HEAD OF THE CLASS: My desire to become a teacher came from many influences. The first was my mother, a public school teacher in New York. But what probably had the most effect was when I was a VISTA volunteer in a Sacramento. I assisted a teacher who ran a summer enrichment program for children from a low-income housing community. I was incredibly inspired by my students but deeply disheartened by the inequities that they faced at school and in society. This led me to Teach for America, a program that recruits, trains, places and supports recent college graduates who want to teach in underserved urban and rural school systems.
PLAY STATION: I teach math at John Philip Sousa Middle School, where my techniques are continuously evolving. In the past few years, I've placed a greater emphasis on technology in my classroom. I recently received a wireless assessment system from the Smarter Kids Foundation. All of the students have keypads -- much like remote controls -- that allow them to answer questions by clicking their answers. A receiver instantly tabulates the data. I can know immediately what percentage of my students understand a particular concept.
MAKING THE GRADE: When I learned I was National Teacher of the Year, my first reaction was disbelief mixed with excitement. Sadly, I will be leaving my students for a year as a sort of teaching ambassador, but I look forward to the opportunity to share my insights and learn from others as I travel across the U.S. and abroad.
SCHOOL HOUSE ROCKS: It's incredibly important to teach in real world situations. When we study coordinate geometry, we use the grid system of the District streets. We even use Pennsylvania Avenue, Minnesota Avenue and other famous streets in the city to study slope. For one of our early geometry lessons, I brought in large sugar cookies and colorful frosting. Each student created a "geometry cookie" using the frosting. I had them draw radii, parallel chords, perpendicular diameters and the circumference. Toward the lesson's end, the cookies had become laden with icing and my students were eagerly awaiting permission to eat them. When I did, Travonn broke the silence. "Mr. Kamras," he said. "You know what? This was first time I got to eat my math assignment. Now I'll never forget what a radius or a diameter is."
THE THREE R'S: One way for parents to help keep children engaged and excited about education is to point out the opportunities for learning that present themselves every single day. Encourage children to calculate the tip on a restaurant bill, navigate a summer road trip or summarize an article in the newspaper. Also, keep encouraging them to read! Three books I recommend for adolescents this summer are the diary of Anne Frank, "145th Street" by Walter Dean Myers and "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster.
As told to Karen Hart