Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.A., Mathematics
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO, Integrated Math 3
What made you decide to become a teacher?
I knew I wanted to be a high school math teacher but felt like my mentors and family friends were trying to talk me out of it. They pushed me to consider a career in electrical engineering so I went to college with that intent but knew pretty quickly that I would not be happy in this field. I found myself on a career path to retail management, was promoted quickly into higher management roles, and eventually into Human Resources (HR), where I became a trainer and leader. It felt natural to lead sessions on company directives, but I never stopped thinking about a career in teaching. When I was laid off in 2008, I tried to find another job in HR but needed a degree. I decided that if I was returning to school, I should prepare to become a teacher and realize my lifelong dream.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I currently teach in the Denver Public Schools at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College. Our school serves students in grades 6 through 12; 81% of the population is economically disadvantaged. I teach Integrated Math 3, a junior-level class. This is my second year of teaching at this school, and I have lived in the neighborhood for 5 years.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
Within my first year of returning to college, I divorced and became a single mother of two boys. I completed my studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSUD) while juggling motherhood, sports practices and games, school, and sometimes working 2-3 jobs. As I was closing in on my student teaching semester, I was nervous about how I would be able to dedicate the attention I needed to my program and afford to support my family. Thankfully, MSUD became a member of the Noyce family just in time to rescue me. I was honored to be chosen as a Noyce Scholar for my last two semesters, which allowed me to complete an entire year of student teaching. For three days a week, I student taught at a high school, and for two days a week, I worked to complete my coursework and supported college math classes as a Learning Assistant, working with MSUD’s math education faculty. In a flipped classroom setting, students watched videos before coming to class and worked on problems while in class. I would push the learning and understanding through questioning during every lecture. I also spent one summer recording the videos that students would watch before attending class. This provided incredible experience for my own teaching.
Not only did the Noyce program assist me financially, it helped me to understand the importance of internalizing, reflecting, and adjusting my lessons to leverage the highest level of understanding from my students. MSUD’s math teacher certification program encourages reflection and lesson revision. We learn and practice this in our methods class and are required to complete Research Lesson Plans during student teaching. As a Learning Assistant, I was also able to participate in the debriefing of the methods class research lesson plans. As a result of my training in this process, I am more open and aware of common misconceptions and how to use data to drive instruction. Because Noyce allowed me to extend my student teaching across two semesters, I was able to refine this process.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
I feel that my program acknowledged the need for being a culturally responsive teacher as well as offering the opportunity to discuss strategies to be effective. Many of my education classes at MSUD encouraged discussion of our field placement observations, which were eye-opening. I was mentored by three professors in MSUD’s Noyce program. My discussions with them helped to form my understanding of culturally responsive teaching. Sharing my experiences and findings while completing my student teaching allowed my mentors to coach me on an entirely different level. I had my own misconceptions of what “culturally responsive teaching” looks like after completing my coursework. The mentoring offered by Noyce filled the gaps on what this looks like in a 21st century classroom. While college classes with this name are well-intentioned, some of the recommendations are not applicable or practical–based on where we end up teaching.
My school’s student body is approximately 67% Hispanic/Latino, 23% Black, 4% White, and 6% Other. We support English Language Learners and transient students who are significantly below grade level. To support all students, I have found several strategies that are proving to be helpful. One method that I introduced this year is Visual Vocab Mapping where I take a graphic from a current lesson and color code all the key concepts. This is necessary because tasks in my class are not rooted in repetitive mathematical procedures; they link procedural actions to conceptual understanding. This requires that students integrate rich math language in speaking and writing. This could create a barrier for those seeking to become proficient in English, so differentiation is necessary. By providing colorful mapping of the vocabulary instead of lengthy worded definitions on a vocabulary sheet, I can better support the understanding of the key concepts for all students.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
Research has taught us how to meet the diverse needs of our students. When drafting my weekly lesson plans, I reflect on what I learned as a Noyce scholar. I was surrounded by professors who walked the walk. Seeing them implement strategies informed by research helped me to develop strategies and routines that transform my own classroom into a safe, collaborative, positive learning environment. I make adjustments from one class period to the next to push the depth of understanding. I differentiate materials that offer a low floor and high ceiling, meeting each student where they are and taking them to a level that demonstrates growth. I lead with patience, allowing students to find meaning in the productive struggle with challenging tasks. Finally, I have a classroom that emphasizes “Growth Mindset!” which encourages my students to put in the effort needed to take their own understanding to the next level. I help my students to recognize that effort is valued. To get them comfortable with trying, I take some of the pressure off “right versus wrong.” I celebrate students who find my mistakes and take each of these opportunities to point out the valuable learning that comes from making and recognizing mistakes. A fixed mindset learning environment can stifle effort. The pressure of needing to be right all the time can cause enough stress that students avoid even trying. Something magical happens when I allow students to evaluate the work of their peers. This is a safe space that lets student thinking flourish. They can verbally communicate what another student’s thinking was and can make recommendations based on observed patterns.
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?
Now that I am a teacher, I am grateful to the Noyce program for helping me to grow. The program opened doors for my own mentoring of pre-service teachers. I love having the university students interact with my students in my classroom. In my previous career, I trained and coached employees and managers daily. I am happy to see these worlds come together. As a member of the Noyce family, I can mentor Noyce scholars and share the wonderful side of working with students in our own metro area high-need schools as they consider where they would like to work when they graduate. I hope that MSUD will offer a Master’s program soon, as that is my next goal for advancing my career.
Noyce also taught me to seek out additional resources that can inform my teaching and thinking about teaching. I recommend anything written by Jo Boaler, “Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers” edited by Gutstein and Peterson, “5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussion” by Smith and Smith, also numerous teacher blogs and websites focused on teaching mathematics and engaging students in a student-centered classroom.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
My peers at MLK Early College voted me “Rookie of the Year” at the end of my first year of teaching. I feel that I was able to build some strong relationships with other faculty and students in my building during that first year. I have been appreciated on a new level by my Noyce family, too. I had the chance to share my experiences at the 2019 Western Regional Noyce Conference and at the 2019 Noyce Summit as a Voices from the Field panelist. Locally, I was also able to host three Noyce scholars in my classroom.