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New mathematics teacher is always cheering for her students

Kristen B. Morales

May 17, 2019

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Cassandra Koes' introduction to the UGA campus began before most freshmen at the University of Georgia. As a new member of the UGA cheerleading team, she arrived on campus a week before the start of her first fall semester for practice along with taking part in rush activities. It was a jam-packed week but it set the stage for four years of busy days juggling academics, practice and student-teaching requirements.

We sat down with Koes, who graduated this spring with a B.S.Ed. in Mathematics Education, to discuss her time at UGA and other qualities that make her this month's College of Education Amazing Student.

Question: Where are you from? Answer: Cumming, Georgia. I went to South Forsyth High School.

Q: What brought you to UGA? A: I wanted to stay in-state, because our state is so awesome with all the funding it provides (for the HOPE Scholarship). And so, it was a no-brainer—if you're going to stay in-state, you should go to Georgia. But also, for my senior project (in high school), it was a project looking at our careers and I had to do research on what kind of program supported math education, because that's what I wanted to do.

Q: So, you knew in high school that you wanted to be a math teacher? A: Yes. That's what I wanted to do. I researched and Georgia's education program is phenomenal. There are just awesome reviews about the program. So, that was another incentive to come.

And then, on top of that, I wanted to cheer here—the cheerleading program is awesome. So, all these different parts of what I wanted to be in college just looked perfect for me.

Q: Did cheerleading require another admission process? A: Yeah—I had to get into the university and also make the team. Those were two big success stories for myself. I've been cheering all four years.

Q: What kind of demand is that on your schedule? A: It's all the time. We practice during the week and then you have to travel if you have a game.

Q: How does that work with student teaching? A: It's demanding. I tell all my friends, I'm an adult and I'm in college at the same time. I student taught in the spring, opposite football season, because during football season we would leave on Thursday nights or Friday mornings, and I couldn't have missed that much school. So, thankfully I student taught in the spring and I was lucky I didn't have any conflicts. My coach knows school comes first but after school comes cheerleading. I told him I'll be at every practice and every game in the evening, but since we travel for post-season basketball, I said if we have to travel I need to forfeit my traveling rights because I can't miss three days (of student teaching) during the week.

I was able to be at practice every Monday and Wednesday, and basketball games on Tuesdays or Thursdays or Sundays, and then I just didn't get to travel to the women's postseason tournament.

Q: What was it like to juggle cheering and teaching in the same semester? A: It was tiring. It was a lot. But after spring break, basketball and gymnastics were done, and so then I just had practices. Probably from January to spring break, I was tired. But I signed up for it.

Q: What is it about math education that drew you to the field? A: The short answer is, I like math and I like people, but I like people more than math. I don't want to do a solely math-driven career.

But also, I've had such amazing teachers growing up. Just knowing someone cares—saying, "Hey, how's it going? You look a little off today." Math—I love math. It's challenging, it's fun, it's engaging. I was always up for the challenge of math and I was always so excited to see things connect and make sense. I just really, really enjoy it.

Q: Tell me about some of your favorite College of Education professors? A: Kelly Edenfield. I've had her for three classes—an elective and two pedagogy courses, and she was our supervisor for student teaching. Dr. Edenfield is amazing. She really cares for us; she really goes out of her way for us, really challenges us. She helps us set high expectations for ourselves and helps us not just be by ourselves as teachers—she encourages us to talk and network and see different perspectives and she's really taught us how to keep growing and how to view your students. She's really good at what she does. She is incredible.

And Kevin Moore. I love Dr. Moore—he's been a really great teacher! He's taught me twice in content-based math courses. He challenges us to think of all the different ways a student is going to come up to you and ask you about a problem. We always joke with him that he rewired our brains—we re-learned math with him, and he also does a really great job of practicing what we're taught here. We're just taught so many different types of theory, and he puts it into practice. It's like, "OK you're practicing what the program preaches," so it's really reassuring to see this is working. It's working on me, and I can challenge students this way. So, I really appreciate him.

And even though he's not a professor, I'm so thankful for my academic advisor, Umesh Patel. He's helped me through so many things. He's kept me on track, even when I considered changing my major for a brief minute, he told me I should stay with my classes and he was right. I'm so thankful for his help.

Q: What are your plans after graduation? A: I'm working at Creekview High School in Cherokee County. I'm working there and I'm coaching cheerleading—I will be the JV's competition coach. I'm thrilled. And of course, I'm just jumping right in and getting all the tasks I can do.

Q: Wait—they had an open mathematics teacher position and a cheerleading coach position? A: Yes, I lucked out. And I originally didn't market myself as cheerleading (when looking for a job), but I stayed really connected with my high school coach and you just get to know other coaches and other girls and who ends up where, and it just worked out—it fell into my lap and I got this job and I'm so excited.

So, next year I'll start teaching the accelerated course for geometry in the first semester and algebra II the second semester—I taught that course in student teaching, so I'm so thankful—and I'll be teaching on-level geometry.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the next five years? A: In the next five years, I see myself continuing to learn. I want to get my master's degree—it's something I've always known I wanted to do, but I think I need to get my foot in the door first a little bit, figure out myself as a teacher and then ask, "Is there something I need to learn more about in education?" Right now I can see myself getting my master's in math education, but I'm going to wait about two years. I'm getting my gifted endorsement next year—I'm just trying to grab all the learning experiences I can right off the bat.

So, in five years I see myself still teaching and getting another degree.