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Photo by Cambry Gerardi

Algebra I teacher Maggie Jernigan, in room 1718, explains how to solve a variable for her 4th period class. Jernigan walks around and guides students through their assignment. As a floating teacher, she will be in another class next period.

New math teachers bring international experience

Two algebra teachers and one geometry teacher joined the math department this year: Thang Nguyen, geometry, Maggie Jernigan, Algebra I and Kristine Heines, Algebra I and II.

A Nguyen-Nguyen situation

During 4th period in Room 1710, geometry teacher Thang Nguyen, labels a foldable as his students follow along. He used the classroom’s new Epson projector to present his lesson on parallel lines. (Photo by Jason Deng)

Snorlax, the Pokemon, is his spiritual shape. Just “two circles.”

Thang (pronounced: Tang) Nguyen, not only knows his Pokemon, but also his shapes.

The newest geometry teacher to Bellaire, Nguyen went to elementary and middle school in Quy Nhon, Vietnam, high school at Creekview HS in Carrollton, Texas and college at Brown University. After working as both a part-time Vietnamese interpreter and a full-time operation assistant at a company called Rinse, Nguyen came to Houston as a prospective teacher.

“The transition has been a little difficult, but I feel very supported here at Bellaire,” Nguyen said. “There’s a lot of staff, and every teacher that I’ve talked to is great.”

And it’s not just great teachers who he has met.

“Honestly, the students at Bellaire are great,” Nguyen said. “I feel like every student is very smart and very intelligent. They’re just lacking the motivation.”

At the end of 4th period, geometry teacher, Thang Nguyen, waves goodbye to his students, one by one. As a floating teacher, Nguyen doesn’t have a permanent classroom. Afterwards, he will head back to one of the teacher workrooms. (Photo by Jason Deng)

For Nguyen though, a lack of motivation for school in Vietnam meant “butt spanking.”

“I remember in fifth grade, I didn’t do homework one night,” Nguyen said. “The teacher took me up to the front of the room, made me lay down, and spanked my butt.”

While Nguyen admitted that he wasn’t the best student in school, he said he is very passionate about his job.

“It’s always dynamic,” Nguyen said. “That’s why I like teaching, because, from what I’ve learned from the first two weeks so far, every day always requires thinking differently.”

Nguyen said his passion reflects his aspirations as a teacher.

“I want to, as a teacher, be able to help my students find their way of approaching math subjects, and help them understand it on their terms,” Nguyen said. “That’s my goal.”

From France to Bellaire

A former teaching assistant in a middle school in Nimes France, Maggie Jernigan, first-year math teacher and a University of Houston graduate, said the transition from being a teaching assistant in France to teaching at Bellaire was not easy for her.

“I got to see the difference between the French school system and the American school system,” Jernigan said. “The teachers in France work 20 hours a week, half of what we have. It’s a huge difference. It’s always kind of hard to start a new job. You don’t know anybody and you’re trying to figure out the right way to do things, so it’s very easy to do things wrong.”

Like many teachers this year, Jernigan is a “floating teacher,” which means she does not have a permanent classroom.

“I really like the teacher workroom, where all the other floaters are,” Jernigan said, “I don’t have my own classroom so I get a cubicle. It’s definitely difficult to keep track of all my things and to make sure I am set up every day.”

Although Jernigan said that being a floating teacher “has its challenges,” she enjoys her new job.

“Math was always my best subject. It comes naturally to me and I also feel like I’m pretty good at breaking down the concepts and explaining them,” Jernigan said.

“I’m a math teacher, you know I have problems.”

Kristine Heines, Algebra II teacher in room 3708, goes over answers from students’ tests earlier that week on simplifying algebraic expressions. Heines then answers questions for her 5th period class and addresses student concerns about unit material. (Photo by Cambry Gerardi)

Along with her personal values, Algebra I and II teacher Kristine Heines takes great care in the wellbeing of her students: the only prerequisite in her classroom is respect.

“I think that everyone should be treated with respect,” Heines said. “I want all my students to know that being wrong isn’t a problem at all, but not trying is. I try not to make the lessons terribly boring, I mean it is math.”

Kristine Heines, a former member of the US military, joined the math department this year.

“All it takes is work,” said Heines, a top University of Houston graduate. “Start from the beginning and work your way up.”

Heines said she loves her new job because of the environment the students and teachers create around her.

“Students here are very interested and engaged, and they respect each other a lot,” Heines said.

Heines, who is also a mother of one 12-year-old boy, said that her job at Bellaire accommodates her personal needs.

“My son goes to Pershing, so with the same schedule and days off, it allows me to spend time with him outside of the classroom.”

Heines’ commitment to her family stems from her own childhood, citing her mother as her top source of inspiration.

“Growing up poor and raising four kids on her own, my mom was a great example of how to get up and get it done while still caring for her family,” Heines said. “That was really impactful for me.”

Heines hopes that in her coming years of teaching, her students will reciprocate her passion for math.

“I try to keep my classroom as fun and engaging as possible,” Heines said. “Sometimes I will put up practice questions for my students to work on, and then say ‘I’m a math teacher, you know I have problems.’”

In room 3708 during 5th period, Algebra II teacher Kristine Heines guides students through independent algebra classwork. Heines, who is a floating teacher, teaches in four other classrooms throughout the day. (Photo by Cambry Gerardi)

The Head of the Math Department Weighs in…

Her favorite part of Bellaire is the culture of family.

“My family are the other teachers here,” Kay Kubena said, the head of the Math Department. “But my students are probably the most important part of my day.”

Kubena has been the Head of the Math Department for 10 years and aids in the hiring process of new math teachers.

“We were so lucky that we found brand new teachers that are willing to embrace our culture of high expectations and our belief that all students can learn,” Kubena said.

Due to COVID-19, the hiring process was different than in a normal year. Interested applicants submitted an application on the HISD website and they interviewed virtually.

“We only met them over the computer so it’s sort of like a class,” Kubena said, “I know it’s very stressful for them because it’s hard to get your personality through just a camera.”

Despite not interviewing in person and being short staffed, Kubena said that she was eventually pleased with the new talent.

“Even though it’s really hard to find teachers, we were lucky enough to find some really great ones for the Math Department this year.”

Geometry teacher, Thang Nguyen teaches a lesson on parallel lines in Room 1710 during 4th period. He asks students for a thumbs up to check for understanding. (Photo by Jason Deng)

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