Each year, the West Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics recognizes elementary, middle, high school and college math educators for their efforts in providing mathematical instruction to their students.
At the WVCTM conference in March, Pocahontas County High School teacher Jennifer Nail-Cook received the Secondary Math Teacher of the Year award.
Nail-Cook has attended the conference in the past. She knew she had been nominated this year, but that doesn’t guarantee a win.
“Nominations are supposed to be anonymous, and you’re not supposed to know you’re nominated,” she said. “My person told, so I knew I was nominated, which kind of made it funny in the long run.”
Usually, when attending conferences, teachers have to bunk together at the hotel, but this year, the teachers each had their own room, giving Nail-Cook the opportunity to invite her husband, Chris Cook, to accompany her. But instead of just assuming it was a nice getaway to enjoy with her husband, Nail-Cook began to wonder if it wasn’t a sign of her upcoming award.
During the speech, the presenter gives anecdotes provided by the teacher’s col- leagues, principal and students. The more he went on, the more Nail-Cook realized he was talking about her.
“Honestly, the whole time, I got really nervous as they approached the announcement,” she said.
With all the emotions mixed together, Nail-Cook was more surprised as she was joined by some of her family when she went to accept the award. Her mother, Corinda Nail, her aunt, Cheryl Nail, and her sister, Kathleen Nail, were there to celebrate with her.
“It was really nice because my mom, my sister and my aunt all came,” she said. “That was nice because it was right before we all got quarantined, so I got to see them a little bit, which I don’t get to do now.”
Nail-Cook joined the staff at PCHS in 2012, just as the school system rolled out the new form for teaching math.
“The hardest part was going through college and being taught ‘This is how you teach math’ and then going into the workforce and being told, ‘No, this is how you teach math,’” she said.
Despite that hurdle, Nail-Cook said she has enjoyed learning the new style and feels it has made her a better educator.
Since 2012, PCHS and Pocahontas County, as a whole, have been ahead of the curve in mathematics and are even celebrated for the skills of both teachers and students.
Nail-Cook attributes that to the math department and its ability to work together as one cohesive team.
“I think a lot of the success of that is that we’re all on board,” she said. “We’re all doing it. We come to meetings together. We work together. We all want to get better. I think that’s a lot of it. I think we have a tremendous leader in [Joanna Burt-Kinderman] who leads us and listens to us, and we all learn from each other. That’s really cool.
“It’s not someone sitting down a book and saying, ‘We’re all teaching from this book, and that’s going to make us good math teachers,’” she continued. “It’s us listening to each other and coming up with ideas together, and trying them out. It’s a beautiful community that makes people want to stay in it. We foster friendships and relationships with each other like we do with our students.”
During the school closure, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nail-Cook has maintained an online connection with her students and is leading them in virtual classes so that they are able to finish the semester on a high note.
Nail-Cook is the second PCHS teacher to win the award. Laurel Dilley won in 2018.