Teacher of the Week: Maria McCarthy

Math teacher Maria McCarthy shows off her work station at Eater Junior High School in Rantoul.

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Maria McCarthy, Math teacher, Eater Junior High, Rantoul

MARIA McCARTHY has spent her last 34 years teaching in Rantoul Community Schools, but her time in the village goes back much further. McCarthy attended Pleasant Acres, Eater Junior High and Rantoul Township High in her hometown.

The Eater math teacher may be on the cusp of retirement, but that doesn’t mean she’s unwilling to adapt to unprecedented times.

“Maria is in her final year of teaching after spending her entire career in RCS, and she has fully embraced digital learning platforms this year,” Principal Scott Woods said. “She has become a tech leader among our staff. She is also just a great math teacher.”

I find my work important because ... I’m allowed to help students learn much more than math. They’re learning new ways to think, to reason, to figure things out, to question, to search, to ask, to collaborate, to try, to make mistakes, to challenge themselves, to persevere.

So many students think they’re “no good” at math, and they don’t like to try for fear of failure. I love to help them understand “MATH” — Mistakes Allow Thinking to Happen.

I encourage my students to never give up.

I became a teacher because ... I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in fourth grade. My parents were both teachers at RTHS, and I’ve always loved learning new things, learning new approaches, and I love watching students have their “AH HA” moments. It’s especially fun watching their expressions go from confusion, to questioning, to thinking and then to “OHHHHHHHHHHHH, I get it now!” Sometimes that wait time is really difficult for me, but it’s always worth it!

My favorite lesson to teach is ... in collaboration with Credit Union Plus, doing our Mad City Money Reality Fair. It’s a real-life simulation for our eighth-graders to choose a career, have an “income” and then make financial choices for buying a house, finding transportation, child care expenses, shopping for groceries, clothing expenses, paying monthly bills, savings, credit cards and preparing for the unexpected, etc.

Their challenge is to make financial choices and learn to budget their money so that they have enough to cover their expenses with some left over for savings. (One of the booths available at the Reality Fair is the Credit Union booth where students can get some credit advice if they’ve overspent and run out of money).

Students love the real-life experiences and begin to realize how important it is to be wise with their spending.

My most fulfilling moment on the job is ... watching students have their “I GET IT” moments. I always enjoy when students come back to visit me and share their excitement for high school or college or when I see them as adults and they share their successes. I love when students tell me they remember or still have some of their projects they did when they were students in my class.

I especially LOVE watching former students walking the halls of Eater wearing their caps and gowns as they beam with pride prior to their graduation from RTHS and being on the receiving end of their hugs and “Thank yous.”

I’m also passionate about ... learning new things and helping others. I’ll be retiring at the end of this school year, and I said I wanted to continue to learn and grow in my classroom as I approached retirement.

That has taken on a whole new meaning since the COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives and the way we teach. I’ve learned more technology than I ever thought possible in a very short time, and have had to completely re-learn how to teach. I sure wasn’t trained for remote teaching and learning when I was in college!

My own favorite teachers were ... my sixth-grade team of teachers at Pleasant Acres: Terry Sheppard, Pat Raver and Mary Walsh. Little did I know that Mr. Sheppard would later become my principal and hire me for my first teaching position at Eastlawn.

His class theme — “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours” — is still a favorite memory during that year.

Mary Walsh was my 6th grade Math teacher who inspired me to become a Math teacher with her willingness to stay with me and not let me give up when fractions were a (frustrating) mystery to me. I still remember my AH HA moment! Mr. Raver was my Soc. Studies teacher who always had a smile on his face and was always very patient with us, providing gentle reminders when we were off-task. I have to also include my parents (Mr. and Mrs. Herb Frizol) as all-time favorites. Dad started teaching at RTHS in 1960 and had a successful and fulfilling career. I learned so much from his teaching practices! The combination of their careers and mine have spanned 60 years of working with students and families in Rantoul.

I engage students during this strange time by ... trying to make learning fun by using jamboards, creating virtual puzzles, breakout rooms, wearing stickers for student responses and having students lead problem-solving strategies during class. We do our “school family time” every morning with some “would-you-rather” questions, celebrating a National Day of some sort, and then a thoughtful question or a 2-minute challenge.

Virtual teaching and learning is a real challenge for all of us, and I know everyone will be glad to be back to a more normal routine at school.

If I weren’t a teacher, I’d be ... a storm chaser. Weather has always fascinated me.

Either that or working for Amazon. Do they offer employee discounts?


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