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Teacher’s style is anything but by the numbers

Woodcreek High’s Schwab honored as county teacher of the year
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein The Press-Tribune
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When it comes to calculus, all those derivatives and integrals can make students a little squeamish. But not to worry: Carole Schwab has a few tricks up her sleeve. OK, more than a few. “She teaches it like, 10 different ways,” said Anupe Litt, a junior in Schwab’s AP calculus class at Woodcreek High School. “She makes sure we understand it.” Now, Schwab’s ability to connect students to math – and even have a little fun doing so – has earned her the area’s most coveted honor for local educators: Placer County Teacher of the Year. Schwab was chosen recently from among nine finalists representing Placer County’s finest teachers after first being nominated by her school. Schwab, a 19-year veteran math teacher in the Roseville Joint Union High School District, said she was “humbled” by the recognition, which came at a Sept. 15 reception in Auburn. “I’ve worked at all the schools and there are so many great teachers who I’ve learned so much from,” said Schwab, who teaches calculus and algebra 1. “I really would not choose to do anything else.” Inside her classroom on Tuesday, Schwab helped her AP students review for an upcoming midterm. She worked out requested problems on the board, asking questions all the while: “Take me through it, tell me what you did first,” she tells one student. The style is a mixture of assurance and gentle wit. When only a few students use the right process to solve a problem, she admonishes, “OK, the rest of you are not getting anything in your Christmas stocking.” Mostly, though, it’s the former. “Every day, something else will click – and it will be the best part of your day, solving your calculus problems,” she tells them. “She explains why you get an answer,” said junior Melissa Roberts. “She shows you where it comes from.” Senior Nicole Richardson agreed. “She’s really easy to approach, and also makes it easy to learn the way she teaches. “Also, she jokes around with us,” Richardson said. But becoming a math teacher was the furthest thing from her mind when Schwab was a high school student herself. She dropped her geometry class after she “just couldn’t memorize all those theorems,” she admitted. When it came time to choose a teaching subject in college, she originally focused on English. But math teachers were more in demand, and Schwab gave it a shot. “I just got lucky, because I really love it,” she said. Schwab, who taught for years at Oakmont and Granite Bay high schools before moving to Woodcreek four years ago, rejects the notion that math is something that can be “too hard” for some students to succeed in. “Sometimes kids early on can get a self perception that they’re not good in math,” she said. So, in her algebra 1 class, Schwab starts the year off by having students write their goals – math and otherwise – in a journal. Then they learn to follow-up with the actions that will get them there. “A lot of it is just confidence, getting to know them personally,” she said. “You believe they can be successful, and pretty soon they believe it.” As teacher of the year, Schwab will have a number of duties, including speaking engagements at community events. She’s also the latest in a string of Roseville-area high school teachers who have won the title in recent years, including those in 2005, 2006 and 2007. She’s also entered into the state teacher of the year competition, to take place in November. Woodcreek Principal Jess Borjon, who nominated Schwab for the district’s own teacher of the year award, said Schwab’s belief that all students can succeed drives them to do just that. “Students want to do well in her class,” he said. Monday afternoon, Schwab sat in her empty classroom when a group of students walked in. Would Schwab, they wondered, help their friend study for an upcoming math exam? “Come in before school tomorrow morning,” Schwab told the student in question, whom she didn’t know, “and I’ll help you study.