"I would wake up in the morning just waiting to start my day in her class. She has this way that just makes you want to learn."


DeAndrea Wright

The first day of Ms. Bailey Koerner’s Integrated Math 1 class left DeAndrea Wright confused.  “I didn’t think she was actually teaching anything because it seemed too fun.  She was doing stuff on the board, talking and running around, and people were laughing, and I was thinking, ‘You’re not supposed to laugh in class!’” she explains.  That introduction to Ms. Koerner was a day this 8th grader would never forget.  

Having just moved from Savannah, Georgia, to Nashville, Tennessee, DeAndrea was the new girl at H.G. Hill Middle School, a 5th through 8th grade middle prep school that is part of the Metro Nashville Public Schools system.  She started the school year taking regular 8th grade math but was quickly tested for the honors Integrated Math 1 class. She moved into Ms. Koerner’s class, and at first, felt a bit intimidated.  About two weeks in, the two had a conversation that changed DeAndrea’s outlook not only on math but on problem solving in life.

Ms. Koerner recalls the specific test, an exam on linear equations involving parallel and perpendicular lines.  DeAndrea said she tried every mathematical way she knew to solve the problem but could not.  Out of frustration, she wrote on the bottom of the test, “I can’t do this. I guess I’m not smart enough.”  To her surprise, Mrs. Koerner had written a reply on the returned exam.  It read, “Let’s talk about this later. You’re in this class for a reason.”

Over the years in various classes, DeAndrea had written that very same self-demeaning phrase on tests and papers when she did not know the answer.  The big difference—no teacher had ever addressed it; they just ignored it.  “I never thought Ms. Koerner would say anything, so when she did, it just made me feel like somebody cared.  It made me feel great,” said DeAndrea.  Ms. Koerner talked to her outside of class, encouraging DeAndrea that she COULD do it.  She remembers telling her, “We put you in this class because you showed that you were able to be here.  I think you should be in here, so let’s stick it out and see.”  DeAndrea explains, “I was ready to give up and just let it all go, but Ms. Koerner would not let that happen, and I am very thankful for that.”

"I used to despise math; I hated it so much because it made me feel like I wasn’t smart enough. And now, I love it! It’s my favorite subject."


DeAndrea Wright

Ms. Koerner teaches her students a simple but powerful motto: Always give it your best shot. And never, ever give up.  She says she continually tells her students, “You cannot just leave it blank.  If you leave it blank, then there is no way you got this right.  Let’s play this game statistically.  If you put something down, your chances are better, and if you at least show me what you know, I can help you get further with it.”    

Always challenging her students’ minds, Ms. Koerner keeps them thinking through their problem solving with hands-on experience.  “I’m always trying to find ways to make it real, make it engaging.”  She adds, “You might have rotational partners, or you might be running around the room and doing different problems all over, or you might be forming a human number line.  I have a coordinate plane on my floor so kids would graft lines with their bodies, each hold an end of a string and do Pythagorean theorem on the coordinate plane and actually create a right triangle.”

“I used to despise math; I hated it so much because it made me feel like I wasn’t smart enough.  And now, I love it!  It’s my favorite subject,” says DeAndrea.

While fun and laughter often filled the Integrated Math 1 classroom, on occasion, harsh words were muttered from students about themselves.  There would be times in class where a student would say, “I can’t do this” or “I’m stupid.”  DeAndrea always felt encouraged by Ms. Koerner’s response.  She would reply, “No…say, ‘I can’t do this YET.’  You’re not stupid.  You just can’t figure it out YET.  Try again.  Don’t give up.”

This change of mindset crossed over and permeated all aspects of DeAndrea’s life outside of school.  She explains, “Whenever I’m out in public, and I say something like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do this,’ I’m scared Ms. Koerner is going to pop around the corner and tell me I can’t say that.  I don’t say bad stuff about myself anymore, which is great.”

"I have a word for her: It’s the word ‘purpose.’ I think when people are truly walking in their purpose, this is the kind of result that you get. I feel that Bailey is walking in her purpose."


Assistant Principal Denika Rucker

“She builds relationships with the kids beyond the math and academics,” says Assistant Principal Denika Rucker.  “What most kids need to know and understand is if you care about them or take the extra time, put forth effort to approach them on their level and meet them where they are, they are willing to put out a little more for you.”  Rucker says she would often find Ms. Koerner in the hallway during her lunch period, helping students with their work.

In charge of this past year’s concession stand, Ms. Koerner attended every home game for football, basketball, volleyball, and soccer, showing her “Panther Pride” as she cheered for her H.G. Hill students.  From tutoring former pupils for free on her own time, to attending previous students’ graduations, to organizing a reunion dinner with former pupils, to starting her “star student” lunches, over the years Ms. Koerner has continued to bond with and invest in her students.

“I have a word for her,” says Mrs. Rucker.  “It’s the word ‘purpose.’  I think when people are truly walking in their purpose, this is the kind of result that you get.  I feel that Bailey is walking in her purpose.”

An 8th grader who started a new school year insecure in math and often doubting her own abilities would likely agree; she is now changed forever thanks to a dedicated and challenging teacher who truly cares about her students.   “I would wake up in the morning just waiting to start my day in her class,” says DeAndrea.  “She has this way that just makes you want to learn.”

Photography by Emanuel Roland

Stories you may like


Photograph of Adelina Vargas

August

Adelina
Vargas

Thomas J. Rusk Middle School
Dallas, TX

Read Story
Photograph of Cathy Atwell

July

Cathy
Atwell

Marlborough School
Los Angeles, CA

Read Story
Photograph of Julie Moeller

June

Julie
Moeller

DC Prep
Washington, D.C.

Read Story
Photograph of Adelina Vargas

August

Adelina
Vargas

Thomas J. Rusk Middle School
Dallas, TX

Read Story
Photograph of Cathy Atwell

July

Cathy
Atwell

Marlborough School
Los Angeles, CA

Read Story
Photograph of Julie Moeller

June

Julie
Moeller

DC Prep
Washington, D.C.

Read Story