Teaching adds up to award

Arithmetic: A Havre de Grace specialist is named Elementary Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

October 03, 2004|By Erika Hobbs | Erika Hobbs,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A Havre de Grace Elementary School teacher has won a prestigious award for state math educators, making her the third Harford County teacher to do so in as many years.

Virginia Hinckley, 52, a 31-year veteran of the Harford school system, was named Elementary Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics, a professional organization for arithmetic educators.

She was one of 10 teachers of the year chosen from a statewide pool of applicants.

"It's really about the prestige of sort of being endorsed by other teachers," said Gail Kaplan, the council's awards chairwoman. "You know, teachers in our society don't always get a lot of recognition, and it's important to recognize those who are doing a phenomenal job."

Hinckley is a math specialist at Havre de Grace Elementary, the school she attended. Last year, the year she was nominated for her work, she also taught a fifth-grade math class.

For the bulk of her career, Hinckley taught fifth grade in Harford County and helped open North Harford and Ring Factory elementary schools. She switched to teaching third grade for a few years and in 1996, became the county's math specialist, helping to develop curricula and train staff.

After funding cuts eliminated her position, she returned to Havre de Grace Elementary as its math specialist. She then began teaching the fifth-grade math class to relieve the teaching burden in the crowded school.

Havre de Grace is a Title I school where a high number of children receive free or reduced-price lunches. Many of its pupils need extra attention.

"I thought [Havre de Grace] is where I could be most effective," Hinckley said.

Over the past several years, Hinckley has served on state committees to revise content standards, create curricula and devise assessment strategies.

She regularly serves on county and statewide teaching symposiums, and she leads a night class where she shares her classroom strategies.

"She puts in innumerable hours beyond her work days, beyond reasonable expectations," said Sarah Morris, the county's math supervisor, who nominated Hinckley for the award.

Hinckley said her teaching, training and planning often keep her up past 11 p.m.

"I get up in the morning, and I am motivated because every day something is new; every year, something is new," she said. "I always try to keep improving what I do, find exciting ways to be learning and then put that into practice."

Morris said she nominated Hinckley for the award because she demonstrates "exemplary performance" in both teaching and developing strategy.

"Her skill is in making abstract concepts concrete for students. She is masterful," Morris said.

Hinckley's trademark technique is to use "manipulatives," such as cube- and rod-shaped blocks in varying sizes that children can hold and move around to represent number values. Once pupils see how big or small a number is, Hinckley moves on to the more traditional part of the lesson, such as subtracting fractions or decimals, Morris said.

In her application for the award, Hinckley summed up her approach with a quote from Albert Einstein: "If I can't picture it, I can't understand it."

Hinckley, who grew up in Harford County and New Jersey, comes from a math-minded family. Her mother was nurse, and her father was a safety engineer.

Her love of math and inspiration to teach came from her former teacher Georgia Wensell.

"She was the first who made math a challenge for me," Hinckley said.

Hinckley lives in Bel Air with her husband, a music teacher at Fallston Middle School.

"Teaching is rewarding because you are making a difference in someone's life," she said.

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