Math teacher William Day believes that every student has the potential to excel in his discipline. “I think that every student is competent in some way that is important to doing math,” says Day. “Some students are really good at mental math, some are good at asking questions, and others are good at organizing their work. I think the challenge I have as a math teacher is identifying what a student is good at and making sure that they’re recognized for their strengths.”
Currently a teacher at Two Rivers Public Charter School and a Math for America DC Master Teacher, Day works closely with Math for America DC Fellows who are earning their master’s in teaching at AU to prepare them for entering the classroom. In addition to providing feedback to Fellows already teaching in DC schools and facilitating professional development sessions, Day hosts two first-year Fellows per year in his classroom as student teachers. “I’ve found that hosting AU student teachers makes me a lot more thoughtful about everything I do, because I need to explain and justify it,” Day says. “You are very vulnerable when there’s someone there observing everything that you do.”
AU students and alumni currently being mentored by Day can brag that they are working with the 2013-2014 DC Teacher of the Year. Awarded this past December by DC Mayor Vincent Gray for “outstanding leadership and commitment to student achievement,” the award came with praise and congratulations from Day’s students at Two Rivers—and a $5,000 check. “It was exciting and certainly an honor, but in some ways it was difficult to accept—I know so many other fantastic teachers,” he says. “I really feel like my practice is a collage of the best practices that I’ve seen from other people.”
A math teacher for over ten years and an MfA Master Teacher for the past two, Day is committed not only to ensuring his students understand math, but that they understand the process behind their thinking. “As a teacher, I need to teach learning,” he says. “I want my students to walk out of my classroom knowing how they acquired the math knowledge—not just what the math knowledge is. I want them to develop their knowledge and skills until they can solve problems without me.”
Launched in 2009 in partnership with AU’s School of Education, Teaching, and Health; the Department of Mathematics and Statistics; and the Carnegie Institute of Washington, Math for America DC (MfA DC) recruits Fellows with strong mathematical talent who also demonstrate a commitment to the teaching profession and service in Washington, DC. Fellows spend the first year of the program at AU earning their Master of Arts in Teaching in Secondary Education: Mathematics. Years two through five of the program they teach in a DC public or public charter school. MfA DC pays all tuition and fees, provides salary stipends each year of the program, and supports Fellows through mentoring and professional development opportunities. Current MfA DC Fellows are funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Toyota USA Foundation, and private funding.
Day believes that MfA is an asset to both math education and to the education field in general. “A lot of talented math minds don’t feel teaching is a worthwhile profession to go into, partly because teaching is not a field that recruits aggressively like other industries. By recruiting teachers, MfA brings teaching onto more people’s radars,” says Day. “I also think that for the amount of work required, teachers are not compensated very well monetarily. Programs like MfA bridge the gap between compensation and societal value, which helps keep more teachers in the field longer.”
In the future, Day plans to continue teaching, not only for his students at Two Rivers, but for the student teachers he mentors. “I don’t want to leave the classroom myself, because I feel like a lot of what has helped me work with other teachers is the fact that I’ve continued evolving and advancing my craft,” says Day. “I love working with teachers when they are just entering the classroom. It’s such an important time for teacher identity development.”
Perhaps his biggest hope lies with the developing teachers and with his role in helping to shape their futures. “MfA recruits people who are very strong in math. I hope these individuals become teachers who will strive to understand not just the concepts, but how their students understand math,” he says. “I hope they will embrace this and continue to push their practice so they’re always a better teacher this year than they were the last.”