This week, we are celebrating and recognizing teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week! Kim Thomas, 2016 Teacher of the Year for Illinois, shares how she creates joy at school for kids.
My students call me “Mama Math” sometimes. It came about because of a kid who started calling me Mom, and then some of the other kids did, too. I said, “Okay, I’ll be your Math Mom!”
For me, the word “love” is so important. Everything I assign or every sheet of paper I pass out, I always write, “Have a Mathtastic Day! Love, Mrs. Thomas!” or “Algebra is terrific and so are you! Love, Mrs. Thomas.” There’s always a message. I have no problem telling my kids “Be safe. Love you.” when they leave. It has a calming effect on them. Not all of them will say it back, but eventually they come around. My goal is to bring them joy when they come to school, and create that safe place.
I had one student, who was a little older; she came into the room on her first day of class, sat in the back, and put her head down. I started sharing with her why we can’t have our heads down, and she put her head up and yelled, “I hate math!”
I took her to the side, put my arms on her shoulders, and said, “Let me tell you something. Now, I’m your Math Mom. Moms love you, but they have to get on you. I would never put you down for the age you are in my class. I would never put you down for your test scores, or for anything ever. I’m here to build you up. Can you please give me that 1/60th of a minute and let that mathiliciousness run off on you?”
“I don’t even know my times tables,” she said.
“I don’t care,” I said.
“You don’t?” she asked.
“No, because I’m going to help you out. Give me a chance to help you with those.”
“Well, I have to use my fingers to count,” she said.
“Again, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how you come in the room. You just have to give me that chance,” I said.
She looked at me a little teary-eyed. She still didn’t have that positive parabola. But she sat back down, kept her head up, and started working.
Every time my students come into the classroom, I give them square root of 25 questions that I call Math Muscles. I say, “Math Muscles, show me what you got!” She started doing these, and pretty soon in class she’s saying, “Nobody blurt anything out, let me try this!”
She took her NWEA MAP test and went up 11 x 2 points. She was so excited, and I was so excited. Seeing her not be afraid to do math was such a joy in my heart.
One day, she came up to me and said, “Hey, on my cab ride the other day, my cab driver asked me what was my favorite subject, and I said math. I cannot believe I said that, but it just came out of my mouth. I want to thank you for never giving up on me.”
For her to come out of her shell and be so excited for math class after hating it–knowing that when she saw those scores she could improve and grow–was just incredible.
We’re a math family. Parents are supposed to love their kids, but for a teacher to love them, that’s a whole different dimension. I tell my kids, “I don’t care what you do. There’s nothing you can do that will make me ever stop loving you. Nothing.”
Many of my students come back. Some visit; some I see out in the community. Once I’m their Math Mom, I’m always their Math Mom.
This is the third installment in a four-part blog series with mathemagical teacher Kim Thomas, Illinois’ 2016 Teacher of the Year. Read part 1: Mathematics Month: The Contagiousness of Kim Thomas’ Mathilicious Teaching and Part 2: Mathematics Month: 5 Practical Ways to Mathivate Kids.