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Rachel Rolf, Hillside Middle School

The following was submitted by Joleigh Honey.

“Rachel Rolf is an outstanding teacher whose passion for mathematics and student learning is evident from the moment you walk into her classroom. She sets high expectations for each of her students, as she knows that they are all capable of achieving at high levels. Students talk about problems, share ideas and make sense of mathematics, as opposed to memorizing a procedure that is meaningless to them. In her class, students see themselves as mathematicians. She knows and understands that with the right support, every student can be successful and that it is important for students to also see themselves as capable. This is even more significant when you consider that her class is a diverse group that consists of both general education and special education students.

Creating an atmosphere where every student has knowledge and something to share in a diverse class requires intentional moves by the teacher. Rachel has a co-teacher who partners with her and, together, they “set the stage” every day using real-world situations. Rachel’s co-teacher is the special education teacher, but the students do not know that they have different roles. Together, they encourage students to take the time to reason through problems, generate ideas and use representations to make sense of the mathematics. They have built structures so that students communicate their reasoning and problem-solving strategies with one another. Over time, the students build confidence in their math abilities, and that helps each one of them recognize themselves as mathematicians.

Rachel’s reputation for excellence and her impact on student achievement extends beyond her classroom. She is a Utah finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, as well as a state facilitator and trainer for the Co-teaching Cohort. In her role as a trainer for co-teachers, she has assisted teachers across the state with increasing the achievement of students with disabilities in their own classrooms. Through modeling, Rachel exemplifies quality teaching practices that emphasize ways to deepen understanding of content.

Rachel’s students with disabilities have – on their own – come up with many creative problem-solving methods in her classroom. She makes sure they have a safe space that allows them to “think, wonder, and question,” and says she has found success with this method because her students are able to say, “Oh, this is how I did it!” and, “I thought about it like this.” No one in Rachel’s class is allowed to think they’re “bad at math,” and she works closely with her special education counterpart to guarantee that all students have the same opportunities.

Not only does Rachel make learning fun – she genuinely believes in each and every one of her students. She listens, validates their reasoning, and gives them the support and room to master their own big ideas. Rachel has all of the confidence in the world that her students can succeed, which she demonstrates through her positive attitude and high expectations. Rachel has a special bond with her students, and refuses to give up on any student that struggles. She finds so much joy in teaching and helping them understand that they can be confident problem-solvers. Mrs. Rolf is beloved by all of her students, and is a perfect example of the kinds of educators we need – and should celebrate – in Utah.”