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Helping students see the “cool” parts of Math

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Posted on Thursday, May 13, 2021, at 4:04 PM


Jay is someone at VAL who “wears a few different hats.” He started teaching geometry at VAL in the summer of 2015 and came on board as the math teacher for the Springfield center. Starting in 2018, Jay became the math teacher for both Windham and Windsor counties. Additionally, in 2019, he took on the role of a data specialist and within the last few months, he has also been the Center Coordinator for the Springfield center, the person organizing all technology accounts, and has been spearheading a project to organize information into a central database.

Jay spent his undergraduate education at Marist College. He originally went for a degree in computer science, but earned a degree in history with the intention of becoming a Social Studies teacher. Jay did spend a couple years teaching, particularly at a private school, before going to get his master’s degree in education from Johnson State College (now Northern Vermont University). While studying at Johnson State, Jay worked in Student Life and found that he really enjoyed working in Residential Life. While earning his graduate degree in Middle School Education, Jay became the Resident Director and Student Activities Coordinator at Vermont Technical College for 5 years. From 2008 until 2016, Jay was employed in the fields of hospitality and publishing while working to support his new family and determine the right occupational fit for his future. Understanding the value of math skills in the job market, Jay started working part-time toward his bachelor’s in math in 2014, earning this credential in 2018.

When asked what aspect of his work at VAL that he particularly enjoys, Jay stated that, as a math teacher, he really loves convincing people that they are capable of doing math and seeing them be able to get a problem or concept that they did not previously understand. He expressed that he always emphasizes to students that math does not have to be fast — we are taught this as a result of standardized testing. Jay said that by taking things slow, he can help people see the cool parts of math, what you can do with different aspects of math, and why they matter. Jay also stated that he loves giving folks the ability to have “another swing at bat” — sometimes people just need some help finding the “next path around the bend” and Jay enjoys helping people in that process.

When asked about his work-life balance, Jay laughed while saying, “I’m getting better.” He stated that he “works hard to work hard and intentionally” while he is at work. However, he noted that coming back into the office more instead of entirely remote work (amid COVI-19) has helped with his separation between work and home life. He also emphasized that he always tries to be present and do different things with his family when at home. In his free time, he enjoys photography, reading, using the family airbrush painting station, playing tabletop games with his son and grilling.

According to Jay, VAL’s work matters because it helps people come back around and get around that next curve. He emphasized that it is rare to have a resource like VAL that is so widely available and that it is important to have this kind of patient safe space that gets people to their next steps. He concluded that patience is one of the most important aspects and that VAL does not just “check of the boxes.”  VAL provides students with the patience, time and breathing room to “really take a moment to stop and think about next steps.”

To learn more about VAL, please visit www.vtadultlearning.org

Rebecca Shames, Vermont Adult Learning Development & Communications Intern, wrote this article.

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