Friday, June 25th, 2010
Fort teacher among elite in the nation
By William Kincaid
FORT RECOVERY - Sometimes waiting is the hardest part.
Middle school math teacher Rebecca Link learned she was a finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in June 2009.
More than a year later, Link received notification via e-mail that she was selected as Ohio's math teacher for the prestigious national award.
Only 103 teachers in the U.S. were selected for the annual award bestowed on the best pre-college-level science and mathematics teachers - all chosen by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators, according to a press release from the White House.
Though Link said the award lingered in the periphery of her mind since she was named a finalist, the official announcement in her e-mail came out of the blue a few weeks ago after a day of working in her garden, doing loads of laundry and tending to other daily tasks.
"It's such a top honor, so I didn't even know what my chances were," Link said during an interview with the newspaper.
In addition to the award, she was given a $10,000 stipend from the National Science Foundation - to be used at her discretion - and will travel to Washington, D.C., for an all-expenses paid, four-day trip to the Capitol for an awards ceremony, professional development and visits with members of Congress and science agency leaders.
The date of the trip has not been disclosed, Link said.
President Barrack Obama released this statement in honor of those chosen for the award:
"Science and technology have long been at the core of America's strength and competitiveness, and the scientists and engineers who have led America on its remarkable path to success share something very precious: Science and math teachers who brought these critical subjects to life. Today we honor some of the best of these teachers and thank them for their dedication. They are inspirations not just to their students, but to the nation and the world."
Link was nominated for the award by former Fort Recovery Middle School Principal Ted Shuttleworth. She completed an intense application process that included a video presentation of her classroom, a 20-page paper and letters of recommendation.
She said she had high hopes, but no expectations.
"Becky's an outstanding math teacher, and she would always put her heart and soul into her work," Shuttleworth told the newspaper. "Becky was always very innovative and the kids loved her in class."
The 22-year veteran teacher said she would not have been successful in the classroom without the support of various administrations, including past and present administrators Nancy Knapke, Ed Snyder, Shuttleworth and Pat Niekamp.
"I can't thank them enough for what they have allowed me do in my career," Link said.
A crucial piece of motivation - one that would define her career as a math instructor - came from Niekamp when he evaluated Link after her first year as a teacher at Fort Recovery. Link said he gave her a good review, but asked what kind of teacher she wanted to be. She could either get by being a pretty good teacher or commit herself to improving each year - a continuous 30-year process of progression or stagnation.
Link said she decided then to dedicate herself to becoming a better math teacher each year. In the summers, she sought out additional math courses at nearby colleges and universities, including a summer stint at Miami University in Oxford called Project Discovery, where she found others who also were passionate about mathematics.
As some people love music or coaching, Link has that same passion for math, Shuttleworth said.
"I love the problem solving," Link said, explaining she enjoys the challenge of trying to figure something out.
Link found mentors, including Jack Albers, a retired math instructor at Marion Local Schools and a part-time teacher at Lehman Catholic, and Marilyn Link, a retired math teacher from Coldwater.
Like those two mentors - who remain active and continue to seek new approaches and ideas in math - her journey in mathematics will never be complete.
"There's always a new spark if you look for it. And I have so much more to learn," Rebecca Link said.
Link also attributes her success to her parents, who she said encouraged her to take on new challenges and step out of her comfort zone.
"My mom and dad have supported me since day one," she said.
Peer groups help kids learn:
By William Kincaid
Fort Recovery Middle School math teacher Rebecca Link has discovered students feel more comfortable learning and taking additional educational risks through peer interaction groups.
In her classroom, students are encouraged to discuss math applications and problems with one another.
"You allow the kids to talk as a math community in your classroom - it takes away the fear," she said.
Students are more likely to take risks knowing that it's OK to be wrong as long as they keep trying different ideas and methods, according to Link. Once a safe atmosphere is established - with no laughing or snickering - students are willing to get up and share their ideas.
Link also requires her students to give monthly presentations in front of the class.
Former middle school principal Ted Shuttleworth said Link exhibits excellent classroom management - one of the most important skills in a teacher - which frees her to instruct as she wishes. He also noted she has a very polite and professional manner in the classroom.
In order to better prepare her students for education after middle school, Link said she earned her high school math license between October 2006 and June 2007, while teaching at Fort Recovery.
She strives to bring meaning to mathematics and motivate her students to keep a door open for it in the future because they never know what type of career lies ahead.
"The idea is just being open to new ideas because you never know what the future has in store," she said.
Link encourages parents to be involved in their children's math studies and homework even if they're not comfortable with the subject. They should ask questions, support their children and let them know math is important.
Link said the staff at Fort Recovery is supportive without rivalries and genuinely tries to promote excellence within the system through each other.