“Don’t you feel like you won the lottery?” I asked Christina Depweg, the newly minted recipient of the coveted Teach For America Scholarship. The prize totals $100,000 as well as her Master’s program at the University of Southern California paid for in full, and most importantly, a guaranteed four year teaching position in a Los Angeles high school. “I do, I mean it still really has not hit me. I just found out last week,” she said as she gazed off into the distance.
Depweg has won the award for numerous reasons; outstanding grades, community involvement, excellent recommendations, high GRE scores and because she passed a full day interview for finalist. Depweg beat out hundreds of other students for the prestigious prize. She is ready to be the math teacher this country urgently needs.
She showed up carrying a purse, her nails painted and hair done in perfect curls. Meeting Christina for coffee seemed more like an outing with a friend then a profile of an academic. She is in her early 20’s and has an open, warm and bubbly personality.
We are all aware of Hollywood’s portrayal of mathematicians; typically insane, antisocial and forward. Does she find herself in this category? “No, no actually I am Catholic and my faith keeps me grounded.” Regarding the infamous crazy professors, “I find the crazy ones, usually do not make the best teachers.” A teacher is what she aspires to be, to translate the mathematical language and processes is her passion.
When asked if she knew teaching was where she wanted to be, she gives an immediate “Yes!” She did not know that is was math that she wanted to teach, in fact on her SAT’s she scored higher in English than in Math. Her math skills improved through high school and excelled immensely in college. When the opportunity to help others along the way came up, she Math Teacher from the Future hopped right on it. Helping people understand and realize they too, can do well in math has led her to truly find her calling in teaching.
It is no secret America has some of the lowest test scores in the world, especially in math and science. According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, when compared to students in 30 other industrialized countries the U.S. ranked 21 in science and 25 in math.
“How do you plan to attack such a huge problem, how do you get the students to even care?” She answers as if she has been thinking about this problem since birth, “It’s fundamentals, we are allowing kids to move on in school without a strong foundation. Anybody is capable of succeeding in math. We have not placed enough emphasis on this problem. Math builds, and if you are having trouble in high school it’s probably because there is lack of previous fundamentals.” Her answer makes perfect sense, and their is many academics who would echo her response.
“I believe the utmost important aspect of a teacher is compassion. If a teacher doesn’t care about their students and helping them succeed and follow their dreams, the students will get nothing out of their education. Many times, teachers teach without passion and it hurts the students who don’t receive as great of an education as those with a passionate teacher.” The frustration of today’s high school teachers who are overworked and underpaid, trickles down into the classroom. The overall environment for students at public schools is usually hectic where students are treated more as a number than a person.
We should not be surprised when students underperform in public school settings. Class sizes are at an all time high and teachers may be responsible for hundreds of students a day. It is easy for teachers to forget what the essence and embodiment of the profession is all about. “I want to make sure that all of my students know that I deeply care about them and am there for them to support them in whatever it is, whether it is academically, socially, or just being that person that believes in them when they feel like no one else does,” Christina wholeheartedly understands that her future in teaching is more than just a job.
The future of teaching is unknown. There is much debate over policy and teaching procedures. According to an article by LiveScience, some even believe future people will no longer have human teachers, they believe we will have robots doing the job. Sugata Mitra, a renowned professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, used an experiment called “Hole in the Wall” in which he placed a computer in the slums of India to see how children would respond. He found the children were able to teach themselves how to use the equipment and teach others. He has theorized one day all we will need is computers to teach children.
With the scores current students are obtaining, it is clear something must be done. It is understandable for people to feel current teachers are inadequate and that there is a clear gap in translation. “I do not believe in tenure. The idea seems great but there are definitely problems with that.” Complacency is where Christina finds a problem.
Depweg is also not an advocate of the much-debated policy of No Child Left Behind. “What is the point of teaching without creativity? I do not want to teach to tests, that is not the only accurate measure of a students intellect nor is that [a] teaching method in which every student should be taught.” I asked her to elaborate and to explain alternate methods. “I am teaching now at a Waldorff school, where the method of teaching is designed in which students are extremely hands on. We integrate smart boards and iPads as well as games to do math, instead of the lecture/test method.”
In a public school setting there are students from all walks of life and all have varied learning patterns. “I plan on incorporating a number of methods. I will do lecture and test and then I will do something like games or visual and group projects.”
So perhaps Depweg is not exactly a robot from the future but her preplanned efforts and ideas on teaching are fresh and invigorating yet incredibly inherent in the profession. Paul Swendson, professor and author, writes that the poor teachers we have today more readily resemble robots. Teachers with Christina Depweg’s passion, compassion and intellect are the leaders we need in public schools. She believes we do not need to lower our standards in public education but to become more creative, in essence we need better teachers. The future of education does not need an extremely radical restructure but a new army of teachers with knowledge and hope along with the ability to translate that sentiment to students.
Christina genuinely wants to help others, she does not boast about her own genius, alternatively, she believes it is something every single person can have. To channel that ability and mindset in her future students is her life path, the true life path of anybody who dreams of becoming a teacher.