Educator Spotlight: Spencer Olmsted

Amberlee Cooper, Content Marketing Manager

Meet Spencer Olmsted

What grades do you teach, and/or your title/role?

I have been a fifth grade teacher for the majority of my teaching career. I am now in my third year teaching in a highly capable fourth/fifth self-contained classroom.

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

I teach at Roosevelt Elementary School in the Olympia School District in Olympia, Washington. I started my teaching career here, and I have been here ever since.

Who inspired you to become an educator?

Teaching was a second career and it wasn’t something that was on my radar until I was in my thirties. But as I began to think about a lifetime of work, I realized that teaching might be a fulfilling pathway. I volunteered in schools and really liked the environment and working with kids. Once back in school to become a teacher, I noticed that the deeper I got, the more it suited me. Looking back, I can see that the seeds were planted long ago by camp counselors, coaches, and teachers along the way. Sometimes you don’t realize your inspirations in the moment.

What motivates you?

I’m extremely motivated to get kids excited about mathematics. I want them to see how open the subject matter is, and what a wonderful playground it is for the mind. Being there when the light bulbs go off makes the difficult parts of teaching worth every minute.

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

Teach from your passions through the standards. Learn the journey that the kids will go on so that you can guide them from your understanding. It’s hard the first year when you don’t have teaching experience to look back on, but your life experiences are just as important. As it pertains to students, always keep an open mind and be fair.

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

I think most people understand that teaching isn’t easy, but I do wish it had a more professional image and status in our culture. To quote The Google, teachers make 1,500 decisions every day. Even my autocomplete thought that sentence should end with “every year.” The management task is massive, and the way we care for our students makes the work anything but mechanical. We are constantly adapting, modifying, and reassessing everything we already know as we navigate an unending sea of newness.

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

I love the models and strategies that Bridges uses. It’s a powerful set of tools to put in the hands of students. I also love the community of educators I have connected with because of Bridges.

What do you love most about working with students? 

I love being surprised by students’ ideas. I’ve spent 16 years in fourth and fifth grade, and one might think that every idea that could get surfaced has already. Amazingly, it's always new. You can’t step in the same river twice.

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

A chapter in my math story tells about how I learned high school geometry literally in the dark. My teacher was a big fan of the overhead projector and used a long roll of transparency that he wrote on with wet erase markers, scrolling as he went. It was often punctuated with occasional droplets of sweat, a result of the heat of the projector bulb, that would drip down and smudge some of the diagrams or proofs. 

How I feel about mathematics is that geometry should be taught with the lights on. I want students doing math. I want them to be sweating on their work, talking it out with one another—even arguing. I want them to know how to face mathematical struggles with the confidence of an explorer: they might not know how it will turn out in the end, but they’ve got a lot of tools at their disposal, and they’re ready for adventure.

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Image of Spencer Olmsted