Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.A. English and Social Ecology, M.A. Public Administration, M.A. in Education
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Noyce Teaching Fellow
Name of Noyce institution:
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
Oakland School for the Arts, Oakland, CA; Algebra 1 and 2, Data Science (an alternative to Algebra 2) (8th-12th grade)
What made you decide to become a teacher?
My 7th and 8th grade pre-Algebra and Algebra teacher, Mr. Heeb, and other teachers set me on a path to teaching. I started thinking about it maybe as early as high school, but only in the back of my mind. By my mid- to late-twenties it was something I would occasionally talk about to people. The response I got was uniformly positive and encouraging. Nevertheless, I waited almost 20 years to make the move. By then I had had the opportunity to coach soccer for 8 years, working with children from ages 5 to 11. The fact that I enjoyed this gave me more confidence that I would enjoy teaching. I enrolled in the Oakland Urban Teacher Residency Program at Mills College to earn my Master of Arts in Education.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
This is my third year of teaching Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, with my second year being 100% remote, at the Oakland School for the Arts (OSA), which is chartered by the Oakland Unified School District. OSA integrates academic subjects with the arts for its roughly 800 sixth-twelfth graders. Many students in my classes have not typically enjoyed mathematics, but this school year, we will have a new Data Science course. The curriculum is developed by YouCubed and Stanford University, and I wrote the A-G application (sequence of high school courses to be completed for admission to University of California and California State) last Spring based on the outline of their planned materials. Students who may have failed Algebra 2 or done poorly in prior math classes were eager for an alternative to Algebra 2. I am looking forward to seeing whether the Data Science class can help turn around their attitudes about math and foster greater engagement. I’ve seen some positive early signs, with students discussing data representations from the curriculum at their work tables. The class offers greater opportunity for students to put themselves, their interests, and their creativity into the math.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The Noyce program helped me broaden my understanding of math education to see it as more than knowing how to solve a problem in a book. It also broadened my perspective on students and the need to provide opportunities for students to authentically engage in a curriculum that has meaning to their diverse lives.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
A first step in supporting all students is to try to make it less about me and more about them. I want to allow students to be who they are, and to feel comfortable being who they are in the classroom. I want to hear their voices as much as possible so I try to establish a culture where all students feel comfortable sharing their math thinking, where we appreciate different ways of seeing and approaching the math, where mistakes are celebrated rather than causing embarrassment. I sometimes allow students significant leeway in terms of behavior or ways of expressing themselves. I believe students come to understand my classroom as a place where they can be themselves, but avoid crossing lines not because they will be punished, but because they understand the importance of maintaining a learning environment.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
It’s really all about the pedagogy (mathematics content was very much a secondary focus in my teacher education). And what I learned, or began to learn, was the importance of developing relationships with students and how to do that, and the importance of recognizing and being sensitive to their individual circumstances.
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?
I have been the math department chair for more than 3 years, and my education at Mills helped me feel confident about taking that on after only 2-3 years of teaching. The ongoing Noyce support and involvement has continued to provide fodder for me and allowed me to feel I have something helpful to bring to my department.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
I feel most rewarded by hearing students tell me that they have appreciated me as a teacher, that I changed their attitude toward math or opened their eyes to some part of it, or made them feel that they could be successful in math. I have had the pleasure of teaching many students in 6th grade and again in high school. This is a rewarding experience in itself, and made even more so when they tell me they are happy to have me as a teacher again, or when I hear this from parents. This sense of having been a good teacher is really what keeps me going. I am also proud of my work as department chair and the positive feedback I have received from teachers and others in that role. Finally, I am proud of the fact that I brought the new Data Science class to OSA to enrich the school’s offerings and provide a valuable alternative for many students.
Hear from Michael and other Noyce alumni about the value of the Noyce program.