April 2002

Kay Toliver
Retired elementary and middle school teacher
New York, New York |

Kay Toliver's teaching career spanned 34 years at elementary and middle school levels. She taught both mathematics and communication arts to students in grades 7 and 8. Motivated by her parents, who often emphasized the value of education in the quest for a better quality of life, Toliver wanted to become a teacher from a very early age. As a young child, Toliver learned to value and appreciate the power of mathematics from her own everyday experiences—cooking, counting, and playing games with her parents.

The diverse ability levels of students that Toliver taught sustained her interest in mathematics and in its practices and theories. Toliver believes that "All students can learn mathematics, will learn mathematics, and must learn mathematics." She considered it her responsibility to make sure that all of her students understood concepts and developed the skills introduced in the mathematics classroom. Additionally, she placed great significance on her students' development of an appreciation of mathematics, as well as on developing their confidence in their ability to do mathematics at a high level and, in turn, become successful in their studies.

Toliver's greatest challenge was working diligently to develop instructional approaches that promote middle school students' success in mathematics, irrespective of their past history. She states, "I personally had to work hard to develop techniques that engage students, make mathematics come alive, and enable students to see the connection between mathematics and the real world."

Throughout her teaching career, Toliver believed that her students' parents valued the importance of mathematics. However, she thought that they did not fully comprehend the changes that were taking place in mathematics education. Consequently, she advocates increased parent education to help them understand that mathematics learning goes beyond arithmetic and memorization.

When asked for her suggestions for beginning new teachers, she responded, "I could write a book to answer that question." "A beginning teacher of mathematics," she says, "has to acquire patience, deal with many nonteaching issues, including classroom management, planning lessons, paperwork, and time management." Toliver strongly believes that a new teacher must have high expectations for student learning and believes that all students are capable of learning mathematics. Her advice is "Be real with students . . . take advantage of professional development and learning experiences, consult colleagues, and seek help when it is needed." She concludes that "Boredom is a teacher's enemy" and thus advocates being a risk taker.