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Do the Math

NHS Math Teacher Named State Finalist for National Presidential Award for Excellence

Writer  /  Allison Yates
Photographer  /  Amy Payne

“The great composer Handel said, “I should have failed if I only entertained them. I wished to make them better.” That’s my goal every day: to make students better,” says Dave Ferris, Noblesville High School math teacher of 34 years.

Ferris was recently named one of four 2016-2017 Indiana State finalist for the National Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

“Dave is a master teacher and AP trainer who is respected locally and nationally for his ability to generate excitement for math through creative, hands-on activities connected to real-world learning,” says Noblesville High School principal Jeff Bryant in a recent press release. “He’s exceptionally deserving of this recognition, and we’re thankful to claim him as one of our own.”

Speaking with Ferris, it’s impossible to ignore his strong dedication to not only the instruction of algebra, geometry and calculus – subjects he has curiosity and passion for – but also his sense of duty to establish a classroom culture that helps teens become great adults.

Every day when Ferris enters the classroom, he brings enthusiasm for learning and penchant for humor. Despite the fact some might view high school math as “irrelevant,” Ferris sees numerous benefits in the analytical and problem-solving skills it can teach.

“We develop habits of mind that are useful for the rest of our lives,” he says.

Part of this approach to helping students develop those important problem-solving skills is creating a student-centered classroom. Over his career, Ferris began to recognize the importance of establishing good rapport with students. Ferris sees initiating informal conversations, encouraging students to get to know their classmates and sharing funny anecdotes with students as invaluable aspects of creating a certain classroom environment to further growth and learning.

“I try to get to know things about my students so they know I care about their lives,” Ferris says.

Creating trust and rapport doesn’t mean he doesn’t remember what’s important. Ferris is known for his high standards. Some might view them as too strict, but Ferris sees setting these expectations as a duty.

“I feel I owe this to their future employers, coworkers, employees, spouses, friends and family,” Ferris says.

Despite Ferris’s achievements, he stays humble. In the future, he says he’d like to continue learning and growing.

“I have never taught a course perfectly, so I still have a lot to learn about how to utilize the best ideas and practices for each lesson,” he says.

Next year, he’ll focus more on how to further help struggling students.

Ferris shared a quote that NFL Hall of Fame Coach Tom Landry said about coaching: “Getting a bunch of people to do what they don’t want to do [practice] in order to achieve what they all want to achieve [success].”

That, says Ferris, is a lot like teaching high school: “…getting students to do what they don’t want to do (learn, practice, correct mistakes, improve, read, write) in order to achieve what they all want to achieve (college, job, income, success).” Ferris is going above and beyond to help them achieve that.

When he isn’t changing students’ lives, he enjoys hunting, camping, playing the keyboard and reading. He and his wife of 29 years, Shari, have three kids: Ben, who is studying computer science at Purdue, and Abigail and Caleb, students at Fishers High School.

About Allison Yates

Allison is an English teacher and freelance writer who focuses on travel and human rights. She's a Hoosier from Fishers but has lived in Argentina, Spain and Australia.

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