We have a lot of autonomy at Friendship. We are also provided with benefits to make our life easier. If I am able to worry about fewer things, I can be a better teacher.
Can you talk about your journey to your current position as a middle school math teacher at Friendship Chamberlain?
I started at Friendship Blow Pierce in 8th grade. My mother took me out of public school because it wasn’t a good fit for me academically or socially. I had a great year at Blow Pierce, and from there I went on to Friendship Collegiate. I participated in the Early College Program and was part of POSSE. I received a Friendship Scholars scholarship. If you had asked me ten years what I wanted to be, I would have said “an architect.” After leaving DC for college at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and then returning, I saw my city differently. That was when I began to consider teaching. Then my mentor, Rictor Craig, helped to make this decision final. He introduced me to different teaching training programs including the DC Teaching Fellows, Urban Teacher Center, and Teach for America. After a lot of research, I decided that UTC was the best fit for me. It was a 4-year program and it included a dual master’s degree and placement in a school. I graduated from that program in 2015.
I have enjoyed this opportunity to give back to my community.
What has it been like to teach Eureka Math?
This is my fourth year at Friendship. During my first year we taught Go Math, which was less holistic. When we switched over to Eureka math it was overwhelming at first because it was a new way to teach math. Eureka requires students to know conceptual versus procedural. Growing up, we learned procedural, “This is how you solve it,” but not necessarily, “This is why it works.” I tell parents that Eureka is probably the best thing to happen to our children for a couple reasons. It introduces the correct vocabulary to students, like “decompose/compose” versus “borrow,” etc. It starts with place value which is required to truly read, understand, and manipulate numbers. Even my own understanding of math has deepened because of Eureka.
What do you like about teaching math?
I wasn’t always a math person. Growing up, I was a big reader and writer – poetry, reading stories, Harry Potter, fantasy fiction. I was all about books, all about words. I was a philosophy major and a religious studies minor. However, I believe that reading helps you become a better mathematician. Many math problems are simply word problems, applying skills in a real world context.
The greatest joy that I receive from teaching is knowing that my students are learning and look forward to coming to my class.
As much as it is about each student getting better at math, it is also about me improving my craft, too. Every year I am getting better. Not only at teaching math, but at building relationships with my students, the way I communicate with parents, and the way I work with my peers. I give all of my students my number and tell them to call me if they need help with their homework. I enjoy being a male role model for my students. I recognize that some of my students are missing something in their life that I am helping to try and fill. When students feel comfortable sharing the personal struggles they are experiencing with me, I know that I must be doing a good job.
Sometimes in class I say, “Alright, story time.” “Story time” means that Mr. Bowman is going to tell you something about his own life when he was your age, as well as lessons learned from mistakes. I believe this makes my students feela more comfortable with me because they know a lot about me.
This is my favorite sound of all time: “Oh!” We could be taking a test when everyone is supposed to be silent, but if I hear a student say, “Oh!” I am ecstatic. It lets me know you just had an “Aha moment” and something illusive now makes sense to you.
Recently we were talking about the metric system, and I realized I was not explaining it effectively because they were not getting it. I thought about what I was saying and how I could change what I was saying so that they could understand these concepts. I sat down with my math coaches and the special education teacher and we discussed the kind of language we needed to use for students to understand. I went home for the weekend, and the next week I told my class that I made a mistake – this is how I should have taught the lesson. And every 45 minutes after I started explaining something with a new approach, I saw face after face light up with understanding. They may not have completely grasped the conversion process, but they were beginning to understand. We need to think about our end game. Do we want students to only be able to convert the units or do we want them to understand why we are converting units? Sometimes I ask students, “Based on these questions, what operation should we use to solve this?” A lot of learning happens through discourse and trial and error. It is the struggle with knowledge that helps you to retain and internalize it. You don’t learn if I give you the answer. You learn from trying it yourself, making a mistake, and trying again.
Are there any tips you have for new teachers?
Absolutely! The first one would be, “Don’t do this work if you’re not ready to commit to it.” In addition to being a teacher, am I ready to take on the role of “social worker, father, brother?” Am I ready to stretch myself for the betterment of other people?
My mom was the type of person who would give everything she had to others. She sacrificed so much without ever looking for anything in return. She always went out of her way to be there for other people and that trait definitely rubbed off on me. I want to do meaningful work, and I want my work to be impactful to the world around me, not just myself. My mother was a big inspiration.
What is special about Friendship?
We have a lot of autonomy at Friendship. We are also provided with benefits to make our life easier. If I am able to worry about fewer things, I can be a better teacher. Friendship helps you to be in a good space overall. Now I am excited to wake up at 5:45 a.m., drive for twenty minutes, and wait three minutes for the building to open at 6:30 a.m. I plan to stay in education for the rest of my career. Had I stayed at my previous school, I would not have stayed in education. I have never felt so happy and at ease with a job.