More to Teach than Math: Perseverance and a Growth Mindset

Program Director and EdCo Member, Amy Nystrand recently ‘’sat down” virtually Two Edco teachers, Ada Collins and Alyssa Niemiec, share their experiences in the classroom. Ada is the Math Coach at Tusculum Elementary and Alyssa teaches 7th grade math and Integrated Math I at Meigs Middle School. Reading their stories is a reminder of how teaching goes well beyond academics.

Originally published on November 24, 2020.

Where do you teach, what do you teach, and how do you get into teaching?

Ada: I teach at Tusculum Elementary, I am the math coach there, supporting Kindergarten through 4th grade, although this year my role looks a little different, since Metro’s not providing interim teachers we have two teachers who went on maternity leave like a week before school started. So, while the original plan was to get them interims, with doing virtual learning, me and the literacy coach have to support those teachers. So I am basically in charge of the Kindergarten class until that teacher comes back. I’m doing some coaching and doing some planning meetings with grade levels in the afternoon, but in the mornings I am Ms.Collins the Kindergarten teacher.

And then, why did I get into teaching? I actually wanted to be a nurse in college, so I started out majoring in nursing, and I started taking all these science classes and I realized these are not for me, but I liked, and still love the idea of how nurses are caring for others and nurturing, and I felt like teaching and teachers do very similar things, caring for students, for children, for families. So that’s kind of how I got started into it. And this is my 10th year in education, crazy, and my 3rd year in coaching.

Alyssa: I teach at Meigs Middle School. I teach 7th grade math and integrated Math I for 7th graders. I think I always really liked school and I always had really great relationships with my teachers, and it was just something that made the learning experience more enjoyable. So when I always thought about careers, teaching was just one that I thought about, because I had enjoyed working with my teachers so much that I could see myself also doing that role. I don’t think it was until I was like getting closer to college and trying to figure out stuff, where I’m gonna apply, what programs I’m looking for, that I reflected and was like, wow, all the time, I’ve always thought about being a teacher, maybe this is something that I want to do. Especially because I moved schools just before my junior year of high school, and the teachers that I had when I transferred really helped me adjust to moving, and definitely helped me and supported me a lot, so I think that too had a really positive influence on wanting to be a teacher. So just the relationship between student and teachers that I had growing up is what really drew me to the profession, and then once I actually started learning about it and curriculum and math education specifically and getting into classrooms I knew that I had made the right choice.

What is something that you hope your students learn from you that’s not in the curriculum?

Ada: I would say, especially this year, perseverance is the first word that comes to mind. I think even kids as young as 5, they pick up on when you’re stressed, and they pick up on when something as simple as technology is freezing on you. It’s in those times, they see, like okay, even though I’m not in school right now as a Kindergartener, which is crazy, this is my way of school for now, and we’ve even mentioned that in our class meetings, we talked about needs and wants. How right now you do need a computer for school, or some kind of technology, because we can’t physically go to school. So just trying to make it for these 5 and 6 year olds, make it seem not super complicated, but also knowing things are going to be okay, we are just gonna keep going, this is hard, but we’re just gonna have to keep going. That’s what I have to tell myself too, because it’s easy to freak out, and I do freak out, and it is frustrating. But for the time being we’re just gonna persevere, and this is just a giant season in life, and we can’t go and see each other, and you know, build those relationships with our kids face to face, but persevering is a huge one.

Alyssa: I think honestly, a growth mindset is something I really push for in my class. I think a lot of kids come in and have a very fixed mindset, and they’ve been told how smart they are and how great they are, and things have come so easily. Then they come to our school sometimes and they have to be challenged and they have to try and struggle, and I think for a lot of kids that’s a breaking point for them. I know for us one of the main issues that we have at our school is anxiety and depression. A lot of social emotional focus, which is definitely needed and so I think for the kids, if I can teach them to have just a little bit more of a growth mindset I think they’re better equipped, not only in my classroom, but outside of my classroom to handle challenges or to handle a struggle or to be able to process through the feelings that they’re going through. Like how to understand I’m frustrated right now, but that doesn’t mean that I can just give up or not pursue this, there has to be another way. I think promoting a productive struggle is something they can take away outside of this classroom, anywhere, and be successful with it. I think so many of them get so frustrated, or hold themselves to such a high level, or their parents hold them to a high level, that it’s really hard for them. So if I can provide support or help them figure out how to handle all the emotions, they’re also like 12 and 13 so hormones are high, they’re raging, we’re going up and down regardless, so if they can just figure out the struggle that they’re feeling, the emotions that they’re feeling, is something that everyone is feeling as well and that they’re not in it alone, then they can still learn to feel that emotion, but also get past that as well.

The Educators’ Cooperative is a non-profit organization that provides a professional learning community for K-12 teachers. Created for teachers by teachers in 2016, EdCo provides professional development and support for educators to collaborate across sectors, disciplines, and career stages. EdCo aims to revolutionize teacher development and leadership by focusing on the essential agency, autonomy, and common ground all teachers share. EdCo is based in Nashville, Tennessee with a reach far beyond that physical location and potential for replication in communities throughout the nation. When educators collaborate, the future of education is greater than the sum of its parts.

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