Emily: Former Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader and High School Math Teacher

Emily Atlanta Falcons Science Cheerleader at Work

Howdy, science fans! Please give your attention to Emily. She’s a great example of what a dedicated math teacher (and mom) can be…and yes, she’s also been an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader. A great combination!

Greetings, Emily! So what turned you on to science and when?
I’ve always loved math and science in school. In my middle school gifted program, I started selecting coursework that interested me, and I always chose math and technology courses! I remember my 7th grade math teacher gushing over some of the things I did, and I realized for the first time that I had a talent for math. I then joined my middle school MathCounts team, and I was actually proud to be the only female and only non-8th-grader on the team! I thought it was so much fun to problem solve and challenge myself. The promise my 12th grade AP Calculus teacher saw in me ultimately had a huge impact on where I am today.

What is your degree in and from where?
I have a Master of Arts in Teaching from University of Georgia (UGA) in Secondary Mathematics Education where I earned a 4.0 graduate GPA. Through coursework at UGA I also earned my gifted endorsement. I currently hold a Georgia T-5 Secondary Math certificate with gifted endorsement. My Bachelor’s is from Georgia Tech in Architecture where I graduated magna cum laude.

Favorite and/or most challenging courses you took to prepare for your degree? Why?
My favorite course of all time was in grad school, Foundations of Geometry, and it was not your typical geometry class. It’s a course for prospective teachers that explores proofs of basic axioms, and goes all the way back to Euclidean geometry. It was fascinating to uncover the early mathematical constructions and discoveries that literally came from only a compass and a straight edge.

You’ve worked as a high school math teacher. What got you interested in becoming a teacher, and what specific subject are you teaching?
My original plan was to become an architect because I felt it combined my artistic and mathematical talents. The need for highly qualified math teachers drew me to the career path, and I realized through teaching, I could still combine creativity and math, even using my architectural modeling skills to create geometric and trigonometric manipulatives. I have taught almost every high school math course, currently teaching Accelerated Pre-Calculus.

What’s the best question a student has ever asked you in class?
The best question I get from my students is actually not content related at all. “Why do you teach high school math?” Usually followed up by, “Why aren’t you an Architect?” or “Why don’t you go do something that pays better?” I love this question because they understand the struggles going on with education, and they want to better understand why I’ve made the decision to be there with them. My answer is, “I could go out and work in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), but that’s only one job I could fill. Here I can encourage multiple people to pursue those fields.” Hopefully the students, especially the girls, see me using math in my career and are inspired to do so.

You were an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader during the 2013 season. Why did you try out to be a professional cheerleader?
I tried out because I wanted to dance and reach out into our community, and every coach I’ve had since college was a former Falcons Cheerleader. From college, to semi-pro, to arena football, every coach of mine was a former AFC, as well as a career woman, “WOW women” as my current AFC coach calls them! They have all inspired me, and I wanted to be a part of the great organization that they were products of.

Which came first, your interest in science or cheerleading?
I came home in kindergarten and begged my mom to put me in ballet class because my best friend was in it! She quit a year later, and I never stopped dancing! Later I understood my love for math, but I’d say as soon as I was exposed to both of them, I loved both of them!

When you’re teaching, what’s your day job like?
I taught 3 periods a day and spent 1 period on planning. While teaching I’d be at the board, around the desks, using technology, and introducing math ideas to students that they’ve never seen before. I had to come up with the best way to show them so that they stay interested, focused, and don’t get frustrated or confused. With around 30 kids in each class, I had to find a way to get through to each of them. A quarter of my day spent planning was used for lesson planning, grading work, analyzing data, more planning, and of course copying!

What does it mean for you to be a math teacher?
I want students to reach their maximum potential and to have all sorts of opportunities available to them in their futures. I’ve taught students from all different backgrounds moving in all different directions, and I want the best for each of them. I believe that knowledge is power, and if I can teach them something new, especially a subject area that explores problem solving, then I can empower them. Everyone has a memory of a teacher, whether it’s positive or negative, your teachers have made a lasting impression on you. I hope to make a positive lasting impression on all of my students.

How did the qualities that make you a great cheerleader benefit you in your math career?
My ability to talk in front of crowds and communicate with individuals from children to adults is something that I’ve grown comfortable with through cheerleading and benefitted me greatly as a teacher. The ability to relate to my students is critical in having them invest in me and my class, and my role as an Atlanta Falcons Cheerleader definitely allowed me to relate to my students. They admired what I did outside of the classroom, and respected me within the classroom.

How do you feel about breaking down negative stereotypes about cheerleaders? Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about cheerleaders [or scientists]?
Emily Atlanta Falcons Science CheerleaderIf my co-workers and students didn’t know, they would have never guessed I was a professional cheerleader. If our fans didn’t know our occupations, no one would probably guess that I was in math education. It’s fascinating to me that I have these two aspects of my life that the rest of the world doesn’t imagine fitting together, but they fit together beautifully in my life.  I want to break down these barriers and show everyone that cheering and science/math do not have to be separate! A high school can be a setting that cultivates stereotypes, but if I can be a prime example in front of all of my students, then I feel I am helping the cause!

Best cheerleading experience?
The last minute comeback, 30-28 win over the Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoffs! It was so exciting to watch, and as cheesy as it sounds, in that last minute I felt like everyone in the dome was family. We all had one common goal and the mission to support our team which resulted in cheers and tears for that incredible win!

Best science-related experience?
I am honored to have been one of two teachers who were nominated as Rookie Teacher of the Year, an award my school acknowledged alongside Teacher of the Year, for teachers with three years of experience or less. The acknowledgement from my superiors and co-workers was truly an honor.

If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you? If so, to what and why?  If not, why not?
I wouldn’t change it at all. If I had gone directly into math education for my undergraduate degree, I would have probably wanted a Master’s anyways, so I’m grateful that I’ve been exposed to a Bachelor’s in a different, yet applicable field, and that I’m still able to use my advanced degree in math education.

What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Believe in yourself in everything you do. Surround yourself with the people who care about and support you.

What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I don’t know how surprising this is, but I have an incredibly large personal collection of graphing calculators. I always want the latest and greatest, so I continue to buy the new technology

Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
I love crafting from design to creation. I sew, paint, build, sculpt, collage, rhinestone, you name it. My sewing skills have come in handy many times in the locker room on game day!

What are your plans for the future?
I plan to earn my PhD in Mathematics or Math Education. I eventually want to work in higher education teaching at the university level, educational research, or curriculum/assessment development. I’m currently not cheering, coaching, or teaching. I’m a stay-at-home mom to a wonderful baby girl, still tutor math, and spend a lot of my time as a volunteer leader for high school girls at my church.

Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
I’d love to model what it means for young girls to pursue all of their passions, despite the societal misconceptions about the science and math capabilities of a cheerleader. If we are here as a united group showing that it can be done, then maybe we make it easier for someone else coming up behind us!