During her time as a student at NC State, Karen Collins loved and excelled at writing and English. But she also loved a good challenge.
So, prior to her graduation in 1985, she searched for a major where excellence might not come so easily, and settled on mathematics. She subsequently discovered an interest in education after watching a group of education majors interact in one of her classes.
“I saw their camaraderie, and felt that pull to teach,” says Collins, who graduated from NC State with a degree in mathematics in 1985. “So I got my teaching certificate ‘just in case.’”
That pull proved strong, and “just in case” turned into a 26-year career as a mathematics teacher.
In 2014, the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics recognized Collins for her accomplishments as an Outstanding Math Teacher of the Year. Her career has taken her from her first job at Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville, Va., to Wake Technical Community College to her present position as a Math 3 and AP Calculus teacher at West Johnston High School in Benson, N.C.
Throughout these years, Collins has learned a variety of teaching methods that set her apart as an educator.
“Math was not something I was automatically good at and I try to approach lesson planning as a student — how would I need this explained to me so that I can understand it?” she says. “Getting involved in mathematics is how you revive students’ interests, and that’s my job, reviving interest.”
The key, she says, is thinking of new ways to keep students engaged in a subject that might not be their favorite. Collins places an emphasis on using interactive SmartBoard technology and classroom activities as learning tools for students as well as an outlet for her own creativity. She prefers to walk students through problems rather than write notes on the board for them to copy.
“There is a mentality that you are automatically good at math, or you are not,” she says. “Way more students can handle mathematics than we think.”
Collins says many of her students are not aware of the awards she has received, but says they tend to recognize her in their own way.
“Rarely a week goes by without a student in one of my classes thanking me for helping them, or saying ‘Mrs. Collins, you’re the best math teacher I’ve ever had,’” she says. “Really, that’s more important than awards.”