Tell me about your teaching career. Was this your first career choice?
No, After graduating from the University of Maryland I actually started a pool management company: Aquatic Specialist Corporation. I also coached the swim team at the Upper Montgomery County YMCA [in Montgomery Village.]
Being a swim coach is what drew me to teaching, working with kids, I found it very enjoyable.
I started teaching in the 1999-2000 school year at Greenwood Elementary School [Brookeville], fourth and fifth grade. I wanted to teach middle school so got certified to teach math and worked at Forest Oak Middle School [Gaithersburg] for three years, went back to Greenwood for two years, taught at Argyle Middle School [Silver Spring] for six years and this is my first year here.
Why did you go from elementary school to middle school then back to elementary before settling on middle school?
I felt like I needed to work on my classroom management skills and I thought it would be easier to practice in elementary school.
Does the county offer classes or help with that?
Yes, there are helps, like other teachers to work with you and I took a course, Fred Jones’ Tools for Teaching three years ago that was very helpful.
What did you learn that was most helpful?
Just keep your cool. If students see you get flustered, sometimes that’s what they want.
Are middle schoolers a problem?
No, The kids here are wonderful, at Argyle they were wonderful too. It’s not that kids are hard in terms of managing behavior, you have to motivate them. It’s all about motivating students to your lessons. You can never be an expert, there is always room for improvement. There are several ways to teach the same thing and I try to present the lessons in different ways. It’s about knowing your students and how they learn.
How did you choose to be a math teacher? Was there any one person responsible?
My father. He is a PhD electrical engineer. What he taught me was number sense. If kids understand how numbers work, they are more successful.
As a kid [math] was my strength, I wasn’t a good reader - as an adult I was diagnosed with ADHD. Math was where I saw success and what I enjoyed doing. One reason I left elementary school was teaching the other content areas was somewhat difficult for me.
Do you have a favorite math course or level to teach?
The course I enjoy teaching most is Math 7, seventh grade. It is that step where you really get students ready for advanced math. It gives them a good foundation to get into algebra.
What is the hardest thing about teaching math to middle school students?
The hardest part about teaching middle school kids is trying to make the lessons interesting enough to really get them involved. I try to move away from the old stand and deliver. I try to do more of having kids working in groups, more student discourse, working together to figure it out.
If you had one magic power to help you in teaching what would that be?
A secret way to make it interesting for them, a way to determine what it is to get students really interested in math.
What is it that you like best about your job?
My favorite part is trying to help the children, visiting the groups, listening to the discussion, seeing them come up with a solution. That “oh yeah!” moment is big.
“Voices in Education” is a twice-monthly feature that highlights the men and women who are involved with the education of Montgomery County’s children. To suggest someone you would like to see featured, email Peggy McEwan at email@example.com.