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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

School’s Out for Summer (And For Mr. Rowe, Too)

June 2nd, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

This week marks the end of grand experiment and challenge for me – I’ve taught middle school math for the past 39 weeks. I began the school with an apprehensive sense of anxiousness and hope and ended it with a great sense of accomplishment and relief.

Before I got involved this school year I had been interested not only in education in general, but how I might get actively involved, especially at the high school level in math and/or science. No, I have never been a teacher in a formal sense, and no, I don’t have a teaching credential either (something I was reminded of continually throughout the year). Even though I had the will and desire to become a teacher, unless I had a teaching license issued by the state of Colorado, my options were scarce.

I could have been a volunteer or a private tutor, but for me these options were limited in scope, responsibility, and personal satisfaction. I thought last year that I was at a dead end until I remembered an ad I had seen and saved a couple of years previously about a program called Denver Math Fellows. This program is a large-scale supplemental intervention program integrated into the school day.

WLA DMF 3rd Period

A Typical Classroom Setting

The concept and possibility of becoming a Denver Math Fellow (DMF) really appealed to me because one of the primary qualifications was a college degree (mine’s in industrial design/mechanical engineering technology). This was a good option for me because I had never been a teacher before. Other qualifications included the desire to help students close the opportunity gap in math, as well as committing to at least a one-year term of service — in my case August 2015 through this week.

The application and interview processes were pretty rigorous, and for good reason. First, I submitted a resume and cover letter stating why I wanted to become a Denver Math Fellow and what I could bring to the table. Next, I had to take an online math test to prove my math proficiency. I passed, so on to the next step — a face-to-face interview with the coordinator of the program of the school I have been assigned to (whose position was unknown to me at the time), as well as producing a short tutorial (on parallel lines) and presenting to a student (who was also evaluating me).

After being admitted into the program, I received a week of orientation/training that included all new and returning Fellows, followed by a week of training and setting up my learning environment in the school I was assigned to — West Leadership Academy (WLA). The Academy is a College Board school, meaning that our ultimate goal is to get all of our students prepared to excel in high school math, and, in turn, prepare them for college or career training.

In a nutshell, the Denver Math Fellows’ charter is to get middle schoolers (grades 6-8) prepared for algebra and beyond in high school. If it sounds easy; it isn’t. I didn’t quite make it to the high school level to teach like I had hoped, but that was perfectly OK. I knew I had a lot to offer middle school students.

I was happy, though, to get assigned to this school because it is near my home and I could walk to work every day — and the days were long — 6:45 a.m. to 5:00 and beyond.

In the room where I taught in, there were nine other DMFs and we handled grades 6-8. I taught students in grades 6 and 8 in 50-minute blocks throughout the day. I have been assigned 4-5 students at a time, so they all get personalized attention and instruction. Officially it’s known as math intervention. Let me make it clear, though, I was not their math teacher. I collaborated and worked to supplement their math classes and dove deeper into some of the more challenging math topics the students dealt with throughout the school year.

Noe and Me

Nearing The End Of The Year With One Of My Students (My good friend Noe)

As I said, I was paired with nine other Fellows (aged 24 to 62) and two excellent coordinators who kept it all together with total and positive support. The group I worked with was also something I relied on every day. I was honored to be a part of the team this year.

DMF is a part of Americorps, a national service network whose other programs include Peace Corps and VISTA.

My wife and most of my friends were very supportive of my adventure, and for them I am very thankful, because it’s a tough job. Some of my other acquaintances have asked why do this at your age? (I’m 60+). To them I say, “I’ve made a living, now I want to make a difference.”

Over the course of the year I was frequently asked, why was I doing this. I’d say, “It ain’t for the money.” It’s for something much bigger and the students who are creating the future. I also have been asked, “Was it worth the trouble?” I have always responded, “What trouble?’’

The program I have been in is a not a STEM/STEAM program per se, but one of my biggest hopes was that what I and my fellow Fellows did leads our students down that path.

Personally, I feel I had the most impact on two students who were not among my best in math academics, but they both grew immensely in life and maturity, and for that I’m most proud.

I definitely am not the same person I was in the beginning of the school year and this has been a very humbling experience. I have become more patient, compassionate, and empathetic – and that’s a good thing. From the beginning I’ve wanted my students to ultimately be smarter than me, and several very well may be. On the last day of class, I told them that I hoped that they had learned as much from me as I did from them.

Overall, this was an experience of a lifetime, and one that I will never forget. I feel accomplished that I was able to do something really significant and hopefully improved the lives and futures of most of my students. People continually bitch about the educational system, and so did I, but I did something about it. And with the school year drawing to a close, I did it!

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3 Responses to “School’s Out for Summer (And For Mr. Rowe, Too)”

  1. Dennis Nagy says:

    Great story, Jeff. Glad to have read it and learned of your worthy involvement.

  2. Ray Chalmers says:

    When one teaches, two learn. -Robert A. Heinlein

    Enjoyed the article.

  3. Linda Lokay says:

    Jeff – Congratulations and a big Thank You for your commitment to paying it forward to help our future generations!

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