Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S. Mathematics; Cognitive Studies
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
City Charter High School, Pittsburgh, PA; Interactive Mathematics Program, Year 3 (11th grade)
What made you decide to become a teacher?
Going into my undergraduate education, I was set on studying and learning more about math. I had always loved the subject in middle and high school because I would do well in those classes, but also because I had great teachers who went beyond the “nuts and bolts.” I was intrigued by how my peers and those older and younger than I approached math, thought about it, grew more (or less) confident in it, and generally learned it. I took psychology courses through my Cognitive Studies major, and eventually took some classes that overlapped those two interests. Early on, I took a class titled “How Children Learn Math”, focusing on the natural math abilities we all have from just a few months old, and the continuous development and making sense of mathematical ideas. I wanted to be a part of that journey of “making math make sense”, and by my junior year ran into some great professors who led me to the newly funded Noyce program at Vanderbilt. I went from someone who loved math to someone who loved finding unique ways to approach and teach it so that it would start making sense to my students. I’m still on that path – and have much more to learn and try out with my students.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I currently work at City Charter High School, a Title I school in downtown Pittsburgh. About 65 percent of our students are eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch and half of the student population is African American. Many of our students come from the surrounding neighborhoods and some from the further reaching suburbs. City Charter is technology-based and career-focused and has many unique pieces: a year-round trimester schedule, teacher looping (remains with same students for more than one year), and no tracked classes. I am in the third year of an interactive, integrated math curriculum, in which I focus on context-based mathematics learning with my junior-level students. I started in this position last school year (2019-2020), so I know my students on both personal and mathematical levels.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The best preparation came from the fact that my Noyce classes were experienced-based. I had longer classes that focused on conversations that challenged our ideas of “good” teaching, forced us to reflect together, and build a community I still rely on today when I think about my next lesson or practice. I had multiple model teachers in my practicum and student teaching experiences who brought a passion to teaching students (not just teaching math). I observed and taught in 5th, 7th, and 10th grade classrooms; that wide array of experiences led me to reflect on and find the similarities among them all and come away with this: figure out who you are as a teacher, bring your honest self to the classroom, connect with students, and help them find some success and joy every day. I had professors who provided me with the most updated research, tools, and strategies for effective math teaching and learning. Together we read and played with those during our conversations and classes. Those professors still send me new things to use and think about as I try to improve my math teaching.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
What I always say when someone asks me about my ability to teach in a culturally responsive way is that it is a continuous process. My Noyce program helped me to understand the components of culturally responsive teaching, but more on how to reflect on my use of them. I reflect on my lessons almost daily and think about the lesson, what I say or do, how I say or do it. I try to think about what those things are saying to my students, and at times directly ask them. I am on a journey of being a better and more culturally responsive teacher and know that I am nowhere near the end of that journey. That reflection process came directly from my Noyce experiences, and I am thankful for that.
I start with what makes sense to students and ask them what is and is not working. From there, I create and support individual “pathways” so that students can feel success and feel assured that their pathway is not “wrong” or “bad”. In addition, I try as frequently as I can to bring together those pathways so that students can hear and see how others think and do mathematics. A student can keep on their path and use the strategy that makes sense to them, or they can jump off the path and use a strategy that another student presents. I include reflective practices, most commonly a portfolio that students consistently update with goals accomplished, strategies used, rankings of their confidence in and understanding of those strategies or goals, and general updates. That reflection is a huge part of teaching in a cross-cultural setting – everyone can reflect, and everyone gets something out of reflecting that can be similar or different from the student next to them. As students share those reflections, they realize those similarities and differences, and possibly connect with students with whom they would not normally have connected.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
What I do most is push students to say, do, or think about what makes sense to them and work from there. It puts ownership and accountability on each student – something that I took from learning about culturally responsive teaching. The only way I can set high expectations for all my students is to understand where each one stands and encourage them to set their own path for what they expect of themselves. I also try to go beyond curriculum. I know I have expectations set by others around me, as well as those by higher institutions that I cannot change (yet). However, what my Noyce experiences have taught me is that I need to know my students and what the issues in their lives are and then use math to attack and discover more about those issues in ways that make sense and help my students feel that they are important.
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?
Not at the moment. I am still a “beginner” in my own eyes–still reflecting and improving my practices, especially as I have only been in my current teaching role for a year and a half. However, one of the big takeaways from my Noyce experience was to approach teaching in a research-oriented way: pick a goal, determine how it may be accomplished, implement a strategy, and analyze the results. I am thinking in that way all the time as I reflect and improve my teaching.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
I have become somewhat of a leader in using technology in the classroom, which has become especially important given the current need to be learning at home or in alternative environments. I have presented to my colleagues and administration on a few different technologies that help create more interactive and meaningful experiences in the math classroom, and am currently working with other teachers in order to find ways in which these technologies can be useful in other content areas.
Currently, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Christopher Emdin and Multiplication is for White People by Lisa Delpit are providing me with both practical strategies and general inspiration, especially as more than one pandemic has come to light over the course of this past year. I use Twitter to connect with current teachers and professionals, as well as find new and incredible activities and strategies to implement in my own classroom. There is a very supportive network out there and having that supportive network is one of the most important things you can have as an educator.