Noyce Master Teaching Fellow Alicia Davis discuss state mathematics standards revision with Mr. Aaberg's six Scottsbluff High School students in a classroom at Scott Middle School, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Teaching is the single most important human endeavor. When I learned the Nebraska State Board of Education has a special project grant of $1,000 for the Nebraska Teacher of the Year, I knew how I would spend the money: taking as many high school students as I could fit in one vehicle and travel across the state meeting with some of the most dynamic professional educators I know. The purpose of the trip would be to encourage high school students to enter the teaching profession. The hope would be these students would return to teaching positions in the Nebraska Panhandle.
Check out this PDF for the project proposal and budget which outlines where we went and what we did along the way on our trip.
Sunday, February 8: The 450 Mile Drive to Omaha
2/8/15: UNL Noyce Master Teaching Fellow and Arapahoe High School Teacher Dan Schaben, Shelby Aaberg, Jordan, Tyler, Abby, Libby, Mallory, and Gabby pose for a photo after a discussion in rural education issues in Lexington, NE.
Dan discussed with the students the issues rural educators face. What does a teacher do when he or she is the entire math department? Or perhaps the only math teacher in a district? What are the expectations in rural schools with respect to teaching? How much control does the teacher have over what is taught in the classroom? Dan did an outstanding job fielding the students' questions about math education in the rural setting.
Students enjoy dinner and discussion with UNO Math Club students and UNO students interested in becoming math teachers. Conversation centered around college life and what it is like to be a pre-service teacher.
While at Panera, students participated in #noycechat by asking questions on the chat and getting responses not only from face-to-face participants but also from teachers around the country through Twitter. A Storify summary of the chat can be found here. Among the chat participants were UNL Noyce Master Teaching Fellows Jason Vitosh, Josh Males, Jill Edgren, Gary Furse, as well as UNL Professor and Teacher Educator Lorraine Males.
The photo above is one of my most proud moments as an educator. Phyllis Uchtman, a retired staff developer from the Omaha Westside school district, did my first classroom observation in my first year of teaching. Phyllis vigorously encouraged me to apply for the NSEA Rookie of the Year Award, which I won in 2004, and the Raytheon Math Hero Award, which I won in 2005. Phyllis joined us for dinner at Panera. She is featured in the above photo visiting with Tyler about his future as a classroom teacher while I am moderating #noycechat on my laptop. Phyllis is a mentor that has truly supported me throughout my teaching career (she was one of my proofreaders for my Teacher of the Year essays!) and has empowered me to help students achieve great things.
We spent our downtime that evening relaxing - enjoying a giant checkers game in the hotel lobby - and preparing our math problems and solutions for the sessions the students would lead the following day at the University of Nebraska - Omaha.
Monday, February 9: Observing Elite Educators & Leading Sessions at UNO
We observed three classrooms for 20 minutes at Omaha Central High School: an algebra class, an honors algebra classroom, and an honors geometry classroom. We are pictured at the left with Omaha Central Math Department Chair and UNL Noyce Master Teaching Fellow Brent Larson, standing in the hallway and debriefing after observing the various classrooms. Brent shared his insight regarding issues in urban education with us.
After observing three classrooms at the start of the school day, we then visited and observed Greg Sand's differential equations class. This experience was designed to teach my students a valuable lesson.
None of my students had any exposure to calculus. Here was Greg at the front of the room, visibly excited and sharing his passion with his students. The Central HS diff eq students were incredibly engaged and having wonderful conversation about mathematics. My students sat quietly at the back of the room, uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the material. I could sense their frustration. They could feel the enthusiasm and the energy of the environment, but my students did not have the prerequisite knowledge required to participate. For the first time in their careers, the students knew what it felt like to be frustrated in math class, unable to participate because they did not know what was going on. We debriefed in the hallway afterwards, focusing on what they would do as a classroom teacher to help the frustrated student in their classroom. They needed to have this feeling, to know what it is like to be overwhelmed in math class.
Posing for a photograph in Mr. Sand's room at Omaha Central HS: Abby, Mallory, Brent Larson, Greg Sand, Shelby Aaberg, Tyler, Libby, Gabby, and Jordan.
Pictured at left are the students standing on the steps of Omaha Central High School. Brent is telling students about the history of the building and why the building is set on a hill as a landmark in Omaha.
Students take in the view of the downtown area on the steps of Omaha Central High School.
After observing at Omaha Central, we continued on to Westside High School. I spent my first two years of teaching at Omaha Westside, so I am very fond of the school.
Here are my students in the entry way of Omaha Westside High School. Brian Stevens, NATM Treasurer and Westside math teacher, explains modular scheduling to the students. A handful of American high schools use the modular scheduling system.
Brian Stevens shows students the IMC area, where all teachers have their desks and office spaces. The structural layout, combined with the culture of the school, allows students to get 1-on-1 help during the school day, even when the student's own teacher is not available.
2013 Nebraska Teacher of the Year, NBCT, and Omaha Westside Math Department Chair Angela Mosier discusses the idea of teacher leadership and instruction with Scottsbluff High School students Tyler and Jordan.
Abby, Mallory, and Jordan practice special values around the unit circle while observing in Angela Mosier's precalculus classroom at Omaha Westside.
After observing several classrooms and touring Omaha Westside High School, we took the students to lunch at Westroads Mall. Afterwards, we headed to the Durham Science Center at the University of Nebraska - Omaha.
Gabby is having a great time doing math in the "Cool Math Talk" session, organized by University of Nebraska - Omaha Professor Angie Hodge.
High school students, undergraduate students, and professors work together investigating a rich problem taken from the AMC 10 at the "Cool Math Talk" session held at UNO on Monday, February 9, 2015.
Pictured is Dr. Michael Matthews, my M.A.T. adviser during my studies at the University of Nebraska - Omaha.
We then walked a short distance to the Thompson Alumni Center for the Math Teachers' Circle my students led.
The coolest part of the Math Teachers' Circle was at the end, where the lines between the high school students and others blurred. The teachers, professors, graduate students, undergraduate students, and high school students all worked and conversed as colleagues, with conversations starting out about mathematics and turning to the benefits of the teaching profession and the joys of helping students learn mathematics.
After the Math Teachers' Circle, we went to the downtown Old Chicago, where we ate dinner with 2012 Nebraska Teacher of the Year Luisa Palomo. Luisa teaches at Liberty Elementary School in Omaha and is truly a community champion for the families at Liberty. Luisa and I went to high school together.
Luisa shared her passion and excitement for teaching with students, her approach to work-life balance, and the extraordinary approach she and her school leadership are taking towards dual language instruction.
Suffice it to say the kids were exhausted when we returned to the hotel. Students wrote down the things they learned about the day and spent some time decompressing.
Tuesday, February 10: Scott Middle School, Leadership, and the Drive Home
UNL Noyce Master Teaching Fellow and Scott Middle School teacher Alicia Davis leads her Algebra 1 class in a discussion around a video segment taken from a cartoon. Alicia is truly a leader of teachers and is one of the best middle school math teachers I have ever had the pleasure to observe teaching.
The adults standing in this photo are Alicia Davis, Nebraska Department of Education Math Coordinator Deb Romanek, and Scottsbluff High School Language Arts Instructor Allison Areeda who traveled as a sponsor on our trip. At various tables in this Algebra 1 classroom are my high school students interacting with the middle school students as they work an activity with pennies and plotting exponential growth on a set of axes.
Pictured above at Scott Middle School in Lincoln, NE on 2/11/2015: Abby, Mallory, Libby, Shelby Aaberg, Alicia Davis, Deb Romanek, Tyler, Jordan, and Gabby.
After our discussion on state standards, teacher leadership, writing curriculum, and influencing policy, we began the long drive home. We took a moment to stop at the Target in Kearney, NE to buy thank you notes to send to the educators that helped make this trip possible.
Regardless of the outcome, I learned a great deal about my students and my own identity as a math educator while on this trip. Each time we met with an outstanding educator, we always ended our session with the same question. I would frame the question and simply watch the students react.
"These high school students are told countless times things like 'you could be an engineer' or 'you could be a scientist' or 'you could do so much more.' As an outstanding educator, what would you say to these high school students living in a country where they are made to feel shame for choosing to be a teacher?"
The responses were phenomenal. The adults disarmed and spoke to these high school students as equals. This trip was the greatest gift I could give to my students. Our school district passed a $29.2 million dollar bond in November to build a new high school classroom building. We have chosen to move towards a career academy concept. After this trip, I am passionately pursuing a career academy in education. Teaching is the single most important human endeavor, and I look for these students to have a lasting influence on generations to come.