Mathematics Teacher of the Year on mission to help underperformers

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THE 2019 Mathematics Teacher of the Year, Karema Mundell-Thomas, is on a mission to transform the way teachers at the primary level communicate messages regarding the subject to students who are underperforming.

In an interview with JIS News, Mundell-Thomas says during her year, she wants to impart to other teachers the non-traditional strategies and best practices she has been using in her classes with under-performing students.

“As a high-school teacher, knowing the challenges that we face, I want to channel some of that into the primary system and, if possible, even below that level, but for now, the primary level is a key point for me,” Mundell-Thomas said.

She said that one of the main reasons she believes she won was due to the manipulative strategies she has been using in the classroom, which include teaching boys and girls in separate classes, given that research has shown that both genders learn differently.

“Manipulatives are a very critical part of all my lessons. Interestingly, one of the classes that I was observed [in], as part of the competition, was an all-boy class. Some of them are not able to read well, and so I had to find innovative ways, innovative strategies to engage them in the lesson because it cannot be a class that is just reading. This is an area in which they are not so good, so I’ve had to find novel ways to use manipulatives in the lessons, because boys like to work hands-on,” Mundell-Thomas said.

She adds that her research has made her stand out from average mathematics teachers, and she will be encouraging other mathematics teachers to do more research during her year.

“I believe mathematics teachers should be researchers. What I try to do is research and find novel ideas and novel ways of presenting a certain concept,” she says.

When asked if her dream was always that of becoming a mathematics teacher, she thought twice before responding.

“That question is difficult to answer. When I was in primary school, I wanted to become a teacher, but when I went to high school and saw the challenges that come with teaching, I kind of didn’t want to be in it again, but now that I’m in it, it’s really the best profession,” Mundell-Thomas said.

“Mathematics has always been a passion of mine from high school – Charlemont High in Sts Catherine – but I really did not want to be in the classroom, so I shied away from studying education, despite being encouraged by my maths teacher to go into mathematics education. I went into counselling. However, when I was awarded my degree, I ended up applying for a job teaching mathematics. Somehow I was successful, and as they would say, ‘the rest is history’. I ended up teaching maths and I’m telling you, I’m passionate about it, and it’s something that I really love, and now I cannot see myself coming out of it,” she said.

Unlike many teachers, her challenges regarding work are not in the classroom but travelling to Carron High School each day.

Mundell-Thomas has to travel 27 miles on three taxis from her home in St Catherine to the hills in St Mary where the school is located.

She has been doing this for the last 15 years, and although it is a struggle, it is one Mundell-Thomas has learnt to embrace and use as a form of motivation.

Now that she has been awarded the 2019 Mathematics Teacher of the Year, she said the years of commuting have been worth it.

“I am elated. Very rarely are mathematicians recognised, so I am really grateful for this competition and the opportunity to be awarded the winner,” Mundell-Thomas said.

She told JIS News that her next major move is to pursue a master’s degree in mathematics.

At the launch of National Mathematics Week, acting permanent secretary, Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Dr Grace McLean, congratulated all finalists before the announcement of the winner.

“You are all winners. You have come this far and we are proud of you, and I know, just as how our Teacher of the Year did for last year and the year before, you will continue that tradition of ensuring that we pass on the information and the knowledge to those who are coming.”

The annual competition is open to mathematics teachers who have consistently applied best practices effectively in the classroom. It was first introduced in 2013 to highlight best practices in the teaching of the subject at the primary and secondary levels of the education system and to also recognise teachers who were being effective in terms of their approach to teaching the subject.


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