How do you become a teacher who has excellent results with all the students in the class? With love, respect and trust, says Mihaela Ancuța, Mathematics Curriculum Leader at Avenor International High School. But, before anything else, it takes a huge dose of passion and dedication for this profession.
We invite you to find out more from a new interview in the series about the passions and talents of our community members, created by Ioana, a student in Grade 12.
Ioana: Tell us a couple of words about Mihaela Ancuta. How would you introduce yourself?
Mihaela Ancuța: I am a person who always tries to have a smile on her face. I accomplish this especially at school because here I forget about all the other things that are going on in my life and because here I get positive energy from my students and colleagues. Besides this, I can also say that I am very passionate and devoted to my career and I feel like I am never getting tired. All the time I want to do more; the only thing getting in my way is time! I consider myself an honest person, but tactful, always recognising my mistakes and trying to learn from them in order to become better next time. This is also how I encourage my students to be: to admit their mistakes and try their best to fill in these gaps and to correct them in the future. I am an empathetic person, who gets emotional easily when the situation is sensitive, but I don’t consider this aspect as a flaw, but rather a quality. In my opinion, when people are like this it means that they care about those around, and when you care, you do nothing that can hurt what surrounds you.
Ioana: Where does your passion for mathematics come from?
Mihaela Ancuța: My passion for mathematics comes from my teacher from grade 8, who seemed to me as a mysterious person. I remember that she wore glasses and that I wanted to look like her, so I told my mother that I wasn’t seeing very well and that I had to go for a check-up. I won’t ever forget when I went to my medical appointment thinking what to do when the doctor will look at my eyes and notice that I can actually see perfectly. I decided, then, to stare at a light bulb for a longer period of time – “maybe something will happen to me”. After this, I had to place my head on a machine and the doctor told me that maybe I have 0.25 at one eye and I would agree “yes,yes, that’s right!!”. I remember that I chose my glasses to look the same as the teacher’s, but I couldn’t walk on the street when wearing them. In order for me to climb the stairs, I would raise my glasses from my nose to see where to step. They bothered me, but I didn’t admit it to anyone!
So my passion for mathematics comes from this teacher from 8th grade. After this, I was lucky to have another teacher in high school that inspired me a lot, and this made my passion for mathematics to continue. My passion for school, for becoming a teacher, came before my passion for mathematics. I identified it very early, when I realised that I really liked writing on the blackboard. I remember that, in the first grade, we didn’t have a sponge with water to wipe off the board, so I took out my handkerchief from my pocket and I watered it to make the board beautiful. I was passionate to write on boards with chalk also outside of school. I had at home a cardboard box on which I would write, then erase everything with water, then wait for it to dry up and write on it again. I would also write on my bedroom door sometimes, but then erase everything immediately so that my mother wouldn’t see. However, sometimes, even though I would wash it, white stains would remain on the door. I wrote, of course, on the walls as well. I liked explaining to other people different things. I had imaginary characters to whom I would teach.
Ioana: How do you feel being part of the Avenor College community both as a teacher and as a parent?
Mihaela Ancuța: I feel amazing – happy and fulfilled! I feel that this is the place where I can grow and improve, I can say that Avenor gave me wings! And for my child, I believe that it is the best school that we could have chosen! He is very proud to be part of the Avenor community.
Ioana: You have amazing results with each and every student of yours. What is your secret?
Mihaela Ancuța: I simply love them! What is behind this sentence depends a lot on the relationship with the students, on the respect that you show you have for them – because only then it can be mutual – and on a good plan and structure, considering that time is limited (usually when you are preparing for an exam you only have a year, maybe two to prepare, or even a couple of months). Of course, you can deviate from this established plan in exceptional cases. Another factor is represented by high expectations, and also when I identify in my class students that have low self esteem or that are considered maybe weaker by others, I treat them exactly like the the most advanced students in class. By treating them in the same way, their confidence in themselves grows and they will do everything in their power to not let you down. This means that they will learn and they will obtain very good results.
There is this story in the biography of Thomas Edison that says that one day, he came home and gave his mother a note from school. His mother read it out loud for him because he wanted to know what was written on the note: “Your son is a genius. Our school is too unprepared for him and doesn’t have enough teachers to support him. Please, take care of him yourself!”. After many, many years, Edison finds the note on which it was actually written: “Your son is addled [mentally ill]. We won’t let him come to school any more.” This is the secret: to encourage students!
Ioana: You have been and still are in contact with both the Romanian and the Cambridge educational system. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of them?
Mihaela Ancuța: I would group this comparison in two parts: secondary and high school. For secondary school, the students in the Romanian system learn concepts in more depth than the ones in the Cambridge system. This can be an advantage because the level of knowledge is higher, but also a disadvantage because these concepts can be learned mechanically, forced, and the notions may not be understood well. However, in the Cambridge system, the students learn concepts that can be more applied to the day to day life. Usually, they don’t get into very much detail, but the notions are diverse.
In high school, in the Romanian system, the students have to study Mathematics, if they choose the „real” (Maths and Sciences) profile. On the other hand, in the Cambridge system, they choose what subjects they want to study, and this comes with the assumption that students have passion and skills for the respective subject. This is easier for both the teachers, because they will work with students that want to be there, and for the students, because they are surrounded by people who share the same passions. The content of the Cambridge A Level syllabus is superior to the Romanian Baccalaureate and I believe that it has many more advantages from this point of view.
Ioana: How do you spend your free time?
Mihaela Ancuța: I try to spend as much time as possible with my children, of course. Because they are still young, they wish to play a lot, so we do many activities together – games, we dance, sing, fool around, have fun. When the children are not around, I like to search for information, explore YouTube and the Internet because only then I have the time to do this. I like to get informed about what is happening in other schools (of course, my focus is on the things that are related to the educational system). In addition to this, another priority of mine is personal development. I went and still go to many different conferences that I find out about on the Internet. Recently I went to a conference about “How to raise amazing kids” and I took notes so that later I could share what I found out with my friends and with anyone who considers they need this. Of course, these workshops that I attend are about educating parents, but also teachers. In my free time, even though I don’t do it often, I like to go shopping. I don’t like to cook, but to clean, I do – it relaxes me.
Ioana: I am curious now that you told me about the most recent conference that you attended, how do you raise amazing kids?
Mihaela Ancuța: The same way in which you raise amazing students! By loving them, trusting them, respecting them, by avoiding getting mad at them and by teaching them to understand their mistakes! You don’t ever have to act superior around them or act like you are smarter than them, but you have to be always there for them in their learning process, thinking at the same time and holding their hands so that they grow both emotionally and physically.
Ioana: The Avenor Community has extended also in the Greenfield neighborhood. I know that you have recently taken the decision to move here, how do you feel the connection between these two communities?
Mihaela Ancuța: It is the best decision I’ve made! I am thrilled that I live this close to the school. Time is not an inconvenience anymore, I arrive in a couple minutes to school and in this way I have time for other things – I don’t waste the 4 hours that I used to spend commuting before. I am glad also that when I go shopping for groceries, on the street or in the park with my children, I meet with someone I know. Students see me when I am on the balcony, I wave to them when they pass in front of my apartment. I like that when I look outside I see the school, when I come back from downtown in the evening, I turn my head to see if everything is ok – if the lights are turned off, etc. Overall it is excellent, I like it very much!
At the initiative of Mihaela Ancuța, 𝗠𝗔𝗧𝗛-𝗟𝗬-𝗡𝗘𝗪𝗦 appeared, the first Avenor mathematics magazine, coordinated by a team of middle school and high school students.
You can read all the issues of the magazine here.