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Future teacher tackles math remediation

By : Eric Coker

Rachel Bachman certainly has the work ethic to obtain a master’s in teaching. After all, she grew up on a dairy farm and is still helping to run her family’s cheese-making operation.

Bachman, 24, of Ulysses in rural Potter County, Pa., recalls telling fellow students in an adolescent psychology class how as a girl she would finish school, do homework on the bus and work on the farm until it was time for bed.

“They said, ‘Weren’t you upset?’ I said, ‘No, I loved it,’” she said. “I loved working on the farm. I loved the cows. They were the best pets ever.

“My mentality has always been: Whatever it takes to get the job done, I’m going to do it.”

Bachman caught the teaching bug and discovered her area of interest while tutoring in math as an undergraduate at Penn State University.

“Working with students was so rewarding,” she said. “My students kept requesting me for additional courses and they’d say ‘Rachel, you have to go into teaching.’”

Bachman’s frustration with her students’ lack of introductory math skills cemented her desire to go into teaching:  She would focus on underprepared undergraduates and their struggles with math.

Those struggles are part of a nationwide problem that has its roots in the current system of teaching math, Bachman said, particularly in middle and high school.

“We’re trying to cover so much material that we really don’t have time to fix misconceptions about things such as fractions,” she said. “There’s so many things shoved in a year, it’s no wonder we’re having trouble retaining or understanding it.

Seventy percent of adults can’t calculate a 10 percent tip. That seems like a problem to me.”

Bachman, who started at Binghamton in the fall of 2007, has been making her presence felt in the School of Education. She has worked as a math instructor with EOP students; serves as a research project assistant on the Teacher Leader Quality Partnership grant; and helps edit Investigations in Mathematical Learning journal.

“It’s a priceless opportunity,” she said. “I get to read the most current research before it’s even published.”

Working with Jean Schmittau, professor in the School of Education, also has been a highlight, Bachman said.

The feeling is mutual for Schmittau.

“What’s impressive is that she’s very focused,” Schmittau said. “There’s no fanfare; just calculation and it’s done. … The area in which she’s interested in is one that’s in great need.”

Bachman will continue to work on that need this fall in the School of Education’s doctoral program.

“It’s such an opportunity and an honor,” she said. “I want to work with underprepared undergraduates. I want to continue doing research. I want to develop a curriculum to help solve the problems. It makes sense for me to have my doctorate.”

Bachman also will keep helping with the family’s dairy operation, God’s Country Creamery, which makes and sells cheeses. She is now finding restaurants and stores interested in the cheeses and is working on the website (www.godscountrycreamery.com) that features everything from the farm’s history to “Cheese Making 101” to an introduction to cows such as Lexy, Shauna and Trixie.

“We want you to go there and capture the essence of the operation and get a feel for the area,” she said.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08