Laura Myers attended the University of Tennessee and majored in Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology. She graduated in 2010, joined Teach For America, and was placed at YES Prep West. She now teaches 7th grade Math Lab at YES Prep Southside and serves as the mathematics content specialist. We interviewed her about why she’s passionate about teaching math, why she remains at YES Prep, and some of her favorite memories.
You’re in your eighth year at YES Prep. Why do you stay?
I’m passionate about math and combatting educational injustices in mathematics education. Since YES Prep starts with 6th grade, we have students who feed into our school with a variety of experiences with math– ranging from very negative to very positive. Some students believe they are “not good at math.” My team and I work to change those negative perceptions and teach that you aren’t born good or bad at math. Everyone can grow and achieve success with hard work. I love being able to have that positive impact on students’ mindsets about themselves
I also remain at YES Prep because I’m very motivated by the mission. I share a similar story with some of our students. I grew up with a single mom and didn’t speak English as my first language– I spoke Japanese. I had to start working at 13 as my family often struggled with finances and was in a position where I knew I had to earn scholarships in order to make it to college. I can help to show kids that when you’re going through something tough, you must remember your own values and where you want to be, and you can get there by never making excuses for yourself or letting anyone else make excuses for you.
Why do you enjoy teaching math? Why does math matter?
I think, first and foremost, that math is woven into what we do in the real world. I try to communicate to students that you don’t sit down and say, “Let me solve a math problem.” It’s a natural, automatic part of what we do in the real world. Math also works a certain part of your brain that controls problem solving, so you’re exercising a very necessary part of your brain.
In Math Lab, we support our students with the highest needs, so we start off every year teaching growth mindset lessons. We make sure not to praise students for ability, but for effort and growth. So if a kid is stuck and wants to give up, you can coach them not to give up and praise their grit and resiliency. Eventually, they’ll have the skillsets to get through those moments of frustration on their own.
Why is it important to have more excellent math teachers in the classroom?
There are several countries that outrank the United States when it comes to mathematical achievement, and the United States has shifted to teaching more conceptual math since this is a big area of growth in our country. It’s really important that teachers can answer the “why” because math should make sense and not simply be a set of rules you memorize. If you can answer the “why,” kids will grasp the concept and hold onto it longer.
We also need people who are passionate about math to combat the stereotypes present in mathematics. There are less women in STEM fields and that is often because girls are more likely to assume they are “bad at math.” If we have teachers that work to combat these negative stereotypes, we are opening so many doors of opportunities for all students!
What’s your favorite YES Prep memory?
My favorite memory while at YES Prep is watching the first group of students I ever taught announce where they were going to attend college at the 2017 Senior Signing Day. I taught the YES Prep West Class of 2017 when they were in 6th, 7th and 8th grades. These Marvels are the most resilient, hard-working, fun-loving group of students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. They taught me so much about myself and never gave up on me as they helped me navigate my first year of teaching, first year as Grade Level Chair, a switch in content areas, and the list goes on. I’m excited to see their positive contributions to our world, and still get chills thinking about their Senior Signing Day!