A Better World Through Math
Gloria Brown Brooks May Be Retiring, But She’s Not Slowing Down
Interview by Jessa Barniol
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Gloria Brown Brooks came from five generations of teachers, so naturally she was determined to never become a teacher. And yet, after a 20-year career as a math teacher in Hollister, Calif., Brooks officially retired this summer, laughing to herself about how wrong she was. “Back then, I took a substitute teaching job,” Brooks said. “It was supposed to be temporary, and yet, here I am!” Even though her classroom days are coming to a close, Brooks has no plans to slow down her involvement in the wider mathematics community. She is a founder and leader of the San Benito County Math Talks MTC in Hollister, now in its tenth year. She was also a founding member of the first MTC that started meeting at AIM in 2006, even though it sometimes took her more than two hours to get there because of traffic. Brooks also continues to actively serve in the Instructional Leadership Corps, the California Partnership for Mathematics and Science, Delta Kappa Gamma, and TODOS: Mathematics for All. In 2018 and 2019, she was a state delegate to the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly. She is also a 2019 recipient of a Social Justice Award from Teachers 4 Social Justice, a 2006 and 2016 recipient of a Teacher of the Year Award, and a 2018 recipient of the Cathy Kinzer Professional Development Award, which honors commitment to equity in mathematics. Brooks wishes to extend a special thanks to San Benito County Office of Education, Suzie Caughey, Monterey Bay Area Math Project and AIM for helping make these various projects possible.
Congratulations on your retirement! What will you miss most about teaching?
“All my students! I particularly love middle schoolers. They’re so inquisitive and malleable. I love watching the light come on when they learn new things. I also loved teaching the high school Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2 classes.”
Personally, how did you bridge from a math teacher to a champion for social justice?
“I realized long ago that, as just one person, I had to start where I was. There were students right in front of me who were unacknowledged, disenfranchised, falling behind in school and in life. I did everything I could think of to make those students more aware of the beauty and joy of mathematics.”
More generally, how can mathematics be a tool for social justice?
“Students can do better in life by doing better in mathematics. You need math to be an engineer or a rocket scientist, but you also need math to be a plumber or a welder. You need math to save to buy a home, to go grocery shopping. If you grow to love math, you grow to love learning. And that’s something that will serve them well their whole lives.”
What is special about your MTC in Hollister?
“Hollister is a very rural, agricultural area, and it also has a large ‘bedroom community’ of commuters who work in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are fewer than 200 teachers in all of Hollister, and only about 20 middle school math teachers. It would be very easy for a community like ours to get left behind. One of the teachers who has been with our MTC since the beginning told me that her involvement in the MTC has helped her grow as a teacher in ways she couldn’t have otherwise. The teachers especially benefit from the Circle bringing in outside presenters. It widens their horizons and their network. Also, the teachers collectively are really grateful that the MTC helps them become better problem solvers. It helps them to become better teachers in their classrooms. I am really proud of the work we have done, and I hope that the Circle will continue to grow in the future.”
Do you have any advice for teachers that are just starting out?
“Get to know the math behind the math. There may be that one kid in your class that asks a deep question that you can’t answer. Don’t just look in the back of the book for the answers. Research it. Foster your own deeper understanding and love of mathematics. When you love the subject, the students sense your enthusiasm and want to learn more. Math Teachers’ Circles are a great place to keep that fire burning!”
Do you have any advice for MTCs that are just starting out?
“Always have a backup plan for each session. Always bring an extra problem solving lesson with you just in case. And yes, I speak from experience.”
What is your favorite aspect of Math Teachers’ Circles?
“The community and the problem solving. It’s also a good reminder that there are so many different points of view to solve the same problems. There are so many different approaches. At a recent session, the six people at my table had three different approaches to a problem, and then the facilitator started walking us through a completely different approach. And it was all leading to the same correct answer. We are all the same, but we all think differently. It really opens your mind to see that. There is a definite real-world lesson there.”
Additional reporting by Hana Silverstein.
This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2019 MTCircular.