Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S., Biochemistry; Secondary Teaching Certificate
Name of Institution:
San Juan College
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Shiprock High School, Shiprock, NM on the Navajo Nation, Algebra 1-2, Geometry, Financial Literacy, AP Calculus AB, College Success II
What made you decide to become a teacher?
When I was in middle school, I noticed that I could understand math and science very easily. It came naturally to me. Soon I began to help my peers with their assignments. In high school, I took it a step further and tutored students in chemistry and math. I stayed after school for two hours every day to tutor and to hang out with friends in the tutoring center. In college, I continued to tutor friends in math and science. I enjoyed helping others better understand these subjects and really enjoyed when they would have that “aha” moment. Eventually I came to realize that I had a talent for tutoring and teaching content. After observing a tutoring session, my honors chemistry teacher told me that I could explain formulas and concepts in “layman’s terms”—I could simplify the problem and explain it step by step.
Additional inspiration came from two Teach for America teachers at my high school who opened my eyes to my full academic potential. They challenged me in AP Calculus and Honors Chemistry and helped me to apply to several colleges and scholarships. I attended Arizona State University and received a B.S. degree in Biochemistry. After graduation, I was accepted into the Teach for America (TFA) program through AmeriCorps which led me back to my old high school—Shiprock H.S.—teaching Algebra 1 and 2. I taught in the TFA program for two years and really enjoyed teaching. In my second year, I learned about the Noyce Teacher Scholarship program at San Juan College in Farmington, NM and decided to enroll in a teacher certification program. I was accepted!
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I currently teach Secondary Mathematics on the Navajo Reservation located in the Four Corners region which is where the boundaries of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. I am now in my fourth year of teaching. My school, Shiprock High School, has 665 students with an 18:1 student-teacher ratio, a graduation rate of 65-69%, math proficiency at 5%, and reading proficiency at 22%. The demographics is 97% Navajo and 3% two or more races.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The Noyce program helped me in all areas related to teaching. I was introduced to and provided with many different resources by my instructors and my cohort team. I also learned how to effectively use Google Classroom, Khan Academy, Quizlet Live, Kahoots, Desmos, and Teacher Pay Teachers for additional activities and remediation work. The networking I did at conferences and workshops also helped me learn new strategies and teaching styles; I met people with different skill sets and learned from them. The workshops provided by Noyce were also insightful. In summer 2019, I attended a Noyce math workshop at North Arizona University (NAU) and met 20 Noyce scholars just like myself. The Noyce program provided the support and resources I needed to be a successful STEM educator.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
San Juan College did a great job preparing me for the students I am teaching. I also have the upper hand here because I teach on the Navajo Nation where 97% of the students are Navajo like me. I know my students’ backgrounds and culture and know where they come from. I tell them that I was just like them not so long ago. I know the struggles they face on a daily basis and how it affects their education. Because I am Navajo like my students, I can easily relate lessons to their daily lives; this allows me to make a stronger connection with them. Sometimes I speak some basic Navajo during my lessons. The students tend to listen more when I speak a little Navajo in the classroom. When designing worksheets or problems, I try to relate to things around the community like the grocery store or flea market that we have in town. Overall, I try my best to make the lesson a part of my students’ lives and show them that they can use math anywhere.
During a lesson, I do my best to have visual, auditory, and kinesthetic activities available to students to help them understand the content. I use word walls and anchor charts frequently; this helps my visual learners. I also set up a Google classroom where I post videos from the Khan Academy and YouTube that relate to the lessons. This is good for my auditory learners. Every Friday, I do stations where students can work on task cards and puzzles—important for my kinesthetic leaners. An additional resource that I make available to students is an interactive notebook with foldables and study aids.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
At the NAU summer math workshop, we explored Developing Essential Understandings of Functions. It was two weeks of intensive professional development where we analyzed and discussed functions. The class was engaging and well-structured and allowed us to look deeply at misconceptions. The excellent instructors developed appropriate tasks, techniques, and tools for assessing understanding. I strongly believe that for learning to take place, a teacher needs to engage the students by planning appropriate tasks and techniques and not just giving them another worksheet with questions. The teaching and assignments must be engaging and connect to the student’s real life. I learned about inquiry-based learning and how to develop a mathematical mindset. Both have helped guide my teaching practice. I am reading more about inquiry-based learning and hope to incorporate more of an inquiry-based approach for my students.
In addition to teaching, are you exploring new areas in content, teaching strategies, leadership, etc. If so, what areas and did the Noyce experience play a role?
During my holiday breaks, I do some reading on different teaching strategies and look for resources on the internet. I am always trying to learn as much as I can about teaching so that I can be an effective teacher. I am also a part of Shiprock’s Leadership Team which includes department heads, guidance staff, and administrators. We do book studies and learn more strategies to share with out departments. I am currently applying for the Rural School Leadership Academy (RSLA) to learn more about school leadership roles. The RSLA’s goal is to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for school leadership roles and build a network of aspiring school leaders in rural communities. If selected, I would travel to schools in rural communities across the southwest and learn about administrative roles in school leadership. In addition, I am always on the lookout for math workshops being held in the area. The Noyce program has taught me to jump for any opportunities that come your way. This was something that I did not do in my first years of teaching, but now that I am confident stepping outside of my comfort zone, I have been able to attend conferences and workshops and meet many great educators from across the country.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
As mentioned earlier, I started teaching at Shiprock H.S. in 2017 as a Teach For America educator. In my second year, my principal asked me to be the sponsor for the Senior Class at Shiprock H.S. I accepted it even though I didn’t know a single thing about being a class sponsor. I learned quickly and working with the students, we raised over $15,000 for graduation! In the third year of teaching, I was selected to be a Noyce Scholar at San Juan College (SJC) to earn my teaching certificate. I could not have done it without the program director at SJC. This same year, I was selected to attend the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Annual Summit in Washington, DC and chosen to be a member of the Voices from the Field panel. I shared my stories and my journey to get where I am today. At the Noyce Summit, I also presented a poster about implementing mathematical mindsets in high school students.