- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

High school math teacher Deborah Pearman can understand why students get so frustrated with their instructors. As a college student, she had a teacher who seemed more concerned with finishing on time than making sure everyone learned.
"That experience made me say 'When I become a teacher, I'm going to make sure everyone gets it, even if I have to teach it 15 different ways,' " she said. "I'm not going to be 'If you get it, you get it, if you don't, you don't.' "
Mrs. Pearman teaches Algebra II, Pre-Calculus and Advanced Placement Calculus at Cardozo High School, a public high school in Northwest. She has been at the school for the past 13 years.
As the start of year 14 approaches, Mrs. Pearman is in her classroom, getting her bulletin boards set up and preparing lessons for the upcoming school year, which starts Tuesday.
She is a petite woman, and she packs a lot of energy and conviction into her two favorite subjects: her students and math.
"I'm excited. I'm really looking forward to the students. I really enjoy teaching," she said about the upcoming school year. "It's a fresh start, a new group."
Mrs. Pearman has seen a lot in her 28 years of teaching. Before Cardozo, she spent 14 years teaching at a parochial school. She says students today want to learn as much as they did when she started. But she concedes that she had an easier time teaching students in parochial school.
"I didn't have much classroom experience then, but I had the total support of parents, I worked with the nuns," she said. "I had 42 students in my class, but because of the strict discipline in the schools, teaching 42 was like teaching 10."
This year, her first-period class will have about 30 students, 10 more than the average class size.
She's decorating the bulletin boards now, but soon they will be taken over by the students.
"One of the things that I didn't know is high school students still like to see their work on the board," she said, as she reaches upward to staple a sign on the bulletin board. "They call their friends over and say 'Come here, man, look at this.' "
The biggest challenge for Mrs. Pearman is keeping her "kids," as she often refers to them, attentive during the 90-minute classes.
"They are often like 'Why do we need to learn this? I'm never going to use this,' " she said. "I always have these real-life connections so they can understand why. How it will help me now, how it will help me in the future."
For one lesson she taught about percentages, Mrs. Pearman said she played the role of a clerk whose store is having a sale. Her students "bought" items from her and then she asked them if she "cheated" them by not selling the item at the correct sale price.
"I tell them you have to remember a sales clerk knows half as much as you. All they need to do is scan prices. You need to tell them 'Excuse me, you said this is half off, but $39.99 is not half of $60,' " she said.
The students soon saw the benefits of being able to calculate percentages.
"Everyone wants to save money," she said.
The Cardozo teachers start their days at 8:30 a.m., 15 minutes before students are expected to arrive, and leave at 3:30 p.m., 15 minutes after the students leave. Her hours can vary because of tutoring, class preparation and weekend work grading papers.
"Teaching is a take-home job," she said.
Mrs. Pearman loves her job. She enjoys working with children, working "good" hours, and having summers off. But she is frustrated by the lack of respect people give to the teaching profession, and as she talks about this subject, she becomes more animated.
"Many people think, 'teaching, oh well,' but then when you think who taught me to do everything it's a teacher," she said. "We're not given enough credit and you can say the pay reflects the attitude people have about teachers."
Sometimes she gets frustrated with students who aren't living up to their potential.
"The only thing that upsets me is when I have to sit down and talk with them about how I know they can do better," she said. "They have to say 'I'm not going outside and hanging with the boys or with the girls tonight.' That's hard, making them understand that what they do now influences their future."
She has also noticed that teachers are becoming scarce.
"We need to change that," she said. "There's not many kids going around and saying 'I want to be a teacher.' "
Mrs. Pearman comes from a large family of educators. Her mother used to teach. Her sister, aunts, brother-in-law and older brother all teach in the District. Her father worked as a school bus driver for the District.
"You can imagine what our dinner conversation is all about when we get together," she said with a wink.


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