How a math educator solved her ‘unknowns’ and became a top NYC teacherBy Marietta Timblaco-Geraldino, Ph.D.
The class has just finished listening to the musical piece “Dream of Cherry Blossoms” of the Lincoln Center Institute’s Striking Sounds. Students were deep into their group work, interpreting the mathematics behind the first phrase of Sakura, the fundamental music of the “Dream of Cherry Blossoms.” Using their knowledge of geometric sequence and periodic functions, the students analyzed the period of each note of Sakura’s first four measures, discussed how to graph a three-cycle sine wave of each note, and noisily struggled to determine the mathematical model of a musical note’s sine wave.
I felt a surge of pride and joy. The math-music connection lesson that I had been crafting for weeks finally came to fruition. This is how an excellent math classroom should look and sound like. I teach for this moment.
But it is not always like this.
Coming to New York City through a temporary H-1B teaching visa was a risk and a commitment to several unknowns. After all, I was already an accomplished educator for 15 years and at one time the vice president for Academic Affairs at St. Paul University Surigao, in the Philippines. But the offer to be part of the dynamic teaching force of the NYC Department of Education was irresistible. Who would pass up the chance to teach and to live in the city with infinite possibilities? To borrow the wisdom of Loida Nicolas Lewis, “If it happened and not in New York, then it did not happen.”
With my educational portfolio, I was confident that I would make it on day one. First, I am a trained teacher with a degree in BSE Math from San Nicolas College. I have two Master’s degrees: M.S. in Educational Measurement and Evaluation from the De La Salle University in Manila, and M.S in Mathematics from the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. Besides, I have, under my belt, a repertoire of exemplary math teaching strategies that I learned from my Professional Studies in Teacher Education from the Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove Campus, in Australia. And classroom management should certainly not be a problem with my Ph.D. in Educational Management from St. Paul University Philippines.
But the reality hit me in the face as fast as my first teaching day. I could not seem to manage my space! My students and I were both confused with our unique accents and minutiae of cultural nuances. I was totally and unquestionably out of my comfort zone. My much touted classroom command was challenged to its core. At the end of my first teaching day, I experienced what one calls a downward spiral.
According to Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, authors of the book “The Art of Possibility,” downward spiral talk stands “for a resigned way of speaking that excludes possibility…. It is based on the fear that we will be stopped in our track and fall short in the race, and it is wholly reactive to circumstances, circumstances that appear to be wrong, problematic, and in need of fixing.”
For days, I sought the comfort of an overcrowded pew of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where I searched for answers and expressed my inadequacies. As a math educator, I tried to problem-solve. What are the givens, the pros and the cons? What does it require to solve my dilemma? How do I reach point B from point A and back? Amid the noise of the tourists who were mesmerized by the church’s architectural design and the murmured prayers of the devotees, I discovered a pathway. The predicament, after all, stemmed from missing my husband and four children who were left behind in Surigao City, my fear of the unknown and the ‘what ifs,’ my intransigence to what is. I then decided to focus on what I can control, re-assess my personal trajectory, and reach deep into my core. Teaching is, after all, what I came here to do and do best.
As a first step, I scanned for pros and discovered three assets: I have a professional and supportive principal, Ms. Latasha Greer, shared a classroom with an excellent Science teacher, Ms. April Blount, and was mentored by a former principal, the great Mrs. Carrie Simpson. I then started to envision how a successful class looks and sounds like. Next, I strategized on how to arrive there: Surround myself with people that imbibed positive thoughts, observe teachers who demonstrate good management skills, watch videos and read biographies of successful American educators, and request my mentor to demonstrate in my class her actionable comments.
Simultaneously, I renewed my commitment to do what I do best – teach with passion and purpose and demand excellence from every child in class. The key was and still is to believe in every child’s potential to succeed. My course of action was simple: Plan to succeed, demand an accountable classroom culture, track student’s learning progress, engage the parents in their child’s learning, and adopt the best teaching practices from and share my own professional expertise with colleagues.
So, what does it take to be a Big Apple Award winner for teacher excellence in New York City? There is no simple answer. But foremost, the educator must have the skill, the will, and the heart to nurture each child in a rigorous, and yet instructionally sound and supportive learning environment. He or she must possess an innate passion for excellence and demonstrate a genuine desire to bring about a positive change in both the classroom and the school community.
Marietta Timblaco-Geraldino, Ph.D. is a Big Apple Ambassador at New York City Department of Education. She has been teaching high school mathematics at Frederick Douglass Academy II in Harlem since 2004. “Great teachers are a school’s most valuable asset,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he presented cash and trophies to Marietta and 10 other teacher awardees at a ceremony in Gracie Mansion. Marietta lives in Brooklyn with her family.