Student Nomination Story

Mrs. Chatham's students do not call her "Mrs. Chatham." We all call her "Mom." The students she currently teaches call her this and the students she has taught in the past still call her this. Mrs. Chatham may be a math teacher, but she is so much more than that. I came into her class hating math, like many students do, and she admitted to us that she used to hate math too. When she was in college, a professor told her to stop thinking of it as formulas or memorization or processes and to start thinking about why each formula makes sense and how it applies to the real world. She never gave us formulas to memorize. She explained the formulas using situations like ice cream scoops and toppings (and brought us ice cream and toppings to eat as we learned) so that by the end of each class, we didn't need to memorize a formula. We understood it. I never thought I could understand math on any level until she changed my way of thinking about it. The anxiety I felt about math and the thoughts of "I'm too stupid to understand this" all stopped. She helped me realize that I'm not dumb, that no one is "dumb" for that matter-- we just all have different ways of understanding concepts and she personally helped all of us find a way that worked best. While this explains her gift of inspiring learning among even the most apathetic of students, it does't cover the most important gift she gave me and all the other students she taught. She helped teach us empathy. One day, a janitor at our school passed away unexpectedly. When we went to her class that day, she pulled up a stool to the front of the room and sat down. With tears in her eyes, she talked to us about the necklace she always wore on her neck. She said it was her father's and she never stopped wearing it since the day he passed away. She told us that we never know the impact we will have on others so we have to take every opportunity to show kindness and compassion before it's too late. She told us to take the whole math class to sit silently and write about a part of our life that has impacted us and brought us pain or made us feel loved or sad and to just sit in that feeling and mourn it, grieve it, feel joy from it, whatever. She said she would like to take them up at the end of class and later read each one to herself privately (if we felt comfortable) so she could understand us better and help us in any way she could. I spent the whole hour pouring out a traumatic experience onto the paper and how I have healed from it, yet still struggle with it. When the bell rang, she told us what she always tells us, "Have a great day. I love you all and I am here for you all, you know that." The next day in class, she pulled me aside with tears in her eyes and told me that what I had written moved her and that she could see there was pain inside me. She told me the feeling will not last forever and that I am a good person and that I am capable of anything I put my mind to because the trauma that didn't kill me gave me an incredible amount of strength. I started to cry and she hugged me and told me that I am loved. I had been considering killing myself for weeks until that day, when she told me that the pain I feel now is truly not permanent. She said honestly that I will have happy days to come and I will have even sadder days too, but that life is worth living for both of those reasons. If we were always happy, we would never truly cherish those happy moments. They would mean nothing to us. They would not seem special or extraordinary. She also encouraged me to follow my dream as a writer because she said I have a gift. She liked to identify the gifts each of her students possessed, whether it be in math or other subjects or sports or interests and constantly encourage them and give them affirmation for their gifts. Having Mrs. Chatham as a teacher truly changed my life. Even now that I have graduated from high school, we still keep in touch on Instagram and I have followed her own personal journey to a healthy lifestyle doing Crossfit. It really is incredible how much she has accomplished. Many of her students don't even know about them. For example, she designed a new curriculum for teaching math that is now being adopted into other schools' curriculum across the country. None of her students would know this, however, because Mrs. Chatham gives everything she has to her students each day. She expects nothing in return. She is one of the few people in my life I have met that cares deeply about each and every person she meets. This genuine empathy she has for others is contagious and fills everyone she cross paths with with joy and inspiration. I changed as a person because of her influence in my life. Countless other students did as well. I cannot think of anyone more deserving than Mrs. Chatham because of her efforts as both an educator and a remarkable human being.

Sophia Nadler

To see more exceptional teacher nominees, visit The Honor Roll.