Fellow Q&A: WW Teaching Fellow Liz Gleixner
WW Teaching Fellows come from many different backgrounds but are united by a single goal: to teach science, technology, engineering, and math (the STEM fields) to some of the nation’s highest-need students. But what makes these Fellows tick? What inspired them to pursue a career in the classroom? In this WW Perspectives series, we hear from WW Teaching Fellows about what drew them to the program.
Liz Gleixner was not someone who always loved math. But, after her 2014 Ohio WW Teaching Fellowship, she decided to take on the challenge of teaching math at Wooster High School in Wooster, Ohio.
WW Perspectives: What drew you to teaching math as a career?
Liz Gleixner: When I was going through school, even into college, I did not like math. I thought it was difficult to understand, I never understood why it was important, and I always felt disconnected from my math teachers. It wasn’t until late into my bachelor’s work in chemistry that things really started to click. I never planned on teaching math, and always thought I would end up teaching chemistry or middle-level science. When I was offered a math position, I decided to challenge myself and accept the job. I think that my background changes how I approach math with my students– it is easier for me to relate to my students who don’t like math, since I was once one of those students. They push me to think outside of the box, and encourage me to find new uses and applications each and every day.
WWP: Was there any reason you chose to attend your specific university?
LG: For me, the University of Akron allowed me a chance to come home. For my undergraduate work, I had relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When I saw that I could earn my master’s degree at the University of Akron, I knew that it was my ticket home. It has been so nice to be close to family and friends again, and have connections to the area I work.
WWP: What do you think was the best preparation that you received for the realities of classroom teaching?
LG: I don’t think anything prepares you for being in the classroom besides simply spending time in the classroom. The opportunity to have a full-year internship, with fantastic mentors, was most important to me. I had the opportunity to be a little daring and try some new things, which gave me the confidence I needed to continue teaching in an outside-of-the-box manner when I was on my own this year. I am told constantly how I don’t seem like a “first-year teacher,” and I don’t feel like one, simply because of how much experience I was able to get in my student teaching.
WWP: What matters most to you about your students?
LG: All I want from my students is a little effort and dedication. Too often, students think that a math problem is too challenging or too difficult. All I ask is that they give me an inch, so that I can help them go a mile.
WWP: What’s the most rewarding part of the program so far for you?
LG: The most rewarding part of the program so far are the people that I have met along the way that have become my family. My cohort at the University of Akron is so close— we regularly meet for happy hours, game nights, and holiday parties. It is so rare to have such a diverse group of people going through the same experiences. They are my “go-to” whenever I need someone to bounce ideas off of for problems in my classroom. I am also so thankful for my mentor teacher. We pushed each other to become better teachers, and to try new things. We had so much success in our classroom that we are now helping to train teachers in a self-paced mastery-based system known as “The Grid Method” that we developed during my Fellowship experience.
WWP: What would you say to someone who’s considering becoming a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow?
LG: I would definitely encourage anyone interested in becoming a teacher to investigate the program further. The program has provided me with an invaluable education, experience, and network of support. Sometimes I think about the teacher that I might have become if it hadn’t been for the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, and I am reminded just how lucky I am to have been accepted into such an amazing program.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.