Brittany Nickodemus exemplifies what being a great teacher is all about. From gamification of math to enhancing relationships with students and colleagues, this educator delivers wisdom, insight, strategies, and empathy that creates a kinder and more impactful classroom. Thank you, Ms. Nickodemus. Your kiddos are lucky to have you.
What grade and subject do you teach?
I teach a variety of secondary Math in grades 6th through 10th in Perry Hall, MD, just outside of Baltimore.
Why did you become a teacher and what made you interested in the subject you teach?
I always wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know if it was the right fit for me. Instead of education, I pursued a degree in Pure Mathematics because my favorite subject in school was Math (I’m a geek). I loved that Math made sense. There was always an answer, always a reason. Everything could be justified by a proof. There was a sense of puzzle solving, using strategy, and perseverance. Not everyone found the solution the same way, but there was one answer. To me, math was like a game, and I wanted to share my love for that game with other people.
The most logical next step was to pursue a graduate degree in some Math-related field, but none of them felt right. I ended up taking a gap year (which turned into a few years), got married and started a family before providence led me into the field of education. My husband happened to interview for a position at a K-12 school and mentioned that I held a degree in Mathematics. The school was looking for a Secondary Math teacher. They interviewed me and offered me the job on the spot. There I was, a newly hired teacher! I ended up in middle school and I love that age range!
How did the course coincide with your needs regarding teacher training? Why did you take this particular course? What challenge did this course help you solve?
A primary focus of mine is to develop rich rapport and meaningful interactions in my community. I found that I often struggled with how to have conversations that were uncomfortable (I mean, most of us do – right?). Uncomfortable conversations, while they can be painful in ways, are necessary for people to truly feel respected, heard or understood. While I have good relationships with my school community, I recognized my own need for learning how to have these tough talks well.
When I enrolled in my course, I hoped it would give me some actionable tools to improve my ability to communicate well with students and staff members. I was blown away after reading the first module! Not only did I get a deeper understanding of conversations, but I gained a greater understanding of how to work through tense situations with confidence and poise.
Within a week of starting my course, I had an opportunity to use the skills I read about in a conversation with a student. When the conversation started, I thought it was going to be about inappropriate joking in the classroom – a common enough conversation that I wouldn’t call it uncomfortable. However, as I talked to the student, I could tell something more was going on. A week earlier, I wouldn’t have known how to have a conversation about the deeper stuff. I would have asked if there was more the student wanted to share, and the student would have likely dismissed my concern. In this conversation, I was able to use my new understanding of conversations (just module one), to discover the student was struggling with some big mental health issues. The student worked with me to find resources to help. I couldn’t believe how easy the conversation turned out to be! Because of this course, I knew how to ask about the situation and was better equipped to help the student.
You told us about the importance of relationships in your teaching, specifically how you work with colleagues. Can you tell us how and why good relationships positively impact your classroom?
Typically, when I think of ‘good relationships,’ I think of relationships with positive interactions and regular rapport. I was reminded, in my course, that good relationships have mutual understanding and respect. A good relationship can be one where I clash with a personality, but respect the person and am able to work positively with that person because I value the person. Of course, it is challenging to work with people that I disagree with or clash with, but we can use our differences for mutual benefit- if we know how to talk to each other without allowing those differences to get in the way. As a teacher, this helps me develop authentic relationships with students whom I have little in common with, and the same applies with my coworkers. With a strong relationship comes more openness to learning, taking risks, and growing in the classroom, and that is the ultimate goal.
If you could share one strategy or piece of advice with teachers across the country, what would it be?
My nugget of advice for teachers is to have fun with your class and not take yourself too seriously. We spend so much time with our students, we might as well enjoy that time and help them enjoy it too. I mean, isn’t it fun to hear students say “What? Class is over already? That went fast!” Have grace for yourself and laugh when you make mistakes because we all make them. Part of teaching, I think, is to teach kids how to mess up, accept it, recover from that mistake, and start again. In classes where students see me fail and not sweat it, it helps them understand that that’s okay, and they are more willing to take chances, make mistakes and start again.
What is it that you love about teaching the most?
I love seeing them succeed, working through their struggles and all the little things in between.