Micah Fagan loves it when his students tell him they don't need to know math. "When a kid says that math is not applicable to their life, I get excited," says the Northridge Middle teacher assistant. "That's when I get really excited."
Fagan uses examples of math being used outside the classroom to show his students the value of math skills. "I ask them, 'Do you ever buy anything? That's math. How did you get here this morning? The roads you drove on were created using math and engineering skills. Math is used to create the intervals for the stoplights the bus uses. We use math every day."
His students worship Golden State Warrior Steph Curry and he uses him as an example of how math works. "Steph was at the top of his calculus class at Davidson," said Fagan. "He can calculate all sorts of angles in his head to figure out exactly how to hit all those three-pointers."
After using basketball to teach calculus, Fagan took his students on a field trip to Davidson to learn more about Curry. "Anything is easier to learn when you can get out and touch it," he said.
Fagan's hands-on, practical approach to math was one of the reasons he was recently named Northeast Learning Community Teacher Assistant of the Year. He was working in the media center one afternoon when was surprised by his colleagues.
"It was an exciting, humbling and overwhelming experience," he said. "It's nice to know that others see what I do and think it is valuable. I didn't realize the value I brought to this school and now I see it. It gives me that extra push behind my purpose."
Fagan works with all three grade levels at Northridge, focusing on math. He also teaches an occasional science or social studies class. "I am all over the building all the time," said Fagan. "My colleagues and students laugh because every day I am constantly being called on the intercom to go help somewhere else."
He grew up in Georgia and always felt led to work with students. His aunt was a calculus teacher and his dad worked in public education for 15 years. "My dad always encouraged me to be a teacher," he said. "And I said that wasn't for me."
Fagan graduated from Clemson University where he earned a walk-on spot on the football team. After an injury took him off the field, he decided to open his own business in Texas.
Fagan followed his brother and moved to Charlotte. He started at Northridge in 2017 and is now earning his master's degree so he can teach math. "My dad got to say, 'I told you so,'" he said.
Fagan says his best feedback comes from his students and parents. "We have a student that just started here," he said. "I started working with him and his mom called and said, 'I don't know what you are doing because he has never liked school. Now, he comes home every day and talks about how much he loves school.' That is the best feedback I could receive."
The student wrote Fagan a thank-you note. It said, "Thank you for helping me like school again."