Rilla Showles: Finding beauty in the numbers
Updated: Apr 14, 2022
Rilla Showles, the math department head at Mary G. Montgomery High School, fell in love with numbers the first time she was introduced to them and as far back as she can remember, she wanted to be a math teacher. It wasn’t in the cards for her to pursue it right away and she tried other jobs, but always had the recurring thought that she would really make a difference as a math teacher.
This thought led Rilla Showles back to math and she still loves it after 29 years of teaching. “Math is just beautiful,” she said. “It’s like a big puzzle.” She encourages her students to see it this way too. She tells them honestly that they may not use some of the things they learn in class again, but she pairs this with showing them how math is a dynamic system with infinite possibilities.
The way she teaches reflects this view. “When I am introducing a lesson, my key thing is details, details, details,” said Rilla. She urges her students to notice what is the same and notice what is different while paying special attention to common mistakes. “It makes them better analytical thinkers because they are constantly looking at and evaluating what they are doing,” she said.
Rilla’s approach gets her students away from just going through the motions and promotes a flexible reasoning that is more widely applicable. She said students can get into trouble if they simply follow the steps without thinking about the larger context of what they are doing. This flexibility is especially important for Rilla’s favorite topic – calculus. It is a combination of so many techniques that a solid foundation in the details of each is an absolute necessity. “No matter how far you get in math, you are still going to have to know how to factor and you are still going to have to find that slope,” she said. “It builds.”
She also places a lot of emphasis on getting her students to ask questions. Even if they only might have not gotten something right, she tells them it is better to ask because more often than not there is someone else that could use a refresher. The idea is that students know better than her what they don’t understand and they should demand the best out of her because she will demand the best out of them. “I tell them that I believe in them and when they leave me, they’ll be the best,” she said.
Rilla is a Nation Board Certified teacher and qualified to teach AP classes, but still constantly looks to improve. Professional development is a part of her weekly routine. On Monday nights, she likes to listen to the online talks done by Texas Instruments. She plans to keep this up forever too. “I don’t ever see myself retiring. I love what I do. I love the kids. I love the math,” said Rilla. “Not even kind of – I truly love it.”
Photos courtesy of Rilla Showles