Nick Alfred named district’s 2012-13 Teacher of the Year
Nicholas Alfred, Jamestown’s 2012-13 Teacher of the Year, started off on a bumpy road before finding his true calling. Alfred teaches math to the seventh- and eighth-graders at the Lawn Avenue School, but he admits he wasn’t always keen about working with numbers.
Unlike many schoolteachers, who aced their chosen subject during their school days, Alfred remembers struggling with math when he was a youngster. He had a tough time, he said, until two gifted teachers came along and showed him that math was just like learning a new language.
Those two teachers, he said, took math off the blackboard and put numbers in the context of real life. Suddenly, Alfred said, he got it. “It just clicked.”
Alfred decided to teach math so he could help other students who also found the problems baffling. He thought about other subjects initially, but math seemed the logical choice. He can relate to youngsters who are having a hard time making sense of math, because he shared the same personal experience.
In his teaching, Alfred makes a point of explaining how the numbers and formulas work in real-life situations.
Since they’re middle school children, he uses popular games and hobbies to illustrate his points. For example, his students like video games and skateboarding, so he adapts the math lesson to situations connected to those pastimes. He makes lessons “hands on,” he says.
One example was when he took the class outdoors to check out the skate park. The rec area, he said, was a perfect place to talk about slope. On the simplest level, the steeper the skate ramp’s slope, the faster the descent. But the class ultimately delved into figuring out the math that park designers used to create those particular ramps.
Alfred likes to take the class outdoors, but they also look at everyday surroundings inside the building. For example, skate park ramps are one type of incline, but the school also has handicap ramps. Those ramps are required to meet American Disabilities Act standards, and Alfred’s class checks them out to make sure they do. They study the building code requirements, and the children literally do the math.
Alfred said he tries to keep the instruction relevant. He also tries to extend himself, so he’s accessible outside class.
“I try to make a connection with all the students,” he said. Alfred also coaches cross-country and track, two sports that he took up during his own middle school days.
Alfred grew up in South Kingstown. He continued running at South Kingstown High School and at Rhode Island College. Alfred earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and although he didn’t major in math, he holds a middle school math endorsement.
Alfred, 33, has taught math in the Jamestown schools for nine years. The assignment at Lawn Avenue School was his first job after student teaching in Coventry, and a stint as a substitute teacher in another district.
In addition to coaching sports, he also serves as the tech coach for teachers. He helps the staff with technology issues, such as how to use the white boards in the classroom and the electronic recordkeeping systems.
He doesn’t see himself working anywhere but a classroom, at least for the foreseeable future. “Being in the classroom is the best place for me,” he said. His isn’t considering any career changes. “There’s nothing in my head for that.”
Someday, Alfred said he might consider moving into an administration job, but he is relatively early in his career to consider that type of change. And if he took that step, he would still be working in education.
Alfred learned he was the district’s
Teacher of the Year in May. He was nominated by other staff and a committee made the fi- nal selection. Last year, Marilyn Hostetler was Jamestown’s top educator.
“I think it’s good,” Alfred said. “It’s nice to be recognized for doing the things you do, putting a lot of time and effort into helping kids and your colleagues.”
As one of 52 top teachers statewide, he was in the running for the state Teacher of the Year award. Last week, the state education department announced Jessica Walters, a science teacher at the Beacon Charter High School in Woonsocket, is this year’s winner. She will represent Rhode Island in the national Teacher of the Year competition.
According to Eliot Krieger, communications director for Department of Education, Rhode Island’s 36 school districts, plus the charter schools and the state schools, all selected a Teacher of the Year. They were honored at last week’s teacher recognition ceremony. Alfred attended briefly, but he had to “rush back” to Jamestown for open house.
“I didn’t end up staying for the whole thing,” he said. Alfred’s next big project is going to be figuring out how to use the new school playground to bring math alive.
The new playground was just installed, he said, with big climbing rocks for the children to climb. He hasn’t had a chance to study it yet, but he’s going to come up with a math lesson.
“Nick Alfred’s commitment to the Jamestown Schools impresses all of us fortunate enough to work with him,” said curriculum director Kathy Almanzor, who is the former Lawn Avenue School principal. “He is passionate about his teaching and he instills a love of learning in his students through highly engaging lessons. Nick serves as an athletic coach, technology coach, and is involved with the National Junior Honor Society. He arrives early each day and is one of the last to leave.”