Looking at a map covered wall in Caty Lieske’s class at W.F. West, one might think she teaches geography or civics. You wouldn’t assume that she is a math teacher. She reflected on her first time teaching before she began student teaching back in college. It was in a village in Tanzania. The language spoken there had to be translated twice before she heard it in English. So Caty did what she knows best, she communicated through math. Instead of instructing them with words, she modeled how to solve math problems on a chalkboard. 

Her love of math led her through college, across the globe, and now to Chehalis. “Math has always come naturally and is something I enjoyed doing. You get to have some really cool conversations with kids in high school.

Math got me here; the kids keep me here,” Caty says with a smile. “Conversations with kids always bring something good to every day.” 

When asked about the maps on the wall, she shared her simple philosophy. “I really want the students to get the chance to experience the world. And for them, that might mean they get the chance to go to a place like Montana.” It’s a big world, and you don’t have to travel to Africa to learn that lesson. Whether you are here in Chehalis or someplace else, there is a richness in experiencing new places, which helps us see familiar places in new ways. 

Giving students the perspective that we fit into a bigger world than we imagined doesn’t end with maps on a wall; she applies this holistic approach to math itself. “It’s part of the process of learning how to problem-solve, and right now, we are putting tools in our tool belt to problem solve math problems but will have the ability to analyze problems in the future and decide what tools are applicable. It’s a very important skill even if it’s not in the world of math.” 

Math in the classroom looks very different this year. However, Caty still greets every student each day, and although she prefers to greet them face-to-face, there have been encouraging moments in our new normal. “My attendance rates are higher than they have ever been, which might sound unexpected, especially in my Algebra 1 class. That has been really impressive to me.” And when sharing about the important connections that are made between Caty and her students, she points out that, “those moments are still happening… they’re just different.”