Embracing Change: Jennifer Kiederer Lawrence talks about being named a PAEMST finalist

JenniferCongratulations to Jennifer Kiederer Lawrence, of Warren Elementary School, who was named a Maryland Mathematics PAEMST Finalist! The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are the highest honors bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science (including computer science) teaching. Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science (including computer science) education. The National Science Foundation administers PAEMST on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Jennifer’s name is being moved forward to the national selection committee.  Below is a Q&A with Ms. Lawrence where she talks about why she loves teaching, what her strengths are, and how it felt when she heard she was a finalist for such a prestigious award.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?

A: I always loved kids and teaching came very naturally to me. When I was younger, I was a piano teacher, a Sunday school teacher and did a lot of tutoring. It was a natural progression and I have found that with a focus in math, I have really found my niche. I just love working with kids and with other teachers. I love learning from them.

Q: What do you think made you stand out in the PAEMST application process?

A: I think a big part of it has to do with my attitude and feelings about change, and my need to be a lifelong learner. In education we are in a time of tremendous change. With curriculum changes, with the Common Core, and with technology changes there is just so much. Our students are changing, and the kinds of families are changing. Families look very different than they did 20 years ago and even 10 years ago and a lot of people are dealing with all kinds of different challenges. I just feel like it’s so important to embrace those changes and learn as much as I can and do the best that I can, as opposed to resisting them.

I use change as an opportunity to refine my own skills and learn more. I feel like as teachers we need to really set the example for the kids. If we are expecting them to come to school every day and learn new things, and apply new things, and work really hard, then we need to be the role model for that. That’s something that I feel really strongly about. We need to use the way education is changing to help our students learn.

Q: What are some of your best practices in the classroom?

A: Engagement is key so I really try to plan fun and engaging lessons. The kids need to collaborate with each other. When they leave school and enter the workplace, they need to know how to work with each other. We work a lot on getting along with each other and supporting each other and what it looks like to work with a partner and work collaboratively, because not every child learns that at home.

It’s so important to maintain a positive environment. We strive toward supporting each other in the classroom and lifting each other up.

I also make sure to vary how I do assessments. I have formative assessments, I do observation, and I take anecdotal records where I write down things students are doing or saying and what strategies they are using to solve problems. That way, we’re not just taking tests. I have learned a lot of these skills by collaborating with other teachers…I have learned so much just by talking with other people, it helps you to build your skillset. I try a lot of new things and keep an open mind.

Q: What are your future career plans?

A: I love the little guys and I think what is happening now with Common Core is so important, because it has given teachers permission to pull back a little bit and make sure at each grade level that students are learning all of those conceptual skills and are getting all of the foundation. That way, when they get to middle and high school it’s not as much of a struggle and we don’t have those gaps. We have so many people today that say, ‘Well I’m just bad at math.’ I love being able to work with the little guys and instill a love of math, so that hopefully we have a few less of those people who say that math just ‘Isn’t their thing.’

I really would like to work more with teachers and collaborate with peers. I have been doing some curriculum writing for the county and presenting at workshops, and I really love that.

Q: How did it feel when you found out you were a PAEMST finalist?

A: It was insanely exciting. I am one of many teachers. And I know a lot of teachers that are doing an amazing job. I feel really lucky that there was something in my lesson or in something that I wrote that stood out…without the support of my administrators I wouldn’t have had so many unique experiences to draw from.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not teaching?

A: My husband and I love to sail, and play tennis. I also sing and play piano. We have lots of game nights at our house; I love playing games with friends.

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