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Teacher who ‘hated’ subject wins top math honors

(Sept. 26, 2014) A self-proclaimed language person, Rosemary Heher recently earned an unusual award.

Worcester County Public Schools Coordinator of Mathematics Instruction Rosemary Heher

The Coordinator of Mathematics Instruction for Worcester County Public Schools has been named the state’s math leader teacher of the year, making her the county’s first professional to receive the award from the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

“I hated math,” said Heher, who’s held her position with the schools for 15 years. But that changed when she became a parent. The 1968 University of Maryland graduate didn’t rediscovered her scorned subject until her daughter was three years old.

“I read about girls and math and I said to myself, ‘You have to come back,’” Hehre said. That’s when she contacted Dr. Donald Cathcart at Salisbury University.

“I said, ‘Do you think that somebody can relearn the math that they haven’t had in about 20 years?’” she said, “and he looked at me and he said, ‘Sit down.’”

No longer a student, Heher returned to Cathcart’s office each month for quizzes on new material until eventually he asked her to enroll in his calculus class.

After receiving As in two classes, Heher enrolled in a master’s program with Cathcart as her advisor.

“He saw something in me that I didn’t know I had,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without him.”

She went on to teach classes from elementary school to college-level courses over her 28-year career, the last 15 of which have been strictly devoted to mathematics at Worcester County schools.

Cathcart was one of four Heher asked to write letters of recommendation when she received the nomination for the mathematics award earlier this year from Bill Barnes, coordinator of secondary mathematics for the Howard County Public Schools.

“The real surprise to me was the nomination,” she said. “Howard County is one of those big counties on the western shore and we’re a little county in rural Maryland.”

Heher also completed a multi-page application, an essay on her experience as a math leader — which started with “grit, gravitas and grace” and ended with “gratitude” — and an outline of her success over the last three years to be eligible for the award.

“Yes, it’s a recognition. It’s a lifetime achievement award,” she said. But “they’re not my successes. They’re the district’s success.”

From past and present leaders and the teachers who implement, she acknowledged many factors that contribute to Worcester schools’ success.

Still, Heher has had a hand in many of those successes. Under her guidance, the schools have partnered with Salisbury University for consulting work on their math curricula. She’s helped implement locally focused 500-level math courses for teachers seeking recertification and is part of the “Eastern Shore nine,” a group of Maryland supervisors who cooperate in everything from professional development to group textbook orders.

Part of her success teaching math, Heher said, came from her own struggles. As a college student, she would check out additional calculus books from the library to look at the different ways to solve problems — a practice to took to the classroom as a teacher.

“That’s part of what our new curriculum is about — multiple strategies,” she said. “Our success is our students.”

Heher will speak on using technology to help children in grades 3-5 learn fractions at a National Counsel of Supervisors of Mathematics meeting in Boston next April.

She will formally receive her award Oct. 16 at the MCTM Teacher of the Year banquet at the Mt. Washington Conference Center in Baltimore.

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