Exceptional math and science teachers in schools across New York City form the close-knit community at the heart of Math for America (MƒA). The organization, founded in 2004, fosters opportunities for the teachers to learn and share with one another by attending and presenting workshops, traveling to conferences, and building connections with their peers. MƒA teachers demonstrate leadership not only within the MƒA community but also in their schools and beyond.
In 2018, MƒA launched its latest initiative to recognize teachers who make an outsize impact on the profession. The MƒA Muller Award for Professional Influence in Education, named for board member Peter Muller, goes to one math teacher and one science teacher who have not only become leaders in the MƒA community but also influenced the teaching profession in exceptional ways.
Seth Guiñals-Kupperman, a physics teacher at the Brooklyn Latin School, and Patrick Honner, a math teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, were the first recipients of the award. Recipients receive a cash prize, and, to encourage nominations, MƒA provides a cash award to the institution of each winner’s nominator.
Guiñals-Kupperman and Honner “have taken what they’ve done at Math for America and influenced education in a profound way outside of the Math for America community,” says John Ewing, president of MƒA. “Their influence extends far beyond MƒA and their schools.”
Both Guiñals-Kupperman and Honner are MƒA Master Teachers — truly expert teachers who enjoy a four-year fellowship awarded after a rigorous selection process. MƒA Master Teachers receive a yearly stipend and participate in — and in some cases lead — the hundreds of workshops and seminars offered by MƒA each year on topics ranging from math or science to pedagogy or policy, including equity and social justice in schools. MƒA Master Teachers also help mentor MƒA Early Career Fellowship recipients, providing promising public secondary school mathematics and science teachers with the support they need to become top educators. Only MƒA Master Teachers in their second or higher fellowship are eligible for the Muller Award.
The award, to be given annually, goes to one math teacher and one science teacher who have not only become leaders in the MƒA community but also influenced the teaching profession in exceptional ways.
MƒA Master Teachers hold steady at about 1,000 each year: approximately 10 percent of the public math and science teachers in New York City. MƒA Master Teachers may apply to renew their fellowships, and some, such as Guiñals-Kupperman and Honner, have participated for multiple cycles.
MƒA gives its most accomplished teachers ‘lateral opportunities’ — for example, to write about their work for broad audiences of students and teachers, give presentations, and run workshops — helping them to grow professionally without taking them out of their classrooms. Experienced MƒA Master Teachers such as Guiñals-Kupperman and Honner often lead MƒA seminars and workshops and may become involved in the broader national conversation about math and science education, both online and off.
Guiñals-Kupperman has been teaching for 15 years, five of them as an MƒA Master Teacher. His first experience with MƒA came before it expanded into science, when he tagged along with an MƒA Master Teacher to an MƒA talk. “It blew me away,” he says. The next year, when the program opened up to science teachers, he was part of the first cohort of science teachers accepted. Guiñals-Kupperman works on giving his students the tools to explore and discover science for themselves rather than relying on him for answers. “A big part of my focus is making myself somewhat redundant,” he says.
At MƒA, Guiñals-Kupperman has facilitated workshops on modeling instruction, obtaining National Board Certification and understanding energy through graphical representation. He also serves as a mentor and adviser to MƒA Early Career Teachers of science and is a part of the New York State Master Teacher Program. His influence on physics education across New York City has been substantial.
Guiñals-Kupperman has also participated in teacher-exchange programs with Brazil and India and has visited other countries, such as Iceland and South Korea, to observe teaching there as well. Although pedagogical strategies do not always translate across borders, he found the experiences illuminating: He was particularly struck by the differences in prestige of the teaching profession and the treatment of teachers in different countries. It’s rare to feel the same respect here as in other countries with top education systems, he says, but MƒA gives teachers a place where they receive prestige and respect. Of the Muller Award he says, “I was personally moved that this organization that means so much to me saw what I was doing and recognized its value.”
Honner’s impact on teaching has taken a different route. Through his popular blog, patrickhonner.com, and his work with MƒA, Honner started writing for The New York Times Learning Network and Quanta Magazine, where he shares resources for teachers and students related to recent breakthroughs in mathematics research. He enjoys the challenge of finding ways to fit new math research into the middle and high school curriculum. Now in his 13th year as an MƒA Master Teacher, Honner appreciates the relationships he has developed with fellow MƒA teachers and mathematicians. “It’s influenced every part of my professional life,” he says. “It’s a constant source of inspiration for me.”
At MƒA, Honner leads content-focused courses on mathematics and computer science. For example, he ran an MƒA session on the problem of finding all the types of pentagons that can tile a plane, unpacking the problem for other middle school and high school teachers.
Honner’s work in the online math community has led new and prospective teachers around the country to reach out to him for advice. Honner hopes the organization and award will continue to challenge teachers to improve. “What excites me the most about the Muller Award is that I think it will encourage and inspire teachers to think more intentionally about their impact outside of their schools,” he says.
He appreciates the leadership opportunity he has been given via MƒA and more generally the way the organization helps elevate the status of the profession. The career ladder for successful teachers often leads to administration — not ideal for teachers who fundamentally love the classroom. “If you love teaching, you want to be with students,” Honner says. That’s where he stays.