Seven Questions with Susan Smith, AFA Upper School Math Teacher
How did you get into teaching?
I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. In high school I knew I wanted to teach math. I went to MIT and studied math. These days, I only use up to Calculus II. I have taught all the Ad Fontes math classes except 7th Math as well as Honors Physics, Earth Science, Physical Science, Latin I, and Logic.
After teaching in public schools and then home schooling my children for a few years, I joined the Ad Fontes staff as a math teacher in 2008 and enrolled my three youngest children who are now alumni.
What was the Ad Fontes experience like for your children?
Ad Fontes was a wonderful community environment for them. The students support each other and really get to know each other through the House System and in classes. They learn how to treat people well, and they have wonderful Christian models and mentors for teachers.
What is a rewarding part of your job?
Reading what students write in my yearbook, especially the seniors, who I’ve known for several years. I get tears reading about how they were blessed to know me. It’s more than just imparting math and science skills, it’s that what they remember most was me teaching them how to be closer to God by my interactions with them—grace, kindness, forgiveness, as well as failing and succeeding. In fact, Ad Fontes teachers demonstrate how to be a Christian in this lifetime. We all care deeply about our students and want to do the best for them.
What is your advice to new students?
Trust your teachers, get to know your classmates, and jump right in. Make sure you understand what is being taught and ask questions inside and outside of class. The teachers are here for your benefit. We can all relate to what it’s like to be new.
How do you feel about the Classical teaching method?
I have knowledge and experience teaching different methods, and the Classical method is leaps and bounds better than what I’ve experienced elsewhere. It is designed in the way we learn and teaches the whole person. It teaches you how to learn, and how to have discussions as a mature adult instead of shouting facts at one other.
Will you tell us about what you presented at the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) Conference, June 2021?
I presented how Ad Fontes teaches Geometry and Calculus in a session titled Euclid’s Elements: How to teach Geometry as the basis of your higher mathematics classes.
I encouraged teachers by giving practical tips for teaching Geometry using Euclid’s Elements. I also looked back from the perspective of the senior-level Calculus classes, to see why this method is so valuable. Examples included:
- Teaching the students to always support their claims, and how the class relates to an iceberg.
- Presentation of an imitation of one of Euclid’s proofs.
- When can I use this? A lesson in using what’s available, not just what’s wished-for.
Many schools teach math well, but too many of our schools are frankly not rigorous enough. My experience at all levels of upper school math classes, and especially in Calculus classes (including an intro class, an AP AB class, and an AP BC class), allows me to see the flaws and benefits of the options.
How do you typically spend your time when you aren’t at Ad Fontes?
I like to spend time with my husband, my kids, and my granddaughter. I’m blessed to be able to spend time with my mom now that she’s retired. I read and do logic puzzles. My husband and I take walks, and we cook. I like to travel, and I’m becoming more experienced at sleeping in.