When James Moonan walks the halls at Pierce Middle School, he feels right at home. Not just because he’s the 6th grade math teacher, but he was also a student there nearly 20 years ago. He’s reminded every day what it is like to be in middle school, and it’s this insight that gives him the caring and commitment to help his students achieve.
And achieve they do. His unique teaching style means that each of Moonan’s classes is student-centered, where the students own the curriculum and Moonan is “simply” the facilitator. This allows him to differentiate his instruction so that every child has an opportunity to showcase his or her talents and accentuate their individual learning styles. One colleague notes that Moonan is a prime example of the saying, “If kids don’t learn how you teach, then teach how they learn.” By taking advantage of technology such as SmartBoards, cell phones and calculators—plus adding large doses of real-life experience—Moonan helps make math more relevant to students. His dedication to learning has certainly paid off. In results from the 2012 Math MCAS, Moonan’s Median Student Growth Percentile was 63.5. Additionally, the 6th grade math team’s Composite Performance Index (CPI) was 92.2, and his students’ individual CPI was 93.1 out of 100.
One of the qualities that makes Moonan an exceptional educator is his drive for continuous improvement through professional development. He spent several all-day Saturday sessions at a local university learning how to better support “struggling learners,” as well as honing his professional training on how to creatively teach decimals and fractions. True to his generous nature, Moonan excitedly shared this new knowledge with colleagues at both the school and district-wide levels.
He firmly believes in participating in as many levels of school life as possible. He is a summer school math teacher; a trusted adult who meets regularly with students to assist them with academics, as well as social challenges; a new-teacher mentor; a leader who worked diligently to revise the math department curriculum and establish the school’s common assessment and data-use structure; someone who enthusiastically calls parents to tell them about the good deed their child did that day or an improvement on a test. Moonan has also served on the Site Council, the Math Team, and as advisor to the anti-bullying club after collaborating with a guidance counselor to write the curriculum. While he was a student at Milton High School, he played varsity baseball and was team captain in 2001. Today, he’s still active in MHS sports, serving as head varsity baseball coach and junior varsity baseball coach. Someday, it’s highly likely that he’ll be coaching his current 6th graders when they’re in high school. It’s this level of attention to the whole student – mind, body and spirit – that makes him an exceptional teacher.