When I graduated from Derryfield, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It baffled me that at the age of eighteen, some of my peers knew exactly what they wanted to do.
During high school, I loved theater and singing. I was an active participant in the high school musical and show, dabbled in concert choir, and was part of Encore. Consequently, I thought I might want to start my own community theater. I also thought I might go into the nonprofit sector or social work. I was active in Key Club and went on Habitat for Humanity trips junior and senior year; I traveled to Romania to volunteer at an orphanage with Ms. Davidson. I also enjoyed Mr. Cousineau’s physics class and I always loved math, even doubling up my senior year taking both AP Statistics and AP Calculus with Mr. Holland. When schools asked me to list potential majors, I listed five different options ranging from theater to math to social work.
I ended up going to Skidmore College without a declared major. On a whim, I enrolled in a course my first semester called “Child Development” in the education department: it fit into my schedule, the teacher had a good reputation, and there was an optional volunteering component to the course. From the moment I started learning about how children learn, I found a new passion.
I started thinking that I wanted to be a first grade teacher. Upon working in a kindergarten classroom on my study abroad in Bath, England, a student peed himself, and I knew that first grade was not for me! I did not have the patience to deal with students’ “accidents!” Junior year, I was in a second grade classroom, and realized this, as well, was not the right fit for me. I got frustrated with the simple curriculum, and the fact that my students couldn’t carry on adult conversations. Senior year I was in a fifth grade classroom and thought I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because I really enjoyed it! However, at the end of the semester, a student asked me, “Ms. Stonebraker, why do you hate history?” It took me a second, but the ten year old was correct! I have never liked history, but find teaching mathematics incredibly rewarding.
At the age of twenty-one I faced a dilemma. I was graduating Skidmore with a bachelor’s and a certificate to teach elementary school. However, it is not possible to specialize at this level and I only wanted to teach mathematics, so I wanted to try teaching older students. I began thinking about my own education and the teachers who inspired me. Pretty quickly, Mr. Holland came to mind. It took a pretty fantastic teacher to engage me twice a day everyday during my senior year in two different AP courses! He fueled my love for mathematics and so I decided that I wanted to become the next “Mr. Holland.” I wanted to inspire people to pursue their love of math while also creating a fun learning environment.
The solution to my conundrum was obvious - graduate school! After an accelerated year at Columbia’s Teachers College, I graduated with a masters degree and certificate to teach middle and high school mathematics. At the age of twenty-two, I thought I had it all figured out.
When applying for teaching jobs, I was hoping to end up at a school similar in size to Derryfield. When I got an interview at Braintree High School (BHS), I remember laughing and texting my mom that there was no way I’d end up working there. On the surface, Braintree was entirely the opposite of Derryfield. It had 700 kids per grade, 14 total math teachers, and classes ranged from 18 to 33 kids. There were locks on the lockers and three vice principals! It felt like a small college campus! However, after my interview, I was sold. The commonality between Braintree and Derryfield is the quality of people. I found myself surrounded by teachers who were excited and passionate about what they taught, and who wanted to inspire students to be their best.
Four years later, I’m still figuring out this teaching thing. It shocks me the number of times I’ll talk to my students like my Derryfield teachers. Sometimes before posing a question to students, I’ll tell them to “think before you speak,” just like Mr. Holland! I also talk about the little man in your calculator who will freak out when you try to divide a number by zero. When I teach freshman geometry, my students get a kick out of the real stories I share about my time in Mr. Mathes’ class and how I absolutely hated doing proofs. I give my students challenge problems like Mr. Lemire gave me in Honors Algebra II my sophomore year. My experiences at Derryfield are always influencing the way I teach.
Now at twenty-seven, I honestly still do not know what I want to be when I grow up. I thought I might end up like Mr. Holland and stay at BHS teaching happily for the next fifty years. But much to my surprise, I’m taking a sabbatical next year! In September I’m off to Israel to volunteer with children. Who knows what will happen after my year abroad. Maybe I’ll go back to teaching Honors Calculus, Geometry, and Algebra at BHS. Maybe I’ll pursue higher education and become a professor. The world is full of possibilities. However, there is one thing I do know, and that’s I’ll forever be grateful to Mr. Holland and my other DS teachers. In the end, I hope I inspire my students the way I was inspired to pursue my dreams, however fleeting and changing.
▪ Sandy Stonebraker ’09, Teacher, Life-long Learner, Traveler, Volunteer.