Student Essay Contest

The Origin of Math-Teacher: a Biography of Shari DeRossett

2012 AWM Essay Contest High School Honorable Mention

by Rebecca Frederick

Teachers have always been surrounded by a certain enigma–they are the quirky folk who loved school so much that they never really left it. And let’s not forget all the whispered-under-your-breath anxieties: Is she an alien? Is she devoid of heart and soul? Does she want her students to fail? Does she possess omniscient powers? Fortunately, the answer to all of these inquiries is “no”. Perhaps an in-depth study into the inner workings of Mrs. Shari DeRossett, head math teacher at Lakota West High School, can shed some light on the anatomy of the high school math teacher.

Like many youngsters, you may have gone through grade school, middle school, and perhaps even high school, convinced that at least one of your teachers was a supernatural, erudite entity that lived, slept, and ate at school and perhaps returned to its extraterrestrial homeland for a short visit during Christmas break. This is not the case with Mrs. DeRossett. Her athletic, graceful build makes it no great challenge to imagine her dashing across the tennis court to make a spectacular return. When one looks into her clever green eyes sparkling with the passion, determination, and amiability which she applies to everything in her life, it makes sense that tennis is one of her pastimes. And just like many people, she admits with a light laugh that one of her favorite things to do is hang out with a couple of friends and a box of pizza. Seems normal to me.

Mrs. DeRossett’s journey as a teacher really begins back when she was just a little girl in kindergarten. After coming home from school, she would corral her younger sister into the ‘classroom’ and there would teach her all the things she had learned that day. Young Mrs. DeRossett wasn’t trying to intimidate her sister or look superior, but as she announces with a modest smile, “I just like to teach people things, I guess.” This passion continued to bloom throughout her schoolgirl years, even despite both of her parents’ lack of love for the scholastic – certainly neither of them was very good at math. Math emerged early on as one of Mrs. DeRossett’s favorite subjects, and her math teachers along the way only cemented this enthusiasm further. One name that instantly jumped into her mind was Mr. Callahan, her Algebra II and Calculus teacher whom she claims sealed her love and confidence in mathematics. This Mr. Callahan was a quintessential instrument to Mrs. DeRossett’s conceptualization of math as an entity that burns to be understood, not just as a couple of odd formulas to be memorized for a test. After twenty years of teaching, Mrs. DeRossett still models much of her style off of Mr. Callahan, trying to inspire her own students with the same desire to truly comprehend the material. Every day she strives to get students to appreciate math and apply it to their lives; she wants them to learn to persevere, think things through, and most importantly, to never give up. Past students can probably still quote her “do your best and move on,” a self-designed motto she has come to live by.

Mrs. DeRossett is one of those genuinely nice people whom you occasionally meet. Just listening to her so passionately describing her career, it is plain that she really cares about her students. Indeed, their success is one of Mrs. DeRossett’s main joys of teaching math. In her mind, one of the most rewarding experiences is to see a student, who may have initially been struggling, gradually blossom and start liking math. During Mrs. DeRossett’s first taste of real teaching down at a small private school in South Carolina, she recalls that her most prominent memory was just shock that she actually got paid simply to immerse herself in math all day and to see her students grow emotionally and scholastically throughout the year.

Luckily for her pupils, Mrs. DeRossett considers her ability to understand how students learn to be one of her fortes. Being a geometry teacher for a number of years, she says that because she struggled with the class herself in high school, she now has a better understanding of what her students are going through–what they are struggling with, how they are trying to attack problems–allowing her to teach more effectively. (Yes, many math teachers shudder at the mention of their high school geometry class, too.) Another aspect Mrs. DeRossett likes about teaching math is its “concreteness”: there is no vague, subjective grading, as in English class (she quickly abandoned the notion of becoming an English teacher when she realized she would not have the heart to deliver a low essay grade). With math, the answer is either right or wrong, and partial credit can be heavily utilized.

When asked if teaching ever gets redundant, Mrs. DeRossett replied firmly in the negative. Every year, there are students who come up with new ways of solving a problem; there is always something new to learn and as Mrs. DeRossett so accurately states, “no one teaches the highest level of math.” It must be wonderful to be in a career where you are immersed in pure knowledge every day, realizing that there will never be an end in sight to what can be accomplished. Even teaching the same subject for 10 years, she notes that no year is really the same. And eventually, one can work up to teaching more challenging levels of mathematics.

Your teachers are not insane. They are normal people living normal lives, with an abnormally special gift for driving others towards success. Who would want to spend their entire life at school? The answer: those souls who are never content when the end of the chapter comes, but are always seeking to learn more. Their work is never done; they are constantly seeking to push others to their limits and to generate pure moments of growth and learning that will never be forgotten.

About the Student:

I am a senior at Lakota West High School, and math has always been one of my favorite subjects. I particularly enjoy algebra and calculus because of the way in which you learn a concept and then have to take that and cleverly manipulate it to fit all sorts of different problems. I am involved in Mu Alpha Theta (a mathematics honor society) where I tutor an eighth grader in Algebra I once a week, and Academic Quiz Team. I really enjoy playing the clarinet, listening to jazz music, writing, running, and playing soccer with my friends.