Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Melissa Fike (MO '19)

February 20, 2020

1000w 2019 MO Melissa Fike students

Melissa Fike (MO ’19) struggled with math in middle school, but a high school teacher sparked her love for the subject. That’s what drew her to teaching: “I wanted the opportunity to share with students how exciting math can be.” Melissa won Missouri’s 2019-20 Milken Award at Oakland Middle School in Columbia on January 10, 2020.

Milken Family Foundation: Eighth-grade math sets an important foundation for success in high school math. How do you keep students interested?

Melissa Fike (MO ’19): I am an animated teacher—I sing, dance and tell a lot of stories. I have created themed units (for example, a Zombie Unit to teach concepts of functions) to keep students engaged in mathematical tasks. I try really hard to meet kids where they are and relate math to their lives.

MFF: What do you like about middle school students?

Melissa: Middle school students are the best! They are at a unique age where they are hopeful for their futures and excited for the choices and possibilities ahead of them. At the same time, middle school students have a sweet sense of vulnerability as they define themselves as individuals. Every day is different and there is never a dull moment.

MFF: How did you end up in education?

Melissa: I have always known I would be a teacher. When I was young I would “play school” by teaching long division to my stuffed animals. As a middle school student I struggled in math. In high school I had a teacher who changed my experiences with math and I learned to really love the subject. I wanted the opportunity to share with students how exciting math can be.

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MFF: How was your first year in the classroom?

Melissa: It was a whirlwind. There were so many new things to learn. What I remember most is the special bond I had with my students. As the end of my first year approached, I was truly sad that my students would be moving on to a new grade. A friend sent me a card that said, “Students come and go, but learning is forever.” I think of those words often.

MFF: Who are your role models?

Melissa: One of my most influential teachers was my fifth grade teacher, Donna Grubbs. She and I are in touch to this day, and I still learn from our conversations. My biggest role models now are my colleagues with their positive and solution-oriented attitudes. I constantly try to improve my practice and I most admire those who are willing to share and try new ideas.

MFF: You have been involved in your district’s focus on Standards Referenced Grading. How do you believe it will help increase student achievement?

Melissa: Standards Referenced Grading (SRG) is a method of reporting students’ grades beyond a typical letter grade. Students are given feedback on specific skills that are grouped together to create a “critical concept.” We have created proficiency scales in student-friendly language for students to monitor their progress toward their proficiency for each concept. With this structure, students have the opportunity to show and celebrate growth over time. The power behind SRG is that students receive specific feedback regarding their current level of understanding and are provided the steps and opportunities to reach a higher level.

1000w 2019 MO Melissa Fike reaction

MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?

Melissa: I was very surprised! My principal told us that the state commissioner was coming to speak about resiliency. When it became clear that a teacher was going to receive this amazing honor, I started thinking of the many colleagues who deserved it. Hearing my name called was the surprise of my life. I am so honored and humbled to represent Oakland Middle School and Columbia Public Schools.

MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?

Melissa: My students seemed very excited. I love watching the footage of the reveal and seeing their faces light up! I am certain it will be a memory they will never forget. So many former students (some from over 10 years ago) have contacted me to say how much I impacted their learning. It’s such a humbling feeling to see how many lives my teaching has reached.

1000w 2019 MO Melissa Fike husband

MFF: Any plans for the $25,000?

Melissa: My husband is Oakland’s home school communicator and he often needs to transport students to various places. We have needed to replace his car for years, so we will use the Award to finally purchase a car.

MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?

Melissa: I define my success by the successes of my students. Student success manifests itself differently from student to student and across a variety of tasks. Student success could be the look on their face when they have an “aha” moment or when they have persevered through a difficult lesson. A success could be a student realizing they are good at math or showing growth over the course of a unit. The most important thing is to celebrate every success.

MFF: What do you hope your students remember from their time with you?

Melissa: That math can be fun and is applicable to their lives. I want them to remember how to use critical thinking skills to solve the problems they will encounter both in and outside of the classroom. Most importantly, I hope they remember that no matter where they go after middle school, I will always be cheering them on to greatness!

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