Making hearts and smiley faces out of numbers
Having a limited high school experience, Monica had to take remedial courses in college. Struggling with these courses, she sought tutoring outside of classes. She remembers a particular grad school student who helped her with math assignments.
The tutor employed every trick and mnemonic device in the book to help Monica understand the numbers. Some of these unconventional teaching cues included dancing around the room, drawing smiley faces and hearts and making puppets out of everything.
“It got me motivated, like, ‘OK, I’m not dumb. I’m not illiterate. I can do this.’ She made we want to be a better version of myself.”
As zany as the tutoring was, math began to actually click. Monica went from struggling with remedial coursework to taking math all the way to Calculus 2—well beyond her math requirements of Algebra 1.
Looking back, Monica recognizes this quirky math tutor as an inspiration to teaching. She wishes she could go back and find this tutor to thank her.
“It got me thinking back to what I had, and what I didn’t have in school. I didn’t have someone pushing me or motivating me, or even cared if I was there or not.”
When Monica decided to become a teacher after graduation, she set out on a mission of giving back to students what she didn’t have growing up.
Her classroom remains an open door for many former students. Kids who have already graduated from her class will come to her during lunchtime and ask for help with another class. She recalls one student in particular, who comes to her class every day to charge his phone and work on assignments for his next class.
Her connections with her students extends also outside the classroom. You can find her at one of her student athletes’ games (she also coaches track and volleyball at another school). Many parents will recognize her as their son or daughter’s teacher at an event. It’s an ongoing relationship with the community that helps the classroom lessons.
As a science teacher, Monica is constantly refining her process, either through tapping into educational resources or trading notes with her peers. She regularly does a self-assessment where she goes back to think about what she did, why she did it and how she can improve.
“I look forward to going to work every day. Not everyone can say that. I receive much more rewards in a totally different way.”
As serious as she is about teaching, Monica keeps her lessons lighthearted and engaging—perhaps a nod to a former tutor.
“If you’re having fun, you’re learning,” she said.