Joeanna McPherson: Beyond the Walls of the Classroom
by Maren Irizarry (Pierce School)
Interviewee: Joeanna McPherson (Pierce School)
Joeanna McPherson is my incredible middle school math teacher, who is personally invested in helping and challenging each of her students. She is not limited by the walls of the classroom, both figuratively, as she is one of our school’s basketball coaches and the leader of the Scholars program, and literally, since not all classrooms in our school have walls! Ms. McPherson makes sure that all of her students not only learn but also enjoy math, no matter their ability nor their background.
Joeanna McPherson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, where she grew up with two sisters and two brothers. Her mother was very young when Ms. McPherson was born and, as a result, her mom had to work extra hard to attend classes while also raising a small child. Her mother eventually finished school and became a preschool teacher. (Ms. McPherson is clearly not the only impressive woman in her family!) Ms. McPherson’s father worked at a dry cleaners and, as she states, had a positive impact on her life. He was not a math person, but he “always encouraged [her] to do what would make [her] happy”. He was one of the people who influenced her choice to pursue a career in mathematics by telling her that she could become whatever she wanted. Ms. McPherson was also inspired by Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, some of the early influential African American women at NASA. She was and is “deeply moved and encouraged by their strength under [challenging] circumstances”. With these role models influencing her, Ms. McPherson attended Mount Holyoke College, where she received an undergraduate degree in Economics and later earned a Masters of Mathematics Education from Simmons College, becoming the first in her family to attain both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree.
Simply put, Joeanna McPherson is an amazing math teacher. She always finds creative ways to help her students learn mathematics efficiently. Her positivity makes students believe that they can be good at math, as long as they are determined and practice. She also tries (and succeeds, I might add!) to have a positive impact on their lives. She uses her own personal afterschool time to explain complicated math concepts to students who need extra help understanding, even though this is not required of her. Ms. McPherson makes sure that she knows her students well, and this allows her to better help her students learn in whatever way is best for them. My sister and I are both pretty academically advanced students, and Ms. McPherson never let us get away with not trying the challenge work, which is something we (and especially my parents) greatly appreciate. Finally, Ms. McPherson always tries to be an excellent teacher and confidant to past and present students. She helped my older sister when she was in middle school and is now helping me reach my full potential.
Additionally, Ms. McPherson uses her own personal experiences to support her students. As an African American woman who attended a predominantly white high school, she empathizes with students who may feel out of place. As a result, Joeanna McPherson started the Young Scholars and Scholars program at our school, which serves to provide academic support for black and Latino students and encourages them to celebrate their culture and heritage. The Scholars program also makes sure that our school community is aware of what makes us unique, for example, by having us speaking at multiple assemblies. The program was originally available only at our local high school, but another teacher at a nearby K-8 school wanted to bring the program to younger students. Ms. McPherson loved this idea and started the Young Scholars program at my school. The program has been very successful at helping many students feel more comfortable about their place in our school. Both my older sister and myself have benefited from our participation in the Scholars program. Furthermore, Ms. McPherson is currently the coach of the middle school girls basketball team, further proving that she is well rounded and her teaching skills are not limited to just math or the classroom. Being a basketball coach also makes her that much cooler! Ms. McPherson’s ideas and energy always helps her students improve themselves, learn new things, and love themselves more.
I am very grateful that Ms. McPherson teaches at my school, as she is truly astounding. Ms. McPherson caters to everyone, and uses her vast knowledge about math to be an excellent teacher. Her experiences, whether they be as a black woman or, as she states, a previously average math student, help her understand her students so that she can help and motivate them in whatever way she can.