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First year teachers recall triumphs, challenges

Math successes, relationships among school year's highlights

When Kayla Anderson came to class at Sandy High School, she tried to dress up a little bit — especially at the first part of the school year.

No jeans, and she always made sure her school identification badge was visible. Anything to help Anderson — who graduated from Barlow High School herself in 2009 — avoid being mistaken for a student. But there were still some moments early in the year when she caught her students giving her a second, not-so-sure look, as if they were wondering who was really in charge.

“I get it,” Anderson said with a laugh. “You’re wondering why this semi-adult is in your room.”POST PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Kayla Anderson, a first-year teacher at Sandy High School, taught Algebra 1 and geometry, mostly to freshmen and sophomores. Watching her students experience a-ha moments was one of her favorite parts of her first year experience, she said.

But looking as young as your students is just one of the many challenges a first-year teacher must face. Math is known to be a subject students either loathe or love, with many falling squarely into the first category. Enticing them to try new ways of learning can present trials and triumphs, as Anderson’s fellow first-year math teacher Audrey Stroh discovered.

Stroh taught summer school for two years in the Portland public school system before joining SHS.

“I think summer school is a really great boot camp to set this year off to a great start,” she said.

Stroh taught an Algebra 1 support class at SHS this year, a class offered to students who need extra algebra help. The class can be difficult, both for students and teachers, because the students start off in a place where they are already grappling with math. In some cases, Stroh said, her students were even having problems with basic addition.

One way she tackled that was with something just as basic: Math bingo. The games helped the students build their skills, and made the subject fun. Students stayed engaged.

“If we’ve gone two weeks without a math bingo, I will hear about it,” she said. “They kind of feel like they’re not doing math.”

One student entered Stroh’s Algebra 1 support class without having taken Algebra 1 or geometry. Now, at the end of her junior year, she earned an A-plus in Stroh’s class and passed the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, an exam typically given to Algebra 2 students.

Experiencing those “a-ha moments” is among the most thrilling aspects of her first year.

“I think it’s always awesome to see when people are excited to come into your class, even when it’s not for the material,” she said.

Anderson had mostly freshman and sophomore students her first year, and taught Algebra 1 and geometry. While her college education courses technically prepared her to teach, it wasn’t until her feet hit the classroom floor that she learned she would need to rely on other instructors for real-world learning. For example, visiting more experienced teachers and asking where her students would struggle with a certain math lesson was helpful.

“I thought maybe I could see (the problems) quick enough,” Anderson said. “But then I realized, you can’t see them quick enough, because you can’t get past the pile of other stuff you’re doing.”

Being a recent high school graduate makes it easy for Anderson to recall what the experience was like. Students sometimes feel foolish already, she noted, just by virtue of being young. In addition to teaching Algebra and geometry, she hopes she’s able to convince students she’s on their side and wants them to be successful.

And of course it would be nice if they could learn the Pythagorean Theorem in the process.POST PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Audrey Stroh taught two years of summer school in Portland before coming to Sandy High School to teach math full-time. She said the experience helped prepare her for teaching an Algebra 1 support class at SHS, which was geared at students who needed extra math help.

“Math is an awesome subject,” Anderson said. “It’s essentially a bridge and helps you connect with students. And that’s what we want them to learn in high school — how to make them be a good person.”