Spotlight: Angela Fowler (IN '22)February 2, 2023
After her surprise Milken Educator Award assembly, math teacher Angela Fowler (IN ’22) told her fourth graders that the Award will have a direct impact on their education: “I get to be part of a life-changing organization full of other passionate teachers.” Angela received Indiana’s 2022-23 Milken Award at Grassy Creek Elementary in Greenwood on November 22, 2022.
MFF: What do you like about working with elementary students?
Angela: Students at the elementary age are in such a vital stage of their life. And they have no idea —they are just focused on being kids. Upper elementary is the sweet spot for me as an educator. These students are at the perfect age of gaining independence but, at the same time, they still know that they need direction. At this age, you really see their interests start to come alive, and they are starting to form who they will become as a person. It is so fun to be a part of that! Upper elementary is also where students start to see a lot of their mathematical foundational skills come into play when working with deeper concepts. I love helping these students make connections in skill after skill.
MFF: What are some of the strategies you use in your classroom to keep students engaged and build their math fluency?
Angela: Over my career, I have moved from a very procedural math mindset to a much more conceptual approach. I have been inspired by people like Pam Harris who are trying to change the way math is learned and understood. With this conceptual approach comes new strategies that help students move from procedures and memorization to actually understanding the “why” behind the connections and relationships in math.
I use strategies such as number talks and number strings to help students see and understand relationships in numbers. This helps with their fluency as well. If students reach the middle of their fourth grade year without being fluent in their multiplication facts, math can become challenging moving forward. It is important to me that students understand and build their math facts instead of thinking of them as individual entities.
MFF: Tell us about Riley Week – the activities, but also the lessons students learn about the importance of philanthropy. What skills do you hope they will take away as they grow into productive citizens?
Angela: In college, I was a part of the Ball State University Dance Marathon. This organization worked year-round to raise funds for Riley Hospital for Children, a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in Indianapolis. I wanted to bring this mission to Grassy Creek because I saw the importance of this philanthropy, and I was actually a Riley Kid myself growing up.
At Grassy Creek, the fourth grade teachers help put together a whole week focused on Riley Hospital. Each day students can bring in any donation to participate in the spirit day and receive a little promotional item from Riley. Throughout the week we also host trivia about Riley Hospital on the announcements, and classrooms conduct their own Rock, Paper, Scissors tournaments. At the end of the week, we bring the school together for a schoolwide Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament, where the winner from each grade level competes to be the school winner and receive a medal. The faculty and staff at Grassy Creek have their own bracket too. At this convocation, we reveal the total amount raised for Riley during the week.
But the games and festivities aside, I think the most impactful part of Riley Week are the posters hanging around the building of Grassy Creek students who have been treated at Riley Hospital. Students see these posters of their peers and learn how Riley has impacted their lives. Our hope is that if other students have to be treated at Riley in the future, they go into their appointments and treatments knowing what an awesome place Riley Hospital is. This week brings an amazing feeling to our school, and students are able to see that as a school community, we can help out others and make a difference.
MFF: How did you end up in education?
Angela: First of all, teaching is in my blood! My mother, aunts, uncle, and sister were or are teachers. As a kid, I can only remember wanting to be a teacher. Also, during my own education, I had many phenomenal teachers who helped mold me into the person I am today. These teachers were present in my life by teaching me academics inside the classroom, but they were also there outside the classroom as athletic and academic coaches. I was inspired by these teachers and I want to be a transforming teacher to as many students as possible, just like they were for me.
MFF: How was your first year of teaching?
Angela: I was actually a sixth grade language arts teacher. I took the job hoping it would lead to a math position the following year. I was willing to take that job because of the gut feeling I received when interviewing and later touring the school. I could tell the culture at the school was a strong one and the leaders there were people that I wanted to work for.
I’m not sure anything can truly prepare you for your first year of teaching. You will never be quite “ready,” but the staff around you helps you get through. Positive thoughts come to mind when I think about all the friendships I made with colleagues, and the mentors who helped me get through it: lead teachers, my principal, assistant principal, instructional coach, and counselors. Starting a Riley Week at the school my first year was one of my fondest memories. I also remember thinking that my lessons on the concepts of theme, character traits, plot, etc. were the first time these students had ever heard about these concepts. Not so — when I moved to fourth grade, I discovered that these skills had been introduced long before they ever got to me in sixth.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Angela: As an educator, finding role models is of utmost importance. There are colleagues and administrators all over the school to look up to for so many different reasons. I look up to my principal, Trina Lake, and assistant principal, Teresa Gross, because of their extensive knowledge of being in the classroom, but first and foremost for the way that they lead the teachers at our school and how they have developed such an amazing culture at Grassy Creek. Beth Rockey is our mathematics instructional coach and works tirelessly to help all teachers improve their math instruction while making sure that students can progress from grade level to grade level with ease. She makes me a better mathematician! I am working hard to keep growing my leadership and mathematics knowledge so one day I can lead like these women.
I am blessed to say that the list of my “favorite teachers” only continued to grow from kindergarten through college. That being said, two teachers do stick out to me. My own fourth grade teacher, Mr. G (Dick Gallamore), was a massive part of my life during my elementary years and beyond. He was my teacher, kickball coach, leader of faith, director of our school play, and he even led our high school youth group. The other educator that impacted my life greatly was Mrs. Mary Ann Chamberlain. Not only was she my eighth grade homeroom teacher, she also led the spell bowl team, speech team, was a leader of faith, and organized our Washington D.C. trip. Both of these teachers were role models for me and my community growing up and they are still making a difference in the community today. Looking back now, I can see the countless hours they put into my life and the lives of thousands of others.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Angela: I was completely surprised and overwhelmed with shock. I truly believed that we were coming together as a school to hear the Indiana Secretary of Education speak about all the effort we have put in to meet our students’ needs in regards to reading. My biggest concern was making sure that my students were being attentive and being the best version of themselves for such an important visitor!
I remember feeling a bit confused when Dr. Jenner introduced someone who had traveled over 2,000 miles to be at the convocation. Then I knew something was up when a monetary gift was being presented. When Dr. Jane Foley was about to announce a name for the Award, I remember my heart pounding and adrenaline pumping. After that, I think my body just went into motion as they called my name. All I felt was utter shock. I will never forget the feeling of standing up in front of my whole school in true awe! That moment will be ingrained in my memory for the rest of my life.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Angela: My students were all very excited when I returned to school after spending some time with past Milken Award winners. Many of them were crying happy tears, but some were sad — they thought that because of the money, I would be leaving school and retiring. That made me laugh!
They were so happy for me and wanted to know what I did for the rest of the day after receiving the Award. I told them about the upcoming MEA Forum, and that created a beautiful conversation about how this Award is so much more than the money. I got to explain that I get to be a part of a life-changing organization full of other passionate teachers and how being part of this group will help me impact their education as well. I am truly looking forward to all of the discussions we will have after I return from the MEA Forum too.
MFF: Any plans for your $25,000 Award?
Angela: I do not have a finalized plan. I have some ideas to put this money towards some educational organizations that I would like to be a part of. I also have a goal to visit all the U.S. national parks in my lifetime, so I think I may use some of it for that! All I know is that this money truly means a lot to me and I want to make sure that I spend it on things and experiences that will help me work toward career goals and help me fulfill lifelong dreams.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Angela: Over the years, I think my definition of success has changed. Many people measure success by data and statistics, rankings, or popularity and fame. For myself, I define success by giving 100 percent of my gifts and talents to the people around me and the tasks at hand every day. If I give the best of myself every day and try to make the most of the time I have been given on Earth, that is success.
In the same way, for my students, I feel they are successful if they strive to be the best version of themselves each day. Whether that is pertaining to working with others, learning mathematics, playing at recess, learning the recorder, or walking in the hallway, as long as students are being the best versions of themselves and working to grow and learn each day, that is success.
MFF: What do you hope students remember from their time with you?
Angela: When students look back on their time in my classroom, I hope they remember that I genuinely cared about them and wanted to help them learn and grow in as many areas of life as possible. I hope that when they think of me, they remember that I knew them as individuals, respected them for who they were, and passionately believed in them.
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