Courtney Mills: “We’re all mathematicians”
Updated: Jan 10
Courtney Mills, a math coach at Creekside Elementary, believes that in order to empower students, you must first empower their teachers. In education, she values differences, and works hard to remind those around her that deep down, we’re all mathematicians.
Courtney Mills has been working in the education field since 2005, first as a teacher and now as a math coach. However, her passion for teaching stems from her childhood. In her youth, whether working as a babysitter, or a swimming teacher, Courtney loved introducing children to something new and watching them learn. This passion endured into adulthood; even when she explored other career opportunities, she always returned to working with kids.
Courtney explained that under the guidance of Dr. Katie Schwartz, she found a passion for teaching math. "She shaped me as an educator," she said. "She really sparked the joy of teaching math in me."
Originally from North Dakota, she explained that what she loves most about working in North Carolina is the diversity of the children she works with. She embraces and incorporates this diversity into her math instruction, understanding that every child can learn if they are just given the tools that work for them. This is why Courtney places great value on differentiation in her classroom.
"I believe in having a student-centered approach when it comes to teaching," she said. "I believe that my work behind the scenes is to plan around what kind of an entry point will work best for students and think about which real-world situations the math connects." Subsequently, Courtney has found that real-world math applications are particularly helpful for students' understanding of mathematical concepts. As a result, she also encourages teachers to work with as many visual activities as possible.
Courtney explained that elementary educators often don't believe they're mathematicians because they have more of a literacy background. "I like to help people realize that they are mathematicians, even if they didn't feel they were successful in that area when they were younger."
"So often people say 'Oh, I'm not a math person.’ I even hear it from first graders, but we're all mathematicians," said Courtney. She explained she doesn't want students to compare themselves with their peers because everyone is different so success will look different to each student, too. Further to this, she explained that teachers must be sensitive to the learning gaps that have formed due to Covid. "Getting to know where students are is critical to helping them grow."
As a math coach working with teachers in the classroom, Courtney ensures that she's always up-to-date with the latest in education and is currently working with the State on a research project. "It's all about continually thinking about how we can empower teachers as mathematicians and bring in high-quality equitable math instruction."
Photo courtesy of Courtney Mills