Mathmatical challenge: THS algebra teacher works to repeat last year's success on state tests

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo High School algebra teacher Jennifer Towery enjoys the challenge of teaching students for whom math doesn’t necessarily come easily.
Last year, Towery’s freshman algebra 1 classes had a 100 percent passing rate on the state algebra test with a wide range of student ability levels. This year, she is working with upper classmen enrolled in algebra, some who aren’t as strong in math and some who have previously failed the state test.
And she’s looking forward to duplicating last year’s success.
“I love challenges,” said Towery, in her eighth year as a teacher and second year at THS. “If I didn’t have the state test over my head, I wouldn’t be as good of a teacher.”
The key to her methods comes from the six years she spent teaching elementary school math, she said. Last year was her first year teaching algebra.
Towery likes to divide her students into small groups and have them work on problems together.
“I want to teach them life skills,” she said. “It is not just about the right answer; I also want to get them to communicate effectively, work together and see that they can get help from their classmates, as well as from me – all they have to do is ask.”
She also likes to give the students various hands-on activities. They play games to solve problems.
“I can’t sit still and take notes, and if I can’t do it, I can’t ask my kids to do it,” she said.
Sophomore Tony Dowdell said the group work has been helpful for him.
“If I don’t understand something on the question, I can ask someone, and they can help me,” he said.
The district’s technology also has aided the lessons, Towery said. She can work problems on the Promethean interactive projector added this year to her room, and the students can follow along on their computers. Students can go to the projector screen and work problems in front of their classmates.
Sophomore Richard Taylor, who is hearing impaired, said through sign-language interpreter Gloria Jarrell that using the computers helps him to communicate and to get instant feedback.
“She is a great person. She is a good teacher,” Richard said of Towery.
Meanwhile, when students have difficulty grasping topics, Towery said the key is to break the problems down to a level where they can grasp it and then to gradually build up the students. During a recent lesson, she discussed terminology in various word problems.
She also tutors students before and after school. Last year, she helped students on several Saturdays in the weeks before the state test.
“Whatever techniques I got last year’s group to grasp, I brought into here, and I’m always researching for more,” she said. “I’m not afraid to ask for help.”
For four of her classes this year, she has an inclusion teacher, Stephanie Jackson, who is also able to help the students in their small groups.
Although several of the students she teaches this year may have had previous struggles in math, she tells all of them they can be successful.
“As long as they are willing to do the work and give me 100 percent in the classroom, I feel like we will get pretty close, if not the same results, as last year,” she said. “I give them pep talks to know that I am here, and I care for them, and I want them to be successful.
“I tell them that no goal is unreachable, but it has to start with them. They have to be willing to put the work, time and effort into it.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com