Creative ways of teaching math all add up for Teacher of the Year 18-year veteran is a natural EAST COLUMBIA

June 01, 1993|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Staff Writer

Susan Howe says she has the best job in the world -- and in Howard County, at least -- she's the best at it.

Ms. Howe, an 18-year veteran math teacher at Oakland Mills Middle School, was recently named Howard County Teacher of the Year. Now, she's competing against 23 other teachers the state Teacher of the Year award.

No stranger to this sort of thing, Ms. Howe was a finalist for a similar national award last year and she was chosen as Maryland's outstanding Middle School Math Teacher in 1990.

Ms. Howe, a Boston native who has been teaching at Oakland Mills for seven years, says she decided on a teaching career when she was in high school.

"A high school teacher of mine used to see me in the corner all the time explaining the classwork to other students. He said, 'You're just a natural teacher.' He's the one who encouraged me," Ms. Howe said.

She left a retail sales job in 1976 after being recruited to the Baltimore City school system. Although she liked her retail job, she "just packed up and left."

Ms. Howe taught at Lemmel and Woodbourne junior high schools in Baltimore before coming to Howard County.

She says her teaching style is a combination of her personality and things she has learned.

"I attend a lot of workshops and conferences where I watch people present lessons and I take some things from there. I try as much as I can to come up with creative and exciting ways to do math. You compete with so much media today, so I try to find silly, gimmicky things that grab their attention," she said.

/# Although the students cannot al

ways remember the rule, they always remember the gimmick.

In another lesson she used unusual shapes with bright colors that students put together like puzzles to teach fractions. Many of those shapes now decorate her classroom walls.

"I try to show them that I love math and that math is fun and exciting. I think they consider me a somewhat hard teacher because I'm demanding, but I think they come to realize that I want them to learn," she said.

/# Her students agree her class is

challenging, but they say her methods are effective.

"I learn a lot of geometry. I get it all explained to me really well. My sister's in high school and she's always complaining about how bad the teachers are. It makes me appreciate Ms. Howe more," said Jordan

Fox, an eighth-grade student who has been in Ms. Howe's class for two years.

"I think she's a lot more willing to help students," said Jessica Thrasher, a 13-year-old who was in Ms. Howe's math class last year.

L One colleague said that even she learns a lot from Ms. Howe.

"She knows her job areas so well. She knows her kids and what their interests are and she tries to relate math to real life," said Donna Chernack, a fellow math teacher.

"My second year, she taught me the art of teaching word problems, something that I used to dread. Now I enjoy teaching more. Something that's so difficult for students, she has simplified. Some topics in math are really boring and I'm a math teacher saying that. But if you can get your students motivated and excited, that's incredible," she said.

One group of students whose lives she has touched Ms. Howe says she will never forget.

"One time back in the '70s when I was teaching, we had some computers donated to the school. I developed a computer programming course for a group of advanced students and I ran it just like a college course.

"The students worked really hard and I took them to a computer show where their assignment was to pick the best computer and they had to make an argument about why they chose the computer that they did. All day people kept asking me, 'Are those your students? They know so much! They're asking questions that I can't even answer.' I think a lot of those students went on to a career in the computer field," Ms. Howe said.

But for Ms. Howe, her career's success adds up in her students' faces.

"Every single day when some kid gets a big smile on their face when something they thought couldn't get done is done, thats the biggest success story," she said.

"I just love watching them grow with the accomplishments they make. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. It's the greatest job in the world."

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