Carol Leonard: Teaching because it just added up
Carol Leonard of Western Sierra Collegiate Academy decidedly did not know she wanted to teach. With an engineering degree from California Polytechnic State University, she knew she didn’t want to be behind a desk, but teaching wasn’t her original plan.
Carol Leonard didn’t start to teach because she had a love for it. Though she stayed a teacher because she found that love, originally it was just a logic-based decision. “If someone had told me when I was in high school that I would be a high school math teacher, I would’ve laughed at them,” Carol says. However, after realizing a job in the engineering world wasn’t for her, she tried out teaching. After progressing a few different teaching levels, she found her fit in high school mathematics.
Carol stays aware of the trends in mathematics teaching. While this is usually done through academic papers and conferences (and Carol does draw from those), she mainly follows other teachers’ blogs and Facebook groups. “People are always asking questions and sharing new ideas […] bouncing ideas and hearing new ideas” says Carol of the benefits of online teaching circles.
While Carol teaches Advanced Placement math, Western Sierra Collegiate Academy does AP classes slightly differently from most schools. “We don’t have placement tests. Anyone past Algebra 2 can take AP Stats […] so I tend to have kids of varying ability levels,” says Carol. This is more of a help than a hindrance in many cases and has prompted Carol to get creative. “The coolest thing I ever did in my classroom,” Carol says, “is I painted all the tables with whiteboard paint.” This has a direct benefit as students can see each other’s work and Carol can see the work of each of her students, promoting a more collaborative, interactive classroom.
Collaboration has changed the tone of Carol’s classroom. With students back in class and drawing on their tabletop whiteboards again, “suddenly the kids are talking about math and interacting with it,” according to Carol.
You wouldn’t know it, but Carol actually struggled with math in school, even repeating Algebra. While that’s an unlikely starting point for a successful math teacher, that understanding allows Carol to thrive in a classroom of differing abilities and teach to her students’ strengths and weaknesses.