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Faculty Profile: Ariana McAvoy, Upper School Mathematics Teacher & Mathematics Department Chair

February 11, 2021

Tell us about your path to Léman.

I grew up in Minnesota and then I went to college at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania where I was a double major in economics and political science. I did a lot of tutoring and college mostly for students in freshman economics courses. I knew that I wanted to help people and I liked being like interacting with kids, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a teacher.

In my senior year, I applied for Teach for America and I was placed back in Minnesota for my region to do my two-year corps commitment.

That was really a transformational experience because I got to see the achievement gap firsthand, which was eye-opening. I had never appreciated how privileged I was to have an excellent education until then. That’s when I decided that I wanted to pursue teaching for the rest of my life.

After those two years, I moved to New York and continue teaching at a charter school called Uncommon Schools, where I taught for another two years. It was also a low-income school and a very challenging job. I decided to take a break and go get my master's in teaching. I was accepted to Columbia Teachers College where I earned my master's degree in secondary math education. After I completed my master's, I attended a school job fair and met a representative from Léman. I applied and started teaching here in 2016.

What did you take away from your teaching experience prior to Léman that prepared you for your current role? 

I realized that students are going to respect you if they know you're genuine and you can you show that you care. I couldn’t pretend to know what they were going through but it was more about showing up every day, putting in the extra hours and showing them that I wasn't going to leave.

The other big lesson I learned was in classroom management. When you think of becoming a teacher, you think of the content. I was excited to teach math, but I didn't realize, that's only half of it. A lot of it is about managing the kids and building those routines, and providing structure. 

What do you like about teaching at an IB school?

Teaching at an IB school has been great because it's allowed me to focus on the content of teaching math and how to be a good math teacher. It aligns well with what I studied at Teachers College.

Before I went to grad school, I was teaching algebra, which was rigorous, but it was more about getting kids to practice over and over and trying to move the needle and close that achievement gap. Teachers College opened the doors to more inquiry-based learning.

Teaching the IB opened me up to teach different models in the classroom, like group work, discovery, and learning how to explore problems. The whole idea of building global citizens through a comprehensive diploma program is really special.

What do you like about teaching at Léman?

The international student body at Léman is something I've never experienced before. I appreciate how it's opened up opportunities to teach to different kinds of students from around the world. I've enjoyed being pushed in that regard and thinking about how I can teach students for whom English isn’t their first language.

I also coached swimming here and I really enjoyed that as well. I swam in high school, so I loved the fact that I could get back in the pool and teach kids in a different setting.

Also, my colleagues are amazing. I started here at the same time as Robert Spezzano and he’s been great to work with. There were several teachers who came to Léman the same year that I did and I've built strong relationships with them as we've learned and grown together at the school.

I also appreciate the standards-based grading system. I think that can be better than a traditional grade and more formative and better suited for a lot of students because the idea is that you can grow throughout the year. It’s not just about this one moment, but it's how they progress over time.

This is your final year as department chair. What are your priorities and goals for the department for the rest of this year?  

I would love to leave this year with the math department set up to continue driving student success in a few key areas. We are continually developing our curriculum and our goal is to continue to drive academic rigor with our standards in the Lower School.

For Grades 6-12, because the IB Math curriculum just changed, we are in the process of backward planning to make sure that the entire curriculum is aligned for the Upper School. That plan is all in motion and the hope is that next year the math team can continue work against these goals.

What is coming up next for the math department this year?

This week, our students competed in the AMC (American Math Competition) 10 and the AMC 12, which is a series of increasingly difficult tests for high school students. They initially take a 75-minute online test and, if they do well, they get to move on to the next round. It’s very rigorous and universities like MIT ask students for their AMC scores. I have some strong students this year and I’m optimistic that they’ll do well.

Then in May, our 2nd-8th graders will be competing in the Noetic Math Competition, where our students compete against around 14,000 kids nationally. We’ve had a number of students who have made the honor roll which means they placed in the top 10% in their grade nationally. It really speaks to the quality of our teachers and students. I’m looking forward to seeing how we do this year!  

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