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Fallon Middle School Teacher Allyson Lightbody Shares her Passion for Mathematics

August 14, 2018

DUBLIN, CA—Ms. Allyson Lightbody has been teaching mathematics at Eleanor Murray Fallon Middle School for more than a decade. Ms. Lightbody completed her degree in mathematics from California State University, East Bay in Hayward. “My first teaching experience was homeschooling my children for about 6 years,” she recalls. “I later moved on to teach through the state of California, which I’ve been doing for the past 13 years.”

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Fallon Math Teacher Allyson Lightbody

Ms. Lightbody joined Fallon as a mathematics teacher in 2007, first teaching in room F4. Three years later, she moved to room J4—a room which her students have fondly associated her with ever since. For the 2018-19 school year, she will be teaching Math Course 3 (eighth-grade math), Algebra, and Geometry at Fallon.

Even though I visited Fallon on Monday’s Teacher Work Day, this passionate, dedicated, and caring teacher took the time out of her busy schedule to sit down with me for an interview. Here, Ms. Lightbody shares more about her passion for math, her teaching philosophy, and the importance of getting the basics right.

Neha Harpanhalli: Who or what most influenced you to become an educator, and how?

Allyson Lightbody: “I think the most important moment for me was when I was a student taking algebra. When I was in seventh grade, they did a math placement for advanced students at my school and I knew that I bombed the test. But when I went home that night, something just clicked. It was like, “Oh my gosh! If you give me that test tomorrow, I know I can be successful on it!” So there was an epiphany that happened. To this day, I’m not sure what it was… maybe it was just understanding how numbers all go together.

“I was not re-tested though, so instead of taking algebra as an eighth grader, I took it as a ninth grader. I had a very militaristic ninth grade algebra teacher. You had to write in pen, you could not cross anything out, you could not erase. He even took points off for spelling. Yet, I had a 99 average in that class and I tutored everybody else. I began thinking, ‘This can be done so much better.'”

Neha Harpanhalli: Why did you decide to teach mathematics at the middle school level?

Ms. Lightbody: “I always wanted to teach at the high school level. Always. I really thought that was where I was going. But my first coach who saw me teach—I was at a high school at the time—told me, “You’d be a great middle school teacher.” And I went, “No! I want to teach in a high school.” I think it was the first principal here, Tess Thomas… she knew me from my children attending Dublin Elementary. So she called, I returned her call, and here I am.”

Neha Harpanhalli: Teaching math involves a great deal of patience. You have successfully managed not only to engage students in your classroom, but also inspire them to pursue mathematics further. How would you describe your teaching strategy?

Ms. Lightbody: “I think that’s the hardest question for me. There are some students who say, ‘Ms. Lightbody, I love how you teach!’ And I don’t know what they mean [Laughs.]

I think it comes from the fact that when I was a student, I had to take everything apart to understand it fully. So I teach mathematics from a point of view of being able to take things apart, to see how they fit back together and how everything fits in the big picture. There is nothing that’s too small to focus on or to talk about.

“It’s all about fundamentals. I believe that there is no wrong time to talk about fundamentals. So I would say my strategy is to always go back to what I have been taught, what did it mean, and how do I use it today.”

Neha Harpanhalli: You have taught numerous students over the years, all of whom have very different learning styles. How do you help students with different learning styles attain success?

Ms. Lightbody: “I think that’s another tough one. Teaching is an art. And because teaching is so personal… I mean, it’s a personal relationship between you and your students, you do everything with them. You sing, you dance, you laugh, you cry. You make fun of yourself, you make fun of the problems. You do everything to connect with them so that somebody feels that they can grab onto at least some part of that. Sometimes I don’t even know if I’m making the connection. But then, at the end of the year, you get a letter from a student and you just go, ‘Oh, my God!’, y’know?”

Neha Harpanhalli: Clearly, you have a tremendous enthusiasm for mathematics. What are some of your favorite topics to teach in the classroom, and why?

Ms. Lightbody: “Oh my gosh, I love teaching fractions. I think it’s because fractions are so misunderstood. So I love teaching it because you can set kids free, kids who were afraid of fractions. There’s nothing to be afraid of, right? I also love teaching graphing and quadratics.

“What can I think of from geometry? I love parallel lines cut by a transversal, I love Thales’ theorem, I love circle theorems, I love the Triangle Sum Theorem, so there you go.”

Neha Harpanhalli: To both parents and students, you stress the importance of having a strong foundation in a subject, rather than rushing to get ahead. Why is getting the basics right in math so important?

Ms. Lightbody: “Because it makes the rest of your life so easy! If we take algebra lightly, and think we can fly through it, the hardships that we are causing for the students in the future are terrifying. Talk about not liking math then. Talk about being afraid of math. If instead, we could focus and just expand that mastery level, you’ve set these kids free for life.”

Neha Harpanhalli: You believe that math is best learned with pencil and paper. With a growing emphasis on technology in education (especially with the SBAC standardized testing), how have you made this adjustment in your classroom?

Ms. Lightbody: “The SBAC is really just taking the test, right? So, practicing taking a test on the computer is what can prepare students for the SBAC. What has not changed is that you still need to have the ability to do the math. I know of no other way to teach math but with pencil and paper. They can have students take tests on the computer, that’s fine. But a student must know how to do the math with paper and pencil and they must practice with paper and pencil.”

Neha Harpanhalli: Your passion for the performing arts is also very well known to your students. How did this interest originate? Also, what are some of your favorite musicals and songs?

Ms. Lightbody: “When I was about 9 or 10, my father took me to see the movie, The Sound of Music. I think that was my first musical. I never remember him taking me to another movie, and it’s funny because he really disliked musicals.

“Apart from The Sound of Music, I love the music from A Chorus Line and Wicked, and I like some of the opening numbers from Funny Girl. They’re hilarious.

“As for some of my favorite songs, Amazing Grace is one, along with ‘Do-Re-Mi’ from The Sound of Music. This morning, I was listening to ‘Even If’ by MercyMe.”

Neha Harpanhalli: As a teacher, what is it that you look forward to the most every day?

Ms. Lightbody: “I really love opening students’ eyes to the love of mathematics. I love sharing with them the concepts they’ve never heard about before, or are seeing for the first time. Even if they’ve heard about it before, they’re seeing it in a new light… it can be an eye-opening experience. That’s the great stuff, isn’t it? Introducing math to kids is just great.”

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