August 13, 2013

Teachers Talk Back: Kris10 Ritter

Kris10 Ritter is a math teacher at the Facing History High School.

What inspired you to become an educator?

I initially did not think I would be a teacher. I wanted to leave the Midwest and thought I wanted to be a youth pastor, but wasn’t sure if it was my calling. While I was in college, I saw a posting for Math for America (MfA). On the back of this MfA flyer it asked: “Do you know anyone who loves Pi as much as pie?” I have a tattoo of the symbol Pi on my back, and I thought the program sounded great, so I applied to Math for America. Through the program, candidates go to graduate school to study math education for a year, then make a four-year commitment to teach in New York City.

I fell in love with teaching in the city, but was shocked when I saw how far behind some of my students were. I love teaching math, but I also love that my role allows me to act as a mentor to my students. Working to develop social and emotional growth is a pleasure I never anticipated when I decided to teach math.

Four years later, I’ve completed the MfA program and continue to love the experience of teaching math. I’m excited for next year. I love my kids, I teach an advisory and lead 14 sassy freshmen. My students challenge me and I love them for that. I get to know them and get to be a part of their lives briefly, and it’s beautiful. I used to think anyone could teach math, I always thought it was easy. The greatest feeling for me is taking a student, whose experience in math has been negative, and turning those feelings around and developing with that student a love for math.

Has teaching met your expectations?

I didn’t have a cookie cutter image of what teaching would look like – I was ready for anything. My experience working with students previously was in a religious setting. I was worried that math would be much more difficult to teach because it can be dry, but I’m glad I‘ve been able to put math into real life situations for my students.

I did a project where we analyzed the costs of being a smoker. Most kids see smoking in terms of, “Oh no, it’s bad for you!” When we looked at it from a financial standpoint, the kids were able to make huge connections and realize things about their values, and at the same time they learned linear algebra.

Teaching in NYC is hard. What keeps you going?

I was raised to believe that everyone needs to help everyone. My family was very service minded. We are from Indiana, and my parents raised us to know that brand names are not worth the cost and that a portion of allowances must be for charity. On Saturdays, we worked at a food bank, which I loved. I was worried when I decided to study math that my work would not align with this aspect of my upbringing.

For me, teaching was amazing because you can live off the salary, and at the end of the year you can feel proud of the work you have done and know you are making a difference in peoples lives. I love being able to be a resource for my students when they are having a hard time – it gives me strength to continue.

Equally important is the community of teachers that I’ve been lucky enough to have around me. I’m so impressed by the people I work with. Society doesn’t value the work they do, and still they work every day for positive outcomes for kids. This camaraderie is what drew me to E4E, a great place to meet and get to know people with shared values, and have great conversations.

Why is it important that teachers get involved in what's happening outside of their classrooms?

We are always learning new things about the brain, child development and new strategies to support learners. I think teachers need to stay informed so that they can be the best possible teacher for their students. You can do it on your own, but the reality is that we all need teachers. The same is true about understanding education policy. When you look back, teachers are the ones who have changed the world. Teachers helped end segregation and the lack of education for women. Teachers need to inform themselves to be effective educators and advocates for themselves and their students. Teachers don’t want to be martyrs – we want to be treated like the professionals we are, and we need to be advocating for change to make that happen.