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Article posted: 8/24/2013 8:00 AM

Rookie Mundelein teacher excited about first year

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As she prepared for the first day of classes at Mundelein High School, math teacher Maggie Sharp admitted to being a little nervous.

Not about being in front of a class of students for the first time as a professional teacher, mind you. Her anxiety had more to do with what she called the "learning curve" of being a new teacher, stuff like getting organized and discovering the things she'll need to know about the school to make it through the day.

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But the teaching part?

That's no sweat.

"I have always wanted to be a math teacher," said Sharp, 22, of Deerfield. "I have always been comfortable working with students and being in the classroom."

Sharp graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this past spring with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a minor in secondary education. She talks about her career path as if it were predestined.

"I have been informally tutoring friends and siblings in mathematics for as long as I can remember," Sharp said. "My mom is a high school math teacher as well, so I think she has been really influential in my decision."

Sharp knows math can be a struggle for many students. But as someone who grew up in the world of mathematics and understands its language and principles, she hopes to change her students' minds about what math is all about.

"I see mathematics as the art of problem-solving, and I want to provide students opportunities to engage with this on a deeper level," she said.

Instead of immediately hitting the books on the first day of classes, Sharp had her students build boats using foil, straws, tape and other supplies. The goal was to keep the crafts afloat after they were loaded with pennies.

Hardly the Pythagorean theorem, cosines or differential equations.

"(It's) something to get them engaged in the class," Sharp said. "I believe that education should provide students with meaningful opportunities to engage with challenging and interesting problems that help them grow as individuals, leaders and a community of learners."

That philosophical approach is reminiscent of "Stand and Deliver," a 1988 film starring Edward James Olmos as real-life math teacher Jamie Escalante. In the movie, Escalante uses innovative techniques to teach calculus to a group of troublesome teenagers. They succeed beyond society's expectations. It's no surprise that Sharp is a fan of the picture.

"Of course I've seen the movie -- I wouldn't be a good math teacher if I haven't." she said.

"That's what I want for my kids," she added. "To reach kids -- that's the ultimate goal."

But she has another.

"Convincing a few of them that math is kind of fun," she said.

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