Teacher, Northwest Middle School
Danielle Scanlon was born to be a math teacher.
It took a move from busy New Jersey to a rural South Carolina town with one stoplight to figure it out.
“The town of Lamar was so different than where I’m from,” Scanlon said. “I was so nervous.”
Instead of turning the car around and heading back north, she stuck with the placement that Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) had given her at Spaulding Middle School in 2015.
“My first year of teaching was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Scanlon remembered. “Then, I did a second year, and then, I did a third and a fourth. Now, I’ve been teaching math to seventh graders for seven years. TFASC not only changed my life, it solidified my life. It gave me purpose.”
Scanlon had prepared at Quinnipiac University for a career teaching special needs children, but she wanted a couple of years of experience before taking that path. She applied to Teach For America her senior year. To her surprise, she was assigned to teach math to middle schoolers in Lamar.
“I was more than a little in shock,” Scanlon confessed, “but it turned out to be the best fit for me. TFASC had to reteach math to me, and I had to relearn math for seventh grade. That was a perfect preparation.”
Scanlon’s not your “by the numbers” math teacher. To teach students positive and negative integers, for example, she makes up songs. This one’s to the tune of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘N Roll.”
Same signs … positive
Different signs … negative
For geometry exercises, she blows big colored bubbles with a wand. Her seventh graders catch them on paper. The math assignment? Calculate the circumference of burst bubbles.
“I feel like a lot of people on the outside measure classroom success purely by test scores,” Scanlon said. “For me, if my students are better people when they leave seventh grade, that’s real success.”
Scanlon’s approach reaches her students. One entered seventh grade stoop-shouldered, unsure.
“He was not confident in the person he was,” Scanlon remembered. “I told him not to be afraid of his uniqueness.”
That student is now student council president. He won an award at a summer camp for students across South Carolina. He voices announcements on his school’s public address system.
“That student recently came back to my classroom,” Scanlon said with tears in her eyes. “He said, ‘You just don’t know what you’ve done for me in my life.’”
“I’d rather have that one kid come back with a story like his than get the highest math test scores in the world,” she said.
After four years in Lamar, Scanlon moved to Northwest Middle School in Greenville County in 2019. She has brought her same approach to education, one she feels is right on target, not radical.
“I think we have extreme pressure on students and teachers regarding test scores,” Scanlon said. “Our focus needs to be more on developing the whole child and critical thinking.”
“I think South Carolina is definitely improving,” she added. “We’re working on critical thinking skills, not just memorizing, and we’re encouraging college- and career-readiness. It excites me. I love that we’re pushing both.”