Eddie Kilpatrick
Retired high school teacher
Tallahassee, Florida |

April 2002

Eddie Kilpatrick, now retired, began his teaching career 37 years ago and has taught students from grade six through the college level. Since his mother was a teacher and since he was brought up on a college campus, becoming a teacher seemed natural for him. When he left the military, teaching was one of the few career options open to African Americans. He had always been quite good in mathematics and with his added interests of music and athletics, he decided to combine those interests and become a mathematics teacher.

Kilpatrick has always tried to take the mystery out of mathematics for his students. As a youngster, he thought that mathematicians projected the image of being smart but preoccupied and aloof to others. His goal as a teacher was to dispel that image and help students realize that mathematics is pretty much common sense.

The biggest challenge that he faced in his career was related to race. His first teaching job was in a small town, Clewiston, Florida, in a K–12 school that served a migrant community. He was asked to help integrate that school system and wound up being the only African American faculty member in that school. Kilpatrick successfully projected the image of an educated African American who was good with students. A second challenge involved his move to Rickards High School in Tallahassee, Florida. Female and minority students were not taking the advanced courses when he arrived. Kilpatrick worked as department chair to make advanced courses accessible to all students. With the help of others, he changed the mind-set that certain students could not do higher mathematics.

Kilpatrick believes that parental support for the schools has declined primarily because both parents have less time to show visible support for the schools when both of them work. Kilpatrick believes that parents are probably just as interested in their children's school as they always were; however, life is so much more complex and fast-paced that the support is less obvious to the teachers. In Clewiston, the closeness of the community was an important factor related to parental support. Kilpatrick surmises that parents at Rickards, a high school with a predominantly African American student population, may have felt intimidated attending parent-teacher conferences when most of the teachers were white.

Kilpatrick's suggestions to beginning teachers on how to remain dedicated mathematics teachers include staying out of the faculty lounge and joining a local, state, or national professional group so that they can surround themselves with people who have similar interests.

Although he has retired, Kilpatrick believes that now is a great time to teach. Teachers need to join mathematics organizations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, go back to school regularly, and attend seminars or conventions related to teaching mathematics—yet they must realize that not all their professional growth comes from formal settings. Further, Kilpatrick believes that teachers should be a part of their local communities. Teachers need to be as interested in their students' extracurricular lives and their growth into young adulthood as they are in how students are doing in mathematics class.

Kilpatrick maintains that the beginning teacher should commit to being a lifelong learner and should be a risk-taker in trying new approaches and in searching for ways to blend technology with more traditional teaching methods.