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  • Writer's pictureMadaline Dunn

Jennifer Neague on encouraging students to share ideas and defeating math anxiety

Jennifer Neague of D.H. Conley High School is an educator who values putting learning in her students' hands. She understands each student will have their own learning style and personal experiences and incorporates this into her lesson plans and into the foundation of her classroom.

Jennifer Neague is now in her twelfth year of teaching, but when she was at college, she expected that she'd end up an electrical engineer. However, one day, her professor put the idea of teaching in her head, and it stuck. "I felt like I could explain those challenging math concepts, and I liked breaking it down into something more easily understandable," said Jennifer. "I like showing people that they can do it. It's just about finding a better way to approach things." Jennifer explained that while it's not her goal to make every student love math, she makes it her mission to help students find it easier than they did when they first entered the class. "Not everyone thinks the same way, but we can find an approach that works for all of us."

At the beginning of the school year, Jennifer starts with the elementary concepts to gauge where everyone is and what they're capable of and works from there. She explained that while she's very hands-on, she doesn't like to stand and lecture the class. Instead, she employs peer learning, where she encourages students to partner up and teach each other by adopting student-teacher roles and then reversing those roles. "Sometimes a student might not be willing to tell a whole class they don't understand a concept or problem, but they might be able to say it to their peers." Jennifer said it's often in small groups where students feel comfortable sharing their thought processes, so she's very open to those math conversations. "That way, students understand it's not just my classroom. It helps them find their place, and where they fit in, mathematically into society."

Jennifer also believes in the importance of engaging with students' interests and their lives outside of the classroom. "We have a very diverse group of students. Some who are very fortunate in life, and others who are not," she said, adding that having open conversations about this can be eye-opening for students and also helps to create a support network. Jennifer also explained that it's important to let students know that they have responsibilities. "I try to hold them to a standard," she said. That said, she explores class expectations from the very beginning and the expectations they have for her too.

For Jennifer, professional development is an essential component of being a good teacher, and she believes that you never stop learning. "The world is forever changing, and I don't want to be one of those teachers that does something a particular way just because I've always done it like that." She also obtained her master's degree in her fifth year of teaching.

Reflecting on her favorite part of being a teacher, Jennifer said she loves watching the lightbulb moment in students and debunking the math myths and math anxiety that many students carry. "I love hearing students say, 'Oh, this one's really easy. Let me explain!’"

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Neague

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