AGE 42
FAMILY Husband; two children, a son and daughter
HOME STATE Mississippi

Jennifer Heffernan, a math and honors algebra teacher at Central Middle School, was named Capital School District’s Teacher of the Year at the annual Teacher of the Year banquet at Maple Dale Country Club on Monday evening. Heffernan graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in secondary mathematics. Heffernan, who returned to teaching four years ago after taking a hiatus to become a stay-at-home mom, began her career in the Capital School District as a math interventionist and then moved into teaching.


Q How did it feel to be named Teacher of the Year?

A I’m ecstatic. I can’t wait to go to school and share the news with all of my students. I always tell them when you have the best students it’s easy to be a better teacher.


Q Why did you want to become a teacher?

A: I think all of us are inspired by teachers we have had in the past. I had Mrs. Weathers, who was a very hard working creative high school math teacher. My senior year, second semester I had a little bit of senior-itus. I thought maybe I’d take psychology or something different and the first day she came and found me and said, ‘oh no, you’re going to calculus.’ I think that took me on my journey of majoring in math.


Q How would you describe your teaching style?

A My teaching style I would say is energetic, innovative and I take it out of the textbook into real life. We have 90-minute blocks so we need movement and energy. We use music embedded throughout the lesson. I think kids like my class because at times they do not know what to expect. I’ve had principals and teachers come in and perform a flash mob because it fits with our lesson of transformations. I always say, ‘don’t miss next Wednesday. You don’t know what’s going to happen’ or I give them a small preview or hint, but you have to be there to see. I build anticipation around the lessons.


Q Do you think that working as a math interventionist and helping students of all abilities made you a better teacher?

A I think so. You see the struggle students have and maybe how the approach to solving a problem might be different and just knowing the learning style of my students. A lot of students have not had success in math and they already don’t consider themselves mathematicians, so I have to switch on that light bulb and get them fired up.


Q What is your favorite part of teaching?

A I think the growth and maturity in students, particularly in eighth grade. To see how far they’ve come, the changes they’ve made and sending them to high school on the right path.


Q Math can be a difficult subject for some students. What advice would you have for those who are struggling?

A When it comes to math, I would definitely say persevere. Math encompasses a lot of different topics and you might find success right around the corner or in the next chapter. We have a saying in my class called “synyger up” and it’s the opposite of giving up, so you may feel frustrated, you may struggle, but you may not quit.


Q Do you think being a stay-at-home mom prepared you to be a teacher in any way?

A I think being a parent first and watching my children go through the school system made me appreciate great lessons that my kids were coming home and discussing with me, lessons that would engage the students. It’s inspired me to create lessons in return. So that when the eighth graders come home from school they’re not going to engage with their parent and the lessons of the day unless maybe it’s something that really inspired them.