© 2019 by Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

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KENDRICE NEWMAN

(California-Berkeley)

The Teacher

"After a few years in the classroom it was becoming more and more obvious to me how important finding an access point to curriculum was for students with learning disabilities."

Where did you grow up?

Mostly in Texas.

Who is your role model?

My mom.

Where do you live now?

Boston, Massachusetts.

What is your theme song?

You're Gonna Go Far Kid by The Offspring.

Through an undergraduate research program, Kendrice learned she loved talking about math with people. She went on to learn she loves the classroom, too, so it only made sense to become a math teacher.


Kendrice is a natural, and in just her second year of teaching, she was asked to rewrite a middle school math curriculum. She took on the project, studied numerous resources and created exactly what was needed for the students.


Just two years later, she was asked to tackle a math curriculum for special education students. “After a few years in the classroom it was becoming more and more obvious to me how important finding an access point to curriculum was for students with learning disabilities,” Kendrice said. She was thrilled to have the opportunity to create this curriculum and it is used to make a difference in the lives of the students who are now able to access fundamental mathematical concepts.

Extended Interview

Why do you love what you do?

Teaching combines so many of my favorite things! In college, I truly fell in love with the study of mathematics and linguistics. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to study things that I found so interesting. As a teacher, I get to use that knowledge to help kids. I love thinking about the impact language has on math and how we think about math. It’s also incredibly important to me that every student knows they have the potential to be successful in something they find challenging, whether that be math or something else. The moments during the school year when they see their hard work pay off or even a few years later when they text me from high school thanking me or saying that they get it now just fills me with joy.

How did you discover your passion for your job?

Luck, really. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated college, but Cal had an undergraduate research program, so I decided to apply for something that was math related. It turned out to be a research position in the graduate school of education there and I worked with an amazing graduate student who was a mentor to me. Through that research experience I found that I loved talking about math with people. Trying to make a mental model of their thinking and make connections with my own thinking about the concept was a fun and exciting puzzle that challenged me in a way I had never been challenged. I was inspired to go to graduate school for math education, intending to focus on research. However, part of my program at Teacher’s College involved student teaching and I quickly fell in love with the classroom. What really drew me to it was the dynamic environment. You had to be on your toes! Kids ask amazing, curious questions about math and being able to answer them and encourage them was the best feeling. 

How do you define success?

I don’t know. Being a teacher is full of successes and failures on a daily basis (if not minute by minute). There are so many decisions I make every day that impact children. In my mind, I will be successful if these decisions help my students to be successful in the future. 

What motivates you?

Kids’ faces. My students want to be heard and given opportunities. When I tell them a weird fact about math or offer an after-school math club that literally tripled in size after the first year, they get so excited. We had our first meeting recently and I planned to start off by introducing myself since I didn’t know many of the younger students. However, as soon as I started, kids started raising their hands to tell the other students things they knew about me (some were boring things like “she got married” or “this is her fifth year teaching here” and some were things like “she loves pi so much she has it on a necklace”). It’s moments like these that just reinforce how much of an influence I have that I’m not even aware of, and how I need to not take that for granted.

This or That

Facebook or Instagram

iPhone or Android

Podcasts or Audiobooks

Heels or Flats

Hours a Week

50+

How did it feel to be asked to rewrite a whole math curriculum as a second-year teacher?

It honestly felt quite reasonable. We had an amazing curriculum to work with and I enjoyed the puzzle of figuring out how to create a vertical alignment that felt reasonable and achievable for our school. This nonchalant feeling could be because I was so young and inexperienced!

Was it difficult to write the first curriculum?

Mostly just time consuming! I often compare myself to a sponge. I thrive on as much information as you can possibly give me. I gathered a bunch of resources and just sat down to do it!

In your fourth year, you wrote math curriculum for special education students. What was your approach to writing that?

This felt much more serious to me. After a few years in the classroom it was becoming more and more obvious to me how important finding an access point to curriculum was for students with learning disabilities. My personal professional development goals always revolved around how to better support my special education students. I was quite grateful to be given some time to sit down and really think about how all students could access fundamental mathematical concepts. It has already paid off this year in my teaching even though I am not using that curriculum. Being able to deeply process the how and why of these core standards has helped me to tailor my own instruction. My process was actually quite similar to the first time. I gathered information from as many resources as I could and sat down to synthesize it into something manageable for my colleagues to use.

Could you share more about your involvement with STEM education opportunities for girls through Junior League?

This is my third year doing the STEM program through the Junior League and my second year chairing the program. I love it because we get to do all the hands-on activities and field trips we don’t usually have time for in regular school.

How do you work to expose young women to STEM careers?

The Junior League STEM program is one way! We always use women in STEM as a jumping off point and specifically connect activities to real jobs (like research and development in medicine, civil engineering, etc.). I also just try to incorporate it into my daily life at school. I talk about my mom and sister who are both engineers. I talk about female mathematicians. I talk about relevant women in the news. I also try to make sure and highlight women of color as I want to ensure my students are seeing people who look like them being successful.

Why is this work important to you?

Every student deserves a chance to be successful in math. Our current mindset as a country shows that as early as first grade students think people who are good at math are white and male. Students at that age have also been shown to have a fixed mindset: if they don’t get math now, they never will. The studies show that this is correlated with having a teacher who is afraid or nervous about math. My kids fight stereotypes every day and I’m here to help them. I feel that having a teacher with a degree in mathematics and confidence in mathematics is crucial to changing mindsets and improving outcomes for students.

Do you have a specific moment either at work or in your volunteerism where you felt inspired by a child you were helping?

Is it cliche to say I’m inspired almost every day? Some of my favorite moments include when a former student texted me “ADVANCED MATH IS AMAZING” and when a student who has spent her entire middle school career failing math and gets an 83 percent on her first unit test and is overjoyed. Trust me, no kid would describe my class as easy, so this is a big deal.

"Kids ask amazing curious questions about math and being able to answer them and encourage them was the best feeling."