Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S. Applied Mathematics; Education
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
University of Tennessee Chattanooga
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Brainerd High School, Hamilton County (TN) School District; Algebra II, State Dual Credit Pre-calculus
What made you decide to become a teacher?
I discovered the joy of helping people when I was in high school. As an honors student who frequently did tutoring, I loved encouraging and helping others find that “aha!” moment. I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do with my life but knew I was good at math. When I found the STEM education department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), I was so blessed. I earned degrees in math and in education which I believe set me apart from others. Hear what Pascale has to say about her experience at UTC and how it prepared her for teaching.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I am currently teaching at Brainerd High School, a high-need school in Hamilton County, TN where 100% of students are on free or reduced lunch and are primarily African American. Our students recently took a math diagnostic test; we discovered that 88% of students are at a 4th-6th grade math level. One of the most challenging parts of my job is trying to figure out how to teach a math class designed for 11th graders to students who are multiple grade levels behind. Our school is located about 15 minutes away from downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. Despite our proximity to these things, many students have never been outside of their neighborhood. We have been incorporating more field trips into our curriculum to allow students to be exposed to new opportunities. Brainerd High School is committed to fighting the disadvantages our students face because of their socioeconomic status; we work hard to provide them the same opportunities as students from other schools in Chattanooga and the county.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
One of the first classes I took at UTC to meet my teaching degree requirement included a “classroom experience” which allowed me to experience placements in elementary, middle, and high schools. Having such a diverse experience helped me understand where my kids were coming from and relate current grade level standards to previous grade level standards. In addition to wonderful placements, I had truly amazing professors. I fondly remember having a class where the professor taught through examples. We would come into the classroom, and she would have all sorts of materials laid out on our tables. We would participate in short project-based learning (PBL) activities and exploratory learning as if we were young students. I remember one PBL clearly. The professor had placed pipe cleaner “aliens” all around the room and asked us to write down all of our observations. We deduced that certain kinds of “aliens” were always found in pairs. Some “aliens” preferred to be up high, and others down low. This was an introductory activity for one of our science lessons. It was refreshing to be taught through experience instead of lecture. It also helped me understand the type of teacher I should strive to be.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
The best strategy was learning about trauma-informed teaching. My Noyce program sponsored a professional development (PD) opportunity where we discussed meeting students where they are and the importance of being an informed teacher. Many of my students have experienced unbelievable trauma in their lives; many have difficulty expressing themselves. Learning about de-escalation techniques was extremely helpful for me. I learned to address the root of the emotion rather than the behavior. I learned that many of my students acted out not as a way to make my life difficult, but because they had a hard time coping with other events in their life. Learning how to meet the emotional needs of kids helped me to have better relationships with them and to spend less time correcting behavior and more time teaching. The PD I attended pushed me to think about how I responded to students, and if my response was beneficial to them and the learning environment. I did further research on the topic and recently started a book called Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion by Marshall B. Rosenberg. This is an excellent read not only for teachers but for anyone who interacts with people. This book talks about how we can express our thoughts, feelings, and needs in ways that are compassionate and clear. It’s something I am working on incorporating more into my classroom.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
Before I started my time in the classroom, the Noyce Program put on a summer professional development workshop that included a session focused on culturally responsive pedagogy. I learned a lot about my own misconceptions and to be honest, my own white fragility. The most beneficial thing I learned was to not view the students in my room with color-blindness but rather with color consciousness. Especially with today’s political climate, we can’t ignore that race affects advantage. My students will have to experience things that I will never be able to relate to. Instead of suppressing tough conversations, I encourage them in my classroom. We find healthy outlets to talk about difficult topics where I allow my students to feel seen and heard. This has helped me to build wonderful relationships.
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?
Because of my experience with the Noyce program, I often find myself thrust into positions of leadership. My second year of teaching I was asked to be the Lead Teacher for our Institute of Law, First Responders, and Forensic Science. My duties as Lead Teacher included running our SLC (Small Learning Community) Meetings where we would discuss students about whom we were concerned (academically, emotionally, etc.). We also discuss students of the month and how we can collaborate as teachers to incorporate PBLs into our curriculum. Additionally, my principal has asked me to mentor other teachers–a huge compliment considering I’m just going into my third year of teaching. When I started my first year, many of my co-workers assumed I had prior experience. I believe this is due to the preparation that the UTC Noyce program gave me. It was a rigorous program for which I’m so thankful because it made for a smooth transition into teaching.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
I haven’t been teaching too long, but I am most proud of being nominated for and receiving an “I am Hamilton Award.” This award spotlights the contributions of alumni, teachers, parents, students, support workers, and community members in providing opportunities for children in the classrooms of Hamilton County Schools. It felt really amazing to be recognized out of everyone in the entire county. In 2020, I was invited to participate in the Voices From the Field panel at the Noyce Virtual Summit. This panel features recent graduates of the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program who are teaching in high-need schools.
One thing I’ve learned during these early years of teaching and that I would like to recommend: find a teacher buddy. Find someone who supports you. Even though I teach math, my teacher buddy is in the English department. She supports me, helps my classroom function when I have a sub, lets me bounce ideas off her, listens to me vent, shows me new technology, and so much more. Your greatest resource is your team. Use them wisely.