Difficult isn’t a dealbreaker

Math teacher talks social emotional learning … and wrestling

Sorys Enerolisa Cepeda-Carvalho teaches 7th and 8th grade math at Spanaway Middle School. She’s also the head wrestling coach. To say her job has changed drastically this year is an understatement, but her commitment to students hasn’t wavered, especially when it comes to their social-emotional needs.

“Even though I provide the opportunity for social interaction, it’s still different,” she said. “I’m very personal, outgoing, friendly — doing that online is difficult.”

But difficult isn’t a dealbreaker, and Cepeda-Carvalho works hard to make connections where she can. “I watch anime, they watch anime. I have pets, they have pets,” she said.

Getting to know her students on Zoom hasn’t always been easy, especially when some of them are more comfortable having their videos turned off during class.

“They might walk by me on the street and I wouldn’t know who they are,” she said.

Even in remote learning, some things never change.

“They’re still scared to make mistakes,” said Cepeda-Carvalho.

Math skills are built upon, and students need to access their prior knowledge to move forward. Because of that, Cepeda-Carvalho expects students to ask questions when they have them.

“If you take that one step, all teachers — especially here at Bethel — are willing to work with you to make you feel like you can be great, because you can be,” she said. “All I need is one step.”

Students may not want to speak up, but Cepeda-Carvalho said simply asking for help can change everything. “You have to be able to say, ‘Hey, I don’t understand it.’ I don’t know what you don’t know,” she said.

Middle school is a critical time for math students. They are learning two-step equations, proportional relationships, and percentages — which Cepeda-Carvalho said is one of the most important concepts. “It helps you understand everything, including the news.”

Cepeda-Carvalho said that the “test, test, quiz” approach doesn’t ingrain the math in students. That’s why she and other teachers use small groups and interventions to make sure what students are learning will stick and get them to the next level.

The district recently adopted Open Up, a new middle school math curriculum. But until remote learning is over, classes will continue to use the Edgenuity platform. While Open Up has digital components, it doesn’t translate to a full-time distance learning environment.

With sports still on the shelf due to the pandemic, Cepeda-Carvalho said she’s bringing some of the life lessons from the wrestling world to her classroom.

“I don’t think competition is about, ‘Oh I’m better than this person,’” she said. “It’s about, ‘I did better today than I did the last time.’”

It’s all about trying to be better the next day.

“I try to teach my math class the same way. If a student is behind, or they’re not doing well, there’s always a new day. There’s always a new week.”

“It’s not, ‘game over.’”

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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