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TNTP Re-imagine Teaching

Jason Catanese

7th-8th Grade Math, Pueblo Del Sol Elementary School Phoenix, AZ

One day in Jason Catanese’s school, there was a fire drill. The kids filed toward the staircase, but no ramp was available for Isaac, their classmate who used crutches. What would Isaac have done if there was a real fire, Jason’s students asked.

Jason turned their question into a real-world problem for them to solve using math. Students took measurements and sketched out designs for a ramp. This year’s group of students continued the work, and are now pushing the school to implement their plans and build the ramp.

Getting students to exude this passion for math is why, in the last four years, Jason has had over 200 students pass Arizona’s algebra end-of-year state assessment and over 60 students pass the geometry end-of-year state assessment. The assessments qualify students for high school credit and serves as an indicator of their preparedness for advanced math. In the previous thirty-year history of his middle school, only eight students passed the algebra exam.

Now five years into his career, Jason—who received a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a Master’s degree from Arizona State University—is adept at using cooperative learning strategies to instill camaraderie in his classroom and elevate student voices. He also has a deep understanding of content and is quick on his feet to adjust lesson plans in the moment. In 2015, he was awarded the Teach for America Alumni Award, chosen as one of ten top teachers out of a pool of more than 13,000 TFA alumni. This year, only seven percent of students entered at grade level. On a recent assessment, over 85 percent scored at or above grade level.  

Students describe Jason as patient and caring, descriptions that no doubt arise from his focus on developing relationships with each and every one of them. “Kids need you to love them, kids need you to take the time to talk to them, kids need you to fuss over them,” he says.