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Nicole Plympton, NewBrook Elementary School third-grade teacher, demonstrates some of her math teaching skills.

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Adding up to excellence

NewBrook's Nicole Plympton wins rookie math teacher award

NEWFANE—“I said to Betty, ‘What can we do to get Nicole some credit?’” said NewBrook Elementary School Principal Scotty Tabachnick.

He and Betty Young, mathematics coach for the Windham Central Supervisory Union, were so impressed with third-grade teacher Nicole Plympton’s, they wanted to find a way to get her the recognition she deserved.

The credit came this month, when the Vermont Council of Teachers of Mathematics honored Plympton with its Rookie of the Year award. The prize includes a plaque, cash, a year’s membership to the Council, and an invitation to write a piece for the newsletter and present at next year’s conference.

In Tabachnick’s letter of recommendation to the Council lauding Plympton, he noted that she is “universally appreciated by students and their families.”

Young described Plympton in her recommendation letter as an outstanding classroom teacher, “a reliable colleague, community advocate, and district representative.”

Plympton has taught at NewBrook for two years.

“I always wanted to work with kids,” she said.

“Mrs. Padula was my first-grade teacher in Wrentham, Mass.,” Plympton said. “She was really hands-on. After learning with her, I knew I wanted to teach."

Plympton also mentioned Ms. Watson in fifth-grade as another influence.

“Both of them connected to the needs of each child,” she said.

‘Not just memorizing’

After earning a master’s degree in special education at Keene State College, Plympton interned at Brattleboro’s Academy School prior to joining NewBrook’s faculty.

When Tabachnick asked Plympton if she wanted to become a special education teacher, she told him no; instead, she wants to use her training to be an “inclusive classroom teacher.”

To help Plympton prepare for teaching math, she joined the supervisory district’s mathematics committee and took classes in the summer “to really get an understanding of math’s concepts — not just memorizing [facts].”

In a conversation with The Commons, Tabachnick and Young spoke at length about their appreciation for Plympton.

“Her planbook is unbelievable,” Young said.

“Her classroom management skills are impeccable,” Tabachnick said. To advance her students’ learning, “she builds relationships with students, parents, and peers. She’s graceful, effective, and smart. She has the pedagogy down.”

Plympton’s presentation style is “even, consistent, positive, and collaborative,” Young said, noting that Plympton helps her students work through their own problem-solving, asking them to identify what they are struggling with and brainstorming a variety of strategies for learning.

“You get pieces of those in a good teacher,” Young said, “but when you get them all, you have a phenomenal teacher.”

Always learning

All that, and modest, too.

“She’s genuinely humble,” Tabachnick said. “it’s not that Nicole can’t take praise, she just doesn’t think she’s significant.”

Plympton told The Commons her special education internship at Academy allowed her access to many classrooms. This, she said, helped her “piece together all kinds of teaching styles.”

“I really owe a lot to all the people I’ve been able to work under and learn from,” Plympton said. “My teaching style is a result of different experiences I’ve had.”

Plympton “has this attitude, ‘I want to be better,’ but she’s already so phenomenal,” Tabachnick said.

When Young has praised Plympton, her response is “I borrow from the best,” which Young said “makes us all feel good.”

Tabachnick and Young agree that getting Plympton this recognition will “spread the wealth” as other teachers observe her in the classroom and learn her techniques, then bring them back to their schools.

That Plympton is a female working — and getting recognition — in the mathematics field is another plus.

“I know the stigma,” Plympton said, “but I’ve had positive role models that have instilled confidence in my ability to teach math.”

Breakthrough moments

Some of the times Plympton describes as her best “ah-ha!” moments are when she sees her students struggling and she changes her approach, rather than “just keep pushing the same way.”

“Seeing kids learn from each other with my guidance, trying to get them to come up with solutions, where they say, ‘Oh, I really got this,’ when they don’t just know it, they can prove it,” are other big moments for Plympton.

Learning is a risky endeavor, Young noted, but Plympton instills confidence in her students, allowing them to push forward and find their bravery. By teaching them conceptual skills, Young said, Plympton gives students the tools to recreate these lessons elsewhere, on their own.

“Her students want to know more. She promotes this in her conversations with students, and in deliberate acts such as her classroom games, and the questions she asks,” Young said.

Perhaps the best indication of Plympton’s effectiveness as a teacher is found in Young’s recommendation letter: “No one grumbles about doing math.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #375 (Wednesday, September 21, 2016). This story appeared on page C1.

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