Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.A., Italian Language and Literature; Master of Arts in Teaching
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Noyce Teaching Fellow
Name of Noyce institution:
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Hardy Middle School, Washington, DC, Mathematics (grades 6-8) and Special Education
What made you decide to become a teacher?
In my senior year of high school, I had a math teacher from whom I learned a lot. She had well-planned lessons, always gave students timely feedback, offered after-school tutoring, and most important was excited about teaching mathematics. She also talked about her private life a little bit; it was the first time I realized math teachers were humans. I have always enjoyed mathematics and thought that I could be a good teacher. In college, I did a few teaching internships in urban districts and was shocked by what I saw in some schools. Tenth graders were struggling to do math that they should have mastered years prior. This bothered me; it didn’t seem fair. I thought if we are all guaranteed a free and fair public education, then that education should be equitable for all students. It didn’t escape me that, while I was educated in public schools, my classroom learning experiences were not the same as what I saw. Had they been, would I have gotten into a competitive college that afforded me a solid array of options for professions in life? Why should access to the best colleges and universities depend on someone’s zip code?
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I currently teach at Hardy Middle School in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). I have taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade mathematics with 2021 being my first year teaching Special Education. Our school is a diverse community with students of all races, representing every ward in DC, and from many foreign countries. Teachers at Hardy care about their students, are good at what they do, and have been teaching for a long time; it’s a gem of a school. I teach with Sarah Bax, the amazing and inspirational math teacher under whom I did my student teaching as a Noyce Fellow.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The most helpful part of any Master of Arts in Teaching program is the student teaching. I was grateful to teach two full semesters under two very different programs—the first semester at a selective high school and the second semester at a neighborhood middle school with drastically different demographics. I was able to see what it looks like for a teacher to establish classroom norms and community all the way to the end with reflection on growth over the year. American University offered courses that were especially helpful to us as we prepared to enter DCPS. For example, one faculty member taught us classes from a middle school she would later lead as principal where we focused on issues faced by current teachers.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
The best way the program prepared us was to assign us to real classrooms where we learned by doing. In addition to a full year of student teaching, mentors observed our classrooms during the induction period (first 3 years) to provide feedback. That mentorship was invaluable because the comments we got from our schools’ administrators often did not highlight our growth or math best practices. We also had someone we could commiserate with who had been in our shoes and whose feedback was non-punitive. Teachers early in their careers burn out at high rates because it is a very stressful job. I quit several times even with that support. My mentor teachers were “institutions” in and of themselves. One of my mentor teachers had been a master teacher with considerable experience evaluating teachers in DCPS, so she was able to support us to excel in the evaluation system. Another teacher had been in the classroom for over 40 years and another for 50. That is phenomenal human capital.
Thankfully, there are better resources for instruction and planning for secondary math now than when I first started teaching. Having materials with built in card sorts, checks for understanding, and student discussion protocols is crucial. Even with a teacher intent on reaching every student in her classroom, a poor curriculum will make that impossible. Mathematics teachers have the power and should have the mandate to make math class both enjoyable and memorable.
I use a variety of strategies to get to know each of my students. In the first weeks of school, I gather data on how they commute to and from school, what they do in their free time, if they have siblings and/or pets, what it looks like where they do their homework. Then I gather data about their approaches to solving rich math tasks – how are their foundational skills, how do they interact with peers? The better I know students, the better I can anticipate pain points of lessons and then plan lessons that engage them in class work that is appropriate for their cognitive load levels. I tell them stories about my life, I praise them for work that they do well, correct them when they need redirection. Through this process, we establish a learning environment that rewards growth and engagement.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
It has been over 10 years since I was a Noyce Fellow, so it is hard for me to delineate the roots of what is now second nature in the classroom.
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 this school year, I took on a new role as a Special Education teacher in addition to a general education math teacher. I did this because I wanted to understand a different facet of education better and to know what teaching students with neurodivergence is like. I’m also applying for some facilitator roles with my favorite curriculum of all time–Illustrative Mathematics. The Noyce Fellowship built in monthly professional development opportunities and through these monthly meetings, I got regular information and insight into what is happening in other math classrooms around the district and around the country. I learned about math protocols and programs that help students and tried new things constantly. I learned about Illustrative Mathematics at one of these professional development opportunities; it is foundational now to my teaching.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
The highlight of my entire teaching career was attending the Park City Mathematics institute (PCMI) between my 2nd and 3rd year of teaching. Prior to that experience, I had only been with mathematics teachers in Washington DC. At that time, it was rare to find a teacher who had been in the classroom for over 4 years. They existed more in legends than at actual schools. PCMI’s Teacher Program brought 75 highly qualified math teachers from across the country for 3 weeks to do math, attend sessions we build for each other, and study the theme of the year. That was the first time I socialized with teachers who had been in the classroom for decades. I roomed with 5 other teachers; the teacher with the least experience in our suite, aside from me, had been teaching for 8 years. PCMI was a breath of fresh air because I had not felt I was part of a professional community before that. In my own district, there was and still is a lot of teacher turnover. Too many educators in their first years feel alone, micromanaged, and criticized. I learned a lot from the sessions we attended but learned even more about what is normal in other districts and what is abusive. I learned that districts everywhere deal with bad administrations; teachers with decades of experience shared how they cope with these systems. These perspectives fueled my practice. Good professional development is crucial to not only becoming a teacher but staying a teacher.