Ashley Wlezen: Creating a classroom environment that meets the needs of its students
Ashley Wlezen of R. Max Abbott Middle School has always been drawn to education. She played school when she was a kid by making her brother and his friends do math problems over the summer. Then, she had a great math teacher who also happened to be the football coach in the 8th grade and it made Ashley realize that teaching math and coaching sports is what she wanted to do. Now, she is coaching in more ways than one. In addition to coaching softball and volleyball, she herself is just wrapping up teaching the eighth grade and becoming a math instructional coach for the other teachers.
Ashley Wlezen’s journey towards teaching other teachers started with a question. ‘What is it that you do to get the kids to enjoy math but also get them to perform?’ According to her, the recipe for her success is treating students appropriately for their age group while also maintaining a very high standard and making math fun.
For example, a lot the eighth graders that Ashley has been teaching recently don't even know the potential that they have. She said that is why they need a cheerleader to let them know that they are not defined by the grades that they have already received and they can be more than what they were told they were in the past.
The key to supporting students this way is letting students know that hard work makes all the difference in the world, but also that they do not have to struggle alone. “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, and where you came from, you are going to be successful no matter what you do as long as you put your mind to it [and] if you are having a bad day, you don’t have to go through it alone,” she said.
To make math fun, Ashley tailors her classroom to what keeps her students involved. She is constantly taking fresh approaches to math teaching and using sarcasm and psyche outs to add more unexpectedness to routine and keep things interesting for her students. “They can see that math is not always ‘sit here, solve a problem, and get an answer’,” she said. “It makes them feel more comfortable and confident about themselves.”
Even Ashley’s classroom breaks the mold. She makes sure to make minimal use of fluorescent lighting, decorates the room with student pictures instead of math posters, and uses scent diffusers to make it smell like whatever season it happens to be. “This is a math classroom, but it is not all about math,” said Ashley. “It is about making you feel comfortable, so you can succeed.”
It all works together to keep students engaged and excited to see what comes next. It makes for a lasting impact with her students too. “I’ve switched schools and I still have kids contacting me,” said Ashley.
Photos courtesy of Ashley Wlezen