Jennifer Talbot ’07, M.S. ’13 was recently awarded the Excellence in Middle School Mathematics Teaching Award from the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics (ICTM). She sat down to discuss out more about her role at Metcalf and this fantastic accolade.

What do you do at Metcalf?
After starting my career teaching seventh-grade math at Stephen Decatur Middle School, I returned to campus in 2008 for a position at Metcalf. I am the fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher, so I have two fifth-grade classes and two sixth-grade classes. I am also the clinical coordinator, so I am responsible for scheduling all the observations and clinicals that happen at Metcalf. We have lots of Illinois State students that typically come into our Metcalf classrooms, which runs through me.

In my own classroom, I typically have one to two juniors from TCH 296 doing their clinicals each semester. I also work with students from Math 302 (math methods classes) that typically come to the classroom for five or so sessions. I currently also have a senior intern that I have been working with via Zoom this semester.

What was the process to receive this award?
I got a call that I had received the award, and had no idea that I had even been nominated. I am currently serving as co-chair for the ICTM annual conference, so when I received the call I thought it was about that. I was definitely shocked when they told me I won the award!

I’m fortunate to have some very supportive people surrounding me, and a group of them served as my nominators. I work closely with Dr. Amanda Cullen in Math 302 and she rallied a group together including a Metcalf colleague, Ronda Wilder, two professors in the math department, a former student, and a parent to help supply all the nomination information. They wrote letters of recommendation for me, and that’s how it came to be. They even got my sister involved! Months ago she asked me about my resume, which I did think was kind of odd at the time, but I had no idea it was part of the nomination.

Given these COVID times, how will this be given out this year?
We are having a shortened virtual conference in October. Typically the award ceremony is the night before, and we will still have a virtual webinar during that time where friends and family and award recipients can log in and celebrate all the award recipients. The nominators can submit a short video that kind of summarizes each nominee’s credentials to receive the award, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that.

What does this award mean to you?
I doubt myself all the time, which I think we all do at times. So for me, it was so fantastic to have others go to these lengths to recognize my efforts, lift me up, and reinforce the work that I have been doing.

What inspires you as a teacher?
Over the last few years, I’ve been really digging into the concept of ‘mindset’. Students come into math classes with a preconceived set of ideas given their experience and history. So I’ve been pivoting my instruction to focus on the ideas that, while math is definitely about the content, other aspects are hugely important to learning; concepts like making mistakes, taking risks, being vulnerable, and learning from your mistakes. So I try to focus on activities that explore these aspects, such as asking open ended questions and looking more at the discovery process rather than simply providing the formula or answer. I am inspired by other educators that can work these concepts into their teaching. Being able to have open conversations with students and send a message that they can do math and that making mistakes is part of the process is hugely important.

Just this semester, I started the Ph.D. program in math education, and I have also been inspired by several of the readings and research articles. They’ve provided me with ‘back-up’ for what I’m doing in class and have also directed me to try out new things in my classes.

What do you enjoy about teaching at Metcalf?
I have really come to love the relationship that we have with Illinois State and with preservice teachers. I am learning so much from mentoring and hosting interns…way more than I thought I would. This environment allows me to have those partnerships with professors and preservice teachers that I wouldn’t have gotten from a different school experience.

What experiences with students or other faculty stand out during your time at Metcalf?
I can’t recall a specific experience that stands out to me, it’s more about the ‘small’ moments that have me reflecting. The times when a student worked so hard to ask questions and understand and finally made a connection, a preservice teacher led a lesson that maybe didn’t go so well and with feedback, felt more confident teaching the lesson again, or brainstormed ideas with colleagues that have benefited our students. Those learning opportunities that didn’t gather the attention then, that they do now, are what stick out to me.

The College of Education and the Laboratory Schools would like to congratulate Jennifer Talbot for this prestigious honor. Teachers like her are a testament to the quality of instruction offered by the college and the lab schools.