Student Essay Contest

Ms. Sheila Krilov: A Teacher’s Return

2012 AWM Essay Contest: Middle School Honorable Mention

by Flavia Sinha

After fourteen years of taking care of her family, Ms. Sheila Krilov returned to teach at Hunter College High School in February 1999. “It was like starting a new job all over again,” she said. A native New Yorker, Ms. Krilov grew up in the Bronx, where she attended elementary, middle, and high school. Her parents were both of Russian descent, and her mother’s greatest dream was to become a teacher. Ms. Krilov and her brother were the only ones in the family that attended college: her father had tried to attend as well when he was younger, but after the first couple of days he dropped out, because he could not handle the work load successfully while working full time to support his parents. The course that overwhelmed him the most was Calculus. Ms. Krilov experienced the stereotype that boys are better in math than girls when she was in sixth grade. All the children had to take standardized tests, and it was taken as a given that a boy named Steven would be the top math scorer. To everyone’s amazement, this was not the case, because Ms. Krilov received the highest score! However, her teacher thought this was impossible, and she called home to inform Ms. Krilov’s parents that there must have been a mistake in the grading. Despite the teacher’s lack of confidence, the grading was correct! This was the turning point when Ms. Krilov began to pursue her interests in the mathematical world.

In middle school and high school, Ms. Krilov joined the math team, and helped out many of her friends with math questions. It was one of her friends who first suggested that Ms. Krilov should become a math teacher. Ms. Krilov attended the City College of New York: she considered various majors, but eventually decided to major in mathematics, and minor in education. In graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, she realized that she enjoyed being in a classroom environment, and that she “would rather be working with students than doing math research.” Her passion for the craft of teaching was shaped by several college professors and teachers. “Mr. Levine, my middle school teacher was a really inspiring person and made me want to learn,” she said. “My high school teacher, Mrs. Rockow, taught in a very logical flow, and also showed me the ideal way to run a class.” This not only helped Ms. Krilov learn how to organize a math class, but it also taught her how to engage students and keep them focused.

Ms. Krilov was one of my seventh grade teachers: when I received my schedule and read the name of the class she would be teaching, “Seminar”, I was puzzled and I didn’t quite know what to expect. Perhaps this is a public speaking class, I thought; but it didn’t make sense, because I also had a class called “Communication and Theater”. I remember how Ms. Krilov came to the first Seminar class wearing a striped shirt with buttons and stylish navy blue pants. She wrote “Ms. Krilov” and “Seminar 7-2” on the blackboard in perfect cursive, and then explained that the purpose of the Seminar class was to discuss sensitive issues such as bullying and underage drinking. Ms. Krilov made the class really fun because she would bring in students from other grades to speak to us, as well as people from outside the school. For example, a police officer showed us the effects of excessive drinking by making us wear “beer goggles” and making us try to walk along a straight line. Ms. Krilov would also have us take surveys, and then would meet individually with each student in the class, and we would also play games. I only learned that she was a math teacher a couple of weeks into the school year, when a friend of mine emailed me that she was in Ms. Krilov’s seventh grade math class. I thought that Ms. Krilov would be perfect to interview, because it fascinated me to see a math teacher teach something completely unrelated to math, and teach it with such enthusiasm.

Ms. Krilov has not changed jobs since 1999, and is currently a seventh grade and eleventh grade teacher at Hunter. She has been inspired by her teachers, as well as some of her colleagues. For example, she explained that in her middle school, a new algebra curriculum was introduced and the mathematics department was looking for volunteers to pilot it. A social studies teacher, Mr. Levine, volunteered, and she found his energy and excitement for the subject particularly impressive. For Ms. Krilov, the most difficult part of teaching is making people who don’t like math want to learn it, while the most enjoyable is when a student has an AHA! moment: “seeing a light bulb go off in their heads makes me really happy,” she said. One of her teaching techniques is to start with a problem, and then tweak it in different ways to make it more intriguing: she also tries to make her problems based upon a theme, and various topics. Ms. Krilov doesn’t have an ideal math student, because she loves meeting all the students in her classes, even those who don’t like math at all. She says that teaching math in seventh grade is very different from teaching math in eleventh grade, because “the energy levels are so different. In seventh grade, there’s never any stress about college, and the students pay a lot more attention to the teacher. In eleventh grade, everyone is busier.”

Ms. Krilov’s many hobbies include dancing, hiking, going for walks, reading, and solving Sudoku puzzles. She is involved in many math-related activities outside of school: for example, she coaches the MathCounts Hunter team, and she works with other teachers in the New York City Math Circle over the summer. She also enjoys attending the Math Encounters talks organized by MoMath, the Museum of Mathematics. I see Ms. Krilov as a role model because she is a woman who works in a scientific field, and through her Seminar class I learned that she isn’t constantly tied to teaching just one subject at all times. She is very nice and approachable, has lots of cool hobbies, and her interest in math is not just limited to a school setting.

If she could give advice to someone who wants to study math, she would tell them to establish good relationships with teachers and professors, and to keep asking questions. “If you always search for an answer, that’s the right way to go.”

About the Student:

My name is Flavia Sinha, and I am currently an eighth grader at Hunter College High School. I have been taking ballet classes since first grade, and I performed in the Yorkville Nutcracker last December. I love to travel, especially to Italy to visit my grandfather. I like to read old Italian Mickey Mouse comics, and I enjoy learning other languages. Right now, I am studying French, and I hope to learn Hindi as well, so that I can talk fluently to my relatives in India. Math and French are my favorite subjects in school, and I also like learning about art history and the history of other countries.