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Each week throughout a different-looking 2020-21 school year, we’ll spotlight an area classroom difference-maker. Email nominations to staff writer Anthony Zilis at azilis@news-gazette.com

TODAY:

Laura Head

Oakwood High School

Math

When she began her career in her hometown of Shawneetown, our third Teacher of the Week joked that she was the “Head” of the math department at the school.

“Not only because of my last name,” said Oakwood High School math teacher Laura Head, “but because I was the entirety of the high school math department

After starting her college career as a chemistry major, she found her enjoyment in math. Three decades later, Oakwood students are thankful she did.

"Laura cares greatly about her students and her job,” Principal Timothy Lee said. "She sets high expectations for her students in the classroom and works hard to bring them up to their level. She is the ultimate professional. She does things the right way at all times. No one works harder on her lessons or to try and find ways to teach her students."

Here's more:

I find my work important because … everything a teacher does or says has an impact on the young minds of our students. I want to have a positive impact on the lives of my students. Every day on my way to work I pray that I might be an encourager, a good role model, and provide good guidance to my students. It's not just about the subject I teach, it's the life lessons they learn that will last long after they have forgotten how to solve a quadratic equation.

I became a math teacher because … Simply put, I love math and I love to teach.  Becoming a math teacher was never my original goal. I started college majoring in chemistry but by junior year I realized I did not enjoy chemistry the way I enjoyed math (No offense to chemistry teachers). Life is too short, you have to love what you do, so I switched majors and then began to look at what I could do with a math degree in Southern Illinois.  I had been tutoring since I was in high school so teaching seemed to come natural.  

My favorite/most unique lesson that I teach is … "Flying through trig on a paper plate" where students use a paper plate to learn the Unit Circle and are introduced to the trig functions.  I also think it might be a favorite for the students. I have had several students tell me they still had their paper plates and had used them in their college math classes. 

My most fulfilling moment on the job was … watching that student walk across the stage at graduation. That student that everybody said would not make it. That student that came to my room for extra help every morning and didn't think they could ever be good at doing math. That student that comes up to you after they've walked across that stage, tears in their eyes to say thank you. That's what makes this profession worthwhile.

Something else I’m passionate about is … my faith, my family and cooking! All three of these give me joy and make me appreciate each day that I get to be here on this earth.

My favorite teacher and subject to study in school was … I would have to say my favorite teacher was Mr. Al Morgan, Mathematics instructor at Southeastern Illinois College. He truly made math come to life and was always challenging us to achieve a higher level of understanding. Besides that, you gotta love a teacher that comes to class everyday wearing a cowboy boots and cowboy hat!

I engage students during this strange time by … requiring all students to join me daily for class, whether in person or remotely. I think that routine schedules are critical, especially for teenagers and for the  subject matter I teach. We are using the "hybrid" model so I only see students face to face in my classroom two days a week and they remote in three days. Some are fully remote. I try to make it as engaging as possible by using online games like "Kahoot" so that all students can play together. I also have them work with partners or small groups using virtual "break out rooms" through google meets so the students that are remoting in can feel as much a part of my class as those who are physically there. 

If I weren’t a teacher, I would be … If I weren't a high school math teacher, I would be teaching in some sort of capacity. I have tutored since high school, been a 4-H leader, taught Sunday School, Bible School and Bible Study for many years. I don't think teaching is a career you choose, you are a teacher because it is in your DNA.