Anatomy of a successful teacher

Anatomy of a successful teacher
Posted on 12/06/2017
Story of Robert Becker Teacher at Athens High School

Anatomy of a successful teacher

AHS’s Becker delivers on high expectations

If a teacher’s success is decided by the number of students who revere him, Robert Becker is succeeding; if it’s determined by his students’ scores on standardized tests, Robert Becker is succeeding; if it’s determined by the professional accolades he’s received, Robert Becker is succeeding. You get the picture. 

Becker teaches multiple math courses to students grades 9 through 12. Athens High School Principal Ginger Morrison calls him one of a kind. “He has amazing talent and is gifted at stretching students beyond their normal academic boundaries,” she said.

Becker’s students who take the college-level Advanced Placement calculus exam have outscored the national average. And, ironically, math isn’t even his first choice to teach. While he certainly enjoys the field, he finds history even more interesting. “But, of course, math is more useful to students going into the sciences,” he said. 

Besides his calm and unassuming demeanor, much of Becker’s success is attributable to doggedness and determination. He sets high expectations both for himself and his students. 

“If you have a high bar for rigor, a lot of kids will try to meet that rigor,” he said. “More than not will raise their game to meet the higher bar. … I had some girls last year in pre-AP for the first time, and now they’re thinking ‘I can be on the straight-A honor roll.’” 

Still, Becker doesn’t discount that many students struggle with mathematics and come to him with what he calls gaps. “Math is hard for a lot of kids,” he said. “When they struggle, this is when you need to offer more help outside of class.” 

That’s precisely what he does. Four mornings a week, Becker is in his classroom by about 7 to work with students. He also works with them during the designated “Hornet Time” during the day, and again after school three days a week. That sort of effort from both teacher and students brings results, and it’s part of the reason Becker was Athens ISD’s Secondary Teacher of the Year for 2016. 

“He gave me and so many other students support and encouragement through not only our math educations, but also in our daily lives,” said AHS 2017 Valedictorian Mollie Davies, who is now attending the University of Chicago. “Mr. Becker gives everyone in his classroom the opportunity to learn.” 

The University of Chicago provides incoming first-year students with the opportunity to nominate an individual for recognition who played a significant role in their education. Davies nominated Becker, and as a result the university recently made him a recipient of UChicago’s Outstanding Educator Award. 

A teacher’s first obligation to his or her students, said Becker, is to “bring them as far in their growth as possible, whether that be in the subject or in themselves, as a person.” 

He also believes teachers should advocate for their students and encourage them to do the same for themselves. “I want them to exert more power over their own lives,” he said. “Questioning is good.” 

Becker and his wife, Marcela, have two daughters: 9th-grader Sabrina and 8th-grader Daniella.

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