Joni Whitaker has been teaching math for around 23 years! During term time she is a high school teacher but also teaches K-9 during the summer months at her MathTree summer camps. She spoke to Silly Fish about her career and how she uses art in her math classroom.
SF: What made you want to teach math?
Joni: I didn’t want to be a teacher….but I knew that the more skills I developed the more employable I was. So, I decided to earn a BS in Math with a teaching certificate….you gotta get those college credits doing something! When I did my student teaching I fell in love with teaching….now 26 years later I’m still at it!
I began my career in Charlotte, NC, as a middle school math teacher. Then, moved to Chapel Hill and taught for a few years. My husband and I moved to Rocky Mount, NC, I taught 3rd – 6th graders at a small, private school. When my children came along I began homeschooling. That was a 14-year long adventure! Now, I teach high school math for Fairfax Public Schools in VA.
SF: Wow, what a diverse career! With so much experience you must have some great stories. Have you got a silly one to share with us?
Joni: I had a ninth grader who routinely entered the classroom, placed his books under his desk, laid his head down, and promptly went to sleep. I called his parents to find out if there was anything happening at home that would cause this. The mother assured me that she would “take care of the situation.” The next day the boy entered and did exactly the same thing as before. Then, about 10 minutes into the class, a woman appeared at the door. I recognized her as the boy’s mother. She quietly slipped into the room and sat at a desk behind her son. The boy slept the entire period. The bell rang. It shook him to consciousness. He reached under his desk to grab his books and out of the corner of his eye saw his mom! Oh, my. He never fell asleep again!
SF: I’m sure he learned his lesson after that! Do you think there was a lesson for anyone else?
Joni: My students learned….Don’t go to sleep in Mrs. Whitaker’s class!
I learned….Involve parents!
SF: Math is quite a difficult subject to be creative with. How do you incorporate creativity in your classroom?
Joni: I love drawing and painting! Instead of posters of “math facts and formulas” on the walls, I cover my boards and walls in my art along with my students’….all math related and (I think) beautiful!
SF: And do you have a piece of advice for other teachers?
Joni: I have two.
- You are a teacher, not a fireman. No one can’t drink from a firehose. Give it to them as a steady flow. It’s more refreshing for you and productive for them!
- Always remember that students are people first and students second. Don't forget to listen to their story. - Joni Whitaker of @MathTree Click To Tweet
Joni & her husband run math camps for levels K – Algebra 1. They hire teachers who love math & kids AND know how to have fun, too!