Math comes alive in Becky Bergeon's classroom
Enter Becky Bergeon's fifth-grade classroom and you can tell that she is passionate about math. You'll notice a Math Word Wall where common math vocabulary is displayed along with kid-friendly definitions and an example to illustrate each word. Prime numbers fill the part of wall where most classrooms display an alphabet. "We work a lot with prime factorization, so it's important that the kids remember what the prime numbers are," Becky explains.
Becky Bergeon is in her second year of teaching at Bursley Elementary School in Jenison MI. She graduated from Grand Valley in 2006, making a smooth transition from student to the teacher of a lively and fun group of fifth graders that she affectionately calls "her kids."
Becky brings high energy and creativity to her classroom. She feels fortunate to teach in a self-contained classroom where she teaches most subjects to one group of children. This setting has been conducive to establishing a strong rapport with her students and making cross-curricular connections. Becky has worked hard to build a learning community where the children ask and explore a wide variety of questions.
When asked how her Grand Valley education prepared her for teaching, Becky reflected that she was taught quite a bit of mathematics content, "more than I thought I needed to know" where she learned about "the heart of mathematics and about different ways to think about problems." Becky reminisces that during her time as a student, fellow classmates would at times complain that they needed to take so many higher-level mathematics classes; why did they need to study things like calculus or linear algebra if they were going to teach elementary school? She is now very grateful that she had to take these courses and knows why it was important for her. Yes, taking these upper-level classes was challenging. But in learning the material, Becky grew in her ability and confidence that she could solve problems and figure things out; a skill which translates into confidence as a teacher, confidence to "take risks" in teaching as well as to facilitate discussion in order to explore and evaluate the multiple strategies her students use to solve problems in mathematics and other subject areas. "Facilitating discussions is hard work and sometimes scary because you have no idea at times what the students may say. Without those experiences I don't think I would have as much confidence to pose higher-level thinking questions such as 'why is the area formula for a trapezoid so similar to the area formula formulas for a rectangle?'"
Becky credits her mathematics education courses with helping her appreciate and understand how children think as well as the importance of solving problems in multiple ways and making connections to deepen comprehension. She now promotes problem-solving using a variety of strategies with her own students and is passionate about having her students understand why things work, valuing both independent journaling and discussion as a way for her students to make sense of the material.
When asked what surprised her the most upon entering the teaching profession, Becky described that she had a pretty good feel of the student population, felt confident in lesson planning, and understood the type of commitment involved for teaching, but hadn't anticipated the "parent piece" of teaching, especially the amount of parental engagement with their child's homework, which periodically worked against what she was trying to promote in her class. Becky explained that some parents become so involved with their children's homework that when the child is asked to apply or explore a nontraditional strategy or approach, they may tell their child things like "I think this is over your head" and write a note explaining why the child can't do the homework or they may reteach the topic using a standard algorithmic approach, undoing some of the learning that took place in the classroom. Becky has met this challenge, realizing the need to educate parents about her goals and expectations and now communicates via a "Dear Parents" letter.
Becky clearly loves teaching and comments that though she spends many hours preparing and grading, she never works more than she wants to. When she isn't working, Becky enjoys time playing with and walking her new puppy. She also likes reading, biking, and watching movies, though much of her spare time these days will be spent planning a fall wedding. "I have the best job in the world and wouldn't change it for anything!"