Spotlight: 10 Questions for Allison Felton (MD '17)March 13, 2018
Teaching got easier for Allison Felton (MD ’17) when she realized how much her students’ home lives differed from her own background: “I realized that they needed someone to listen to them.” Allison won Maryland’s 2017-18 Milken Award at Annapolis High School on January 24, 2018.
1. What went through your mind when you heard your name called at your surprise notification?
Allison Felton: That Wednesday morning is one that I will always remember. I was in complete shock. We thought we were going to a wellness assembly. When Mr. [Mike] Milken began talking about the “Oscars of teaching,” I began to get extremely nervous; I could feel my heart beating in my ears. A part of me was thinking, “Could this be me? No way! There are so many teachers here at this assembly who are much more deserving.” The next thing I knew my name was called, and I just burst into tears. I was overwhelmed with emotion and so appreciative of the recognition.
2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?
Allison: The greatest part about that assembly was that most of my current students were there. In fact, one of my AP students was up in the front holding one of the zeros of the prize amount display. After the assembly was over, many students told me that they knew it was going to be me before they even announced my name. Before the Award my students always worked hard for me, but their work ethic has improved—and now they actually believe me when I tell them I can get them to where they need to be by the end of the year.
3. How did you end up in education?
Allison: Mathematics has been my favorite subject ever since second grade with Ms. Kirk. She was the first teacher who pushed me in math and genuinely made it enjoyable. When I entered college I declared a major in Mathematics, but the undergraduate program didn't have an education option. I stayed there for an extra year to earn my teaching degree. While I learned how to teach, I also re-learned all the math, but on a much deeper level. It was a great feeling.
I'm sure we've all had a math teacher at some point say, "This is just what you have to do," without telling you why. I wanted to change that. I tell my students the processes behind the math so they can appreciate it. I love teaching because it allows me to be a lifelong learner.
4. Who are your role models as an educator?
Allison: Mrs. Sue Chittim, our acting principal, was an educator of mathematics at Annapolis High when she started her career. She has supported me over the last few years and has challenged me with several leadership roles in our school. She’s inspiring—she can take a very overwhelming topic and break it down, and she also has great strategies for delivering and facilitating the lesson. She is a tremendous leader and has changed our school for the better.
My parents are also my role models. They always supported me in everything that I did. They never let me quit anything and always advised me to find a way to make it better rather than giving up. I am so appreciative that they instilled these values in me. After my first year of teaching, I strongly considered leaving the profession. After talking with my parents, I ultimately decided to give it another chance. I wouldn't be where I am today without my parents.
5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Allison: My first year was nothing like what I thought teaching was going to be like. You see movies where the teacher is up in front of the room and every student is sitting up, is listening to every word the teacher says, and seems excited about learning. I had high expectations as I walked in on the first day of the year. I was very excited to meet my first group of students and came prepared with awesome icebreakers and a very interesting lesson. I will never forget how I felt at the end of that day.
I cried a lot my first year of teaching. I kept thinking, “This can't be how this is supposed to be.” I kept thinking that I had to get them to like me, and if I did that, maybe they would complete their work, maybe they would listen to me. Like many other first-year teachers, classroom management was my biggest struggle. Students would yell at me and then I would yell back.
I learned quickly that this wasn't going to work. I also learned that students needed structure and routines. Many of the students I taught my first year had home experiences that were nothing like the way I grew up. I couldn't relate. I learned over the years that they just need someone to listen to them. I have completely changed my approach to classroom management and have seen great success in establishing routines and holding students to high expectations each and every day.
6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?
Allison: I hope my students remember that I had their backs, that I tried to be funny, and that I was a real person. I never sugarcoat anything. I tell my students straight up that the lesson we are going to complete today is going to be tough, but we are going to get through it together. I hope they remember the days that something finally made sense to them.
7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?
Allison: At this point it’s time, especially since I teach two math classes that have a big end-of-year examination. PARCC isn't going to change its test date because we didn't finish all the content in time, and same with AP Calculus. I would love to have more time to give students a chance to delve into the content, to truly understand it on a deeper level.
8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Allison: College is expensive. I plan to use part of the money to pay down some college loans. Most of it I will use for a down payment on a house. I'm not from Maryland, but I'm ready to plant some roots here.
9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?
Allison: Go for it! There are not many professions where you have a hand in helping mold the future. It is extremely hard work but totally worth every minute. When you see a student's light bulb turn on because they finally understand something you've been teaching, it’s the best feeling in the world. I would also encourage him or her to look for opportunities within the school, such as tutoring, and to reach out to middle or elementary schools to see if there are any mentoring programs in which high school students can become aides.
10. What’s your definition of success?
Allison: Any feeling of accomplishment. You crossed off two things on your to-do list? Success! Every day each of us experiences different challenges. What is hard for someone else may be easy for you. If you go to bed having accomplished something, big or small, you've had a successful day. Success isn’t limited to money, fame, or gaining respect. Success is about celebrating small victories. In my classroom, this might be the first time my students remember to do inverse operations while solving for X without my having to remind them!
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