Passion can sometimes help people excel in what they love. It also can help people earn Presidential Awards.
And in the case of Southwest Allen County School Summit Middle School math teacher Samantha McGlennen, her passion helped her become a finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
McGlennen teaches geometry for high school credit to seventh- and eighth-graders and also teaches pre-algebra. She has been with the district for 18 years.
According to the PAEMST website, these awards are the highest honors bestowed by the United States government specifically for kindergarten through 12-grade science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science teachers. The president may recognize up to 108 teachers each year.
This award recognizes teachers who have deep content knowledge of the subjects they teach and the ability to motivate and enable students to succeed in those areas.
McGlennen also is a limited-time lecturer (LTL) at Purdue Fort Wayne and allows college students to intern and teach in her classroom. McGlennen applied two years ago after a colleague nominated her for it, but she did not progress in the contest.
“This colleague who nominated me has been working closely with me for years on this program because it’s her students,” McGlennen said. “So she’s really been able to see the kind of teacher I am and the kind of classroom I have because she’s been in my classroom.”
While she did not move forward that year, the feedback she received was positive. This year, the program reached out to her to see if she would be interested in applying again.
According to McGlennen, every state in the U.S. can choose three science and three math teachers to be analyzed by the national committee. The national committee makes the final decision.
The application process is lengthy and has extensive requirements.
“It’s a big process,” McGlennen said. “I have to choose a lesson video. There’s almost a 30,000-word reflection and kind of a narrative where I have to respond to prompts and make connections to state standards and there are different instructional domains you have to meet and produce evidence for. So it takes months to write this and get all the data.”
The state committee gave her feedback about her application, and she was able to make adjustments. She turned in her application to the national committee on May 12.
McGlennen was assigned a mentor, Kathy Welch-Martin, who won in 1999, to review her application and provide feedback.
The state committee has three people who review the application. The national committee has four reviewers, and a panel of judges will also review the applications and make a judgment on who will represent Indiana.
According to McGlennen, results should be posted by July, but delays are possible.
Teaching has been a goal of hers for most of her life.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl,” McGlennen said. “I used to play school. My cousin and my sister, to this day, will talk about how it was never fair because I never let them be teacher. I was always teacher. And I gave them homework, which was even worse.”
She said she still learns new things every day and chose math for a specific reason.
“It was the loving of the number,” McGlennen said. “It’s peace for me. For many people, it could be coloring or reading. I do enjoy reading, but for me, there is something about pencil and paper and numbers that always just, I love it. I love seeing and writing numbers on paper.”
McGlennen also attributed her love for math to influential teachers who encouraged her. She was an average student in school but considers that an asset.
“I think that makes me a better teacher too because I wasn’t gifted,” McGlennen said. “So I get it. I get the struggle. I get finding ways to make things make sense. So I try to help my student do that too.”
For the past 15 years, in McGlennen’s estimation, Summit Middle School was comprised of all female math teachers. A male teacher has been incorporated into the staff this year, but this dynamic is not the norm in most science, technology, engineering and math fields.
“Summit is a unique entity, I think, as far as the field of math goes to be in a secondary classroom,” McGlennen said. “The bulk of our math teachers are female. But I do encourage my students.”
Homestead High School participates in Project Lead the Way, which promotes pre-engineering courses for high school students. She encourages her female students when she sees them have an interest in math.
“It’s a field dominated by men, but we’ve got the brains, too,” McGlennen said. “I just want to encourage them (female students) to follow their dreams no matter what they are. I do have some kids who are in advanced math that are females, and I keep pushing them in the direction they are going. I feel like we’re moving in the right direction, so we just need to encourage those kids to keep going forward and not giving up on their dreams is huge.”