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Local math teacher receives high honors from state

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Jeremy Busby oversees his morning math class at Mountain View Middle School on Thursday. Fernando Romero, pictured left, Ethan Sedillo, Priscilla Salas, Angelica Villanueva, and Jacob Gurrola smile at the classmate solving a problem the Promethean board. (Alison Penn Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Jeremy Busby, a Mountain View Middle School math teacher, was visited by Christoper Ruszkowski, secretary of education, as part of the Public Education Department’s New Mexico Excellence in Teaching tour on Wednesday.

Ruszkowski said Busby has demonstrated incredible student growth in math over the past couple of years in an interview with the Daily Record.

“Mr. Busby earned one of the highest possible distinctions that one can learn based on his teaching last year,” Ruszkowski said. “He ended up being nominated for New Mexico Teacher of the Year. He was one of 14 finalists. He demonstrated exemplary student achievement results. He demonstrated exemplary practice. He is an outstanding math teacher.”

Leader and teacher

Busby, 29, is from Roswell and attended Berrendo Elementary and Middle schools and graduated from Goddard High School in 2006, where he met his wife who is also a math teacher at Mountian View. Busby and his wife had a son in September.

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With a bachelor’s degree in education specializing in mathematics, Busby teaches eighth graders Algebra I and Pre-Algebra at Mountain View Middle School, where he has taught for all eight years of his teaching career.

“I decided to teach math because I see it as this big puzzle,” Busby said. “I am always trying to figure out how the puzzle pieces fit together — so it always keeps my interest more than any other subject than I would be able to teach. I think that is so important that whatever subject you are teaching, you need to have a passion for, so because I am so into math — I don’t mind that I teach math five days a week, all day and I will still go home and do math for fun. I think that is why I need to be a math teacher because I like math that much.”

Ruszkowski recognized Busby’s leadership in the middle school’s math team, which he said was a strong collaborative group, and said Busby is a model math teacher for the entire state.

Five years ago, Busby was placed as the math department head. He said the seven members in the department use data for more meaningful purposes like making sure no students are forgotten and to measure effectiveness in teaching practices to plan for improving the current year and future years. One unique distinction, Busby said the math department focuses on pacing classes to ensure students are learning to the best of their ability, which means the class will not move on until the majority of students grasp the material.

Principal Glenda Leonard said Busby was her go-to since he is the leader of the math department, which she called amazing and one of the top math teams in the state. Leonard said students love Busby and he makes an effort to be available to them at all times.

Excellence in teaching tour

For the last couple of weeks, Christopher Ruszkowski, secretary of education, has been traveling around the state for the New Mexico Excellence in Teaching tour to continue the momentum of the New Mexico True Straight A Express tour, which began in August. Around 10 exemplary teachers’ classrooms have been visited and these teachers will write a blog about their best practices. Ruszkowski said they have visited classrooms in Hondo, Tularosa, Pojoaque, Bloomfield, Farmington, Santa Fe and Roswell.

“The central premise of that is we as the education community need to do more to put best practices on a pedestal, to highlight amazing work that’s happening in our rural communities and our urban communities, in our charter schools, in our traditional schools,” Ruszkowski said. “We have a responsibility to find out what is working and do more of that. We will continue to visit these classrooms where teachers are achieving two years of student growth in a single year. That’s a powerful point. It’s not just about what the teachers are doing. It’s about what the students are learning.”

With humility, Busby said having attention on him has felt uncomfortable, but at the same time feels positive to have the recognition. Busby said Ruszkowski’s tour is providing connections with other effective teachers and gives him resources statewide.

Changes in education

“I’m really excited about how education has changed and how it’s so student-focused,” Busby said. “I just wish that everybody could observe what classes look like now to where you hear the students coming up with all of these ideas. I mean — I’m impressed by what my students say and how they interact with certain problems. They interact with problems in ways I would have never imagined. I’m thinking, ‘man, I never thought of it that way.’

The other main change that Busby has seen is the use of technology, which helps him maximize his time in the classroom. A Promethean board and iPads are what is currently used in his classroom. Realizing that technology can simultaneously be distracting, Busby said explaining the relevance of the material keeps students focused and he encourages students to see technology as a tool rather than a distraction.

For testing, Busby said he does a mix of assessment with pencil and paper, which allows for him to give better feedback, as well as technology to ensure they can appropriately use the tools.

Increasing student growth

Measuring student growth is reflected in the teacher evaluations, which Busby explained. Last year alone, Busby said his evaluation showed students had three years of growth in one year, which Busby attributes to his students knowing that he expects them to improve and take action in their learning.

Having the students discuss math is Busby’s strategy to keep students engaged. The discussion allows students to learn from each other and gives them an active role in being involved with all of their aspects of learning, according to Busby.

Busby said he stresses learning from mistakes and in his first two years of teaching, he realized the process of his lecturing before the class was not effective for the students. Busby said through professional development he learned to encourage student engagement by facilitating discussion among the students, which he saw changes in his classroom once he started implementing what he learned.

“If you give the students a voice and you give them a chance, they are going to be successful with that,” Busby said. “They are going to take advantage of that in a positive way, so I think that would be my message.”

Putting himself in the student shoes by sitting with the students, Ruszkowski said he was engaged during Busby’s lesson where Busby presented a simple addition problem in which six different students voiced six different ways to solve it.

When he told his students the significance of Ruszkowski visiting the classroom, he said the students were excited and it felt natural having Ruszkowski in the classroom asking questions and interacting with the students.

Busby calls these lessons “number talks” and uses them to go back to basics. The number talks allow students to review number properties and the significance of the operations, which allows them to make connections to succeed in higher-level math.

Best practices and connections

“If you put your mind to it and try your hardest, you will always make improvements,” Busby said is his advice for students struggling with math. “I think that mistakes — I tell my students this all the time and they have this understanding now — that mistakes are important. Sometimes failing is important because when you make a mistake or you fail, you are going to learn from that.”

Busby said struggling students need to know it is acceptable to struggle in math, but taking the action to understand and continuing to try will lead to improvement.

For advice to teachers, Busby said for teachers to not assume they have achieved their best already and to always strive to continue improving. A best practice Busby recommended for teachers is to not make excuses for students that take more patience and realize these students need someone to care about their learning journey.

Making connections is his other best practice he utilizes to ensure the students have a skill set that unifies all of the topics they learn in one year. Creating connections affects Busby’s personal life as well because he enjoys spending time with family and friends. Busby said the math team is close and will spend holidays together.

These connections also continue when the students leave his classroom. Busby said his first class of students are in college. Some of them are pursuing math degrees and going to universities all over the country, which he said he is excited to see where they end up. Busby also said students in high school will come back to him for tutoring because they have maintained a connection with him and know they can always return for help.

“The whole point of my class is we are actually learning the math and we are going to apply it,” Busby said. “And you can’t do that if you don’t make connections.”

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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