Dr. Jenny Van Buren
Powdersville High School
1.) Tell us about your role as an educator. What does your typical day look like?
I believe that my primary role as a mathematics educator is to focus on teaching while maintaining a focus on teaching .On a typical day, I greet each student at the classroom door.I start each class by saying, “Good morning, my people!”This is a time for me to check in; I assess which students are absent and how the students that are present are doing.We review previously learned topics through a warm up activity before connecting new topics to prior learning.At the end of class, I recap the lesson, make sure that I checked for understanding, and remind students about upcoming due dates or assessments.As the class is dismissed, I tell my students to have a great day.I strive to constantly make connections, both personally and between mathematical concepts.
2.) What’s your education philosophy summed up in one sentence?
The purpose of education is to provide a safe and stimulating learning environment in which all students have opportunities to construct their own knowledge, think deeply about content, and develop skills that can be used to solve problems in the real world.
3.) Why did you become an educator?
I am a first-generation college graduate from a low-income, single parent home. I contribute much of my success to the teachers that encouraged and helped shape me into the person and educator I am today. It was my teachers that motivated me to not only be successful in school, but to find a way to make a difference in my community. Thus, I was inspired to become an educator and to work hard to make a difference in the lives of my students.
4.) As an SCASCD Emerging Leader, how do you hope to have a greater effect on education in your community and beyond?
As an SCASCD Emerging Leader, I hope to have a greater effect on education in my community and beyond by dedicating myself and my work to the improvement of teaching and learning of all students in South Carolina.By improving upon my own practices as a teacher and teacher leader, I hope to increase my capacity to inspire positive changes.In order to influence other educators to improve their practices, I realize that I need to constantly work to collaborate and build relationships with colleagues, serve as a mentor to others, work with curriculum, participate in professional development, and model continuous improvement.My goals for my work as a teacher leader are to improve upon my own practice and to learn from others, while also inspiring teachers in my school, district, and state to make positive changes that result in students achieving to higher standards.
5.) What types of professional development (books, DVDs, webinars, courses) have made a difference in your career?
The most meaningful professional development that has made a difference in my career has come in the form of collaboration with other educators regarding how we can improve our practices. It is through deep discussions and reflections that I have, together with colleagues, identified needed changes and solved problems in order to improve my teaching practices.
Specific professional development experiences that have made a difference in my career include my doctoral coursework at the University of Florida and professional conferences for educators. Most recently, I was a speaker at the South Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics (SCCTM) Fall Conference and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Annual Meeting and Exposition. This summer, I will attend the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) High Schools that Work Conference. These experiences allow me to collaborate and share ideas with teachers and educational leaders from other schools and districts. I am able to apply my learning from these experiences not only in my own classroom, but also as I work with colleagues within my local school and district.
6.) Was there a pivotal moment when you realized your career choice in education was the correct one? Describe that time.
I have taught a variety of students at a variety of levels. Some graduate and move on to graduate college. A few, fail my class. There are many struggles with teaching, but I think the hardest for me is seeing students fail. During my first year of teaching, one of my seniors did not pass Algebra 2. I had multiple conversations with him and his mother, begging him to come to class and turn in assignments. He did not, and he failed. The next year, he visited me wearing an Air Force uniform. He thanked me for allowing him to suffer the consequences of his decisions. Through his failure, he learned that effort is required to succeed. He had completed summer school and graduated. In that moment, I knew that my career choice in education was the correct one. Despite the struggles I had experienced with this student, I knew in that moment that I had made a difference for him. I keep his photo in my classroom to remind me that, even when students fail, my role is to teach them to persist and to learn from their mistakes.
7.) If you could make one major change in education, what would it be?
I would change the way our culture values education. Teachers would be well respected, and all students, in all states and all districts, would have access to rigorous and relevant curriculum.
8.) What is your most rewarding experience as an educator?
My most rewarding experience as an educator is the moment that students start to believe in themselves and not accept defeat.It is when students persist through difficult tasks.It is students learning from a mistake and doing better.It is the achievement of assisting my students to develop a growth mindset and understanding that, while their work may not be perfect, they are progressing.The only failure is quitting.