Educator Spotlight: Jennifer Givens

Amberlee Cooper, Content Marketing Manager

Meet Jennifer Givens

What grade do you teach? (Or what is your title or role?)

I am the Title 1 resource teacher and support grades K–2 in math and ELA. I plan with teachers, and co-teach and conduct small group interventions.  

What school, district, or institution do you work for? Location?

I work for Baltimore County Public Schools at Halethorpe Elementary School.

Who inspired you to become an educator?

My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Wright, made learning so much fun. There was always music and movement in her room and a welcoming, positive environment that encouraged risks.  

What motivates you?

My students' growth and small successes are great sources of motivation for me. 

What advice would you give to your first-year teacher self?

You know that teacher adage about not smiling before December? The one that says put on a hard face to establish your presence in a room? Twenty-five years in, while I agree setting routines and expectations is important, I have learned that it is equally important to bring warmth and the human element to the classroom. Positive climate and rapport come before instruction and growth. So yes, smile at your students, greet them at the door; make them feel welcome just like Mrs. Wright did for me.  When students belong, you'll find they are much more willing to comply, and you won't have to frown through Christmas!

What do you wish more people knew about being an educator?

My job doesn't end when I leave the building at 4 o’clock. My job isn't just 10 months; I am just paid that way. I spend my evenings, weekends, and summers planning, getting professional development, and preparing for my classroom. I do this because I am passionate about education and have been since I was a little girl.

What do you love most about Bridges curriculum, Bridges math apps, or MLC?

One of the things I really like about Bridges, as a resource teacher who teaches across grade levels, is how activities from one grade level build and connect to the next. It's so cool when I can say to my third-graders, "Remember in second grade when we played ‘Make the Sum’? We are going to build on that in today's Work Place." Or when my students themselves make connections: "Oh, we did an open number line like this in kindergarten." I also really love how Bridges' skills and topics spiral so that students have multiple exposures to standards across and beyond the grade level. Math learning isn't linear. Finally, as a person who is intrigued by brain science, I am a huge fan of the Work Places. Play is not only a motivator of learning, but a creator of learning.  Work Places not only connect conceptually to math content but also provide students with the opportunity to move and talk. 

What do you love most about working with students? 

The teaching is great, but the best part of being a teacher is the relationships you build with kids. I have been doing this for nearly 25 years, and I now have students who have gotten married and have children of their own, who have become doctors or teachers themselves, students who send me messages years beyond. It's the best thanks ever for a tough job to know students are thriving.

What’s your math story? In other words, how do you feel about math and why? 

I was an all-around good student, but reading and writing always came easy for me. I was a member of the literary society and editor of the newspaper. I wrote poetry and short stories and read a lot. On the other hand, I had to work hard to achieve in math. And while I was often in the advanced or GT class, I didn't necessarily love math either. Despite that, I went to a predominantly male-attended math, science and engineering high school in Baltimore City rather than going to my zone high school.  I took advanced mathematics through AP calculus and passed mostly due to work ethic, not passion for math. I graduated with honors and promptly became an English and education major at UMBC despite my strong math and science background. I spent the better part of 15 years teaching reading and language arts, which I loved. When I became a Title 1 resource teacher at my current school and had to take on math, too, I have to be honest, I was a little hesitant.  But here's the thing...this is where the love story actually begins, because what I found in this "new math" is the “why” I was so desperately missing in the procedure-heavy math classes I took. I had no real conceptual understanding of the math I did. Teaching math, the way we teach math now, the way Bridges introduces math to students, really focuses on building conceptual understanding so that the standard algorithms actually have meaning, and I love this! Had I learned the basics the way students do now, I may have actually loved math as a student. Now I am passionate about it in the classroom and I can transfer that passion to understanding for my students.

Jennifer Givens expresses her individual perspectives in this post, and the opinions shared are solely those of the author, not necessarily reflecting the views or policies of Baltimore County Public Schools.

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