Tom Baker, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at SanDisk, is pictured with Nicole Smith, a Saturday SUTA teacher. Tom has been volunteering with SUTA since last summer and currently volunteers in Ms. Smith’s classroom.
It is 9 am on a dreary Saturday morning. The halls of Hoover Middle School are dark and empty, except for the light spilling out of Ms. Smith’s classroom. Inside, 8th graders are hard at work factoring polynomials and simplifying algebraic expressions with the help of their teacher, Nicole Smith, and their classroom volunteer, Tom Baker.
Tom has tirelessly committed countless Saturdays to not only helping students strengthen their math skills but also instilling in them aspirations to attend college. This particular Saturday, Tom talked to the class about the value of a college degree, measured in future employment prospects and earning potential. Knowing that some students may not have parents who went to college, Tom shared his own family’s college going trends, demonstrating that each generation was more likely than the previous one to get a college education.
We caught up with Tom to hear more about his experience.
I think it’s really important to promote education, especially math education. It is critical for young people to build a good foundation. So many kids are at the border, where they could do much better with a bit of extra attention. I want to do whatever I can to help push them over the hump.
One thing that surprised me is how much the students struggle with the very basics of math, such as multiplication and division. Sometimes, they need help with the simple multiplication necessary to set up the problem before they can arrive at the answer. So it’s important to talk them through that.
Another thing is how cooperative and on-task the students are. Here they are on a Saturday morning, doing math when they could be doing something else. Most of them have a really good level of commitment and are focused on what they’re being asked to do.
I’ve used skills that come from developing and providing employee training. Beyond that, I think about how I practice math in my head and what numbers means. For example, when I was quizzing the students about what percentage of my family went to college, it was about estimating and getting a ballpark figure, rather than the exact number. That’s a critical skill in many business situations.
People are often intimidated by the math. But you don’t have to know calculus. Most people can do the algebra, or it will quickly come back to them. The most important thing is to come in with a level of patience and enthusiasm. Recognize that it doesn’t happen immediately. The kids will struggle. You have to support and encourage that. Focus on helping the kids build confidence and self-motivation.
I definitely feel good when I help a student figure out something and feel like we’ve made progress. It’s great to see how pleased with themselves they get when they solve a problem. Sometimes I just want to continue that progress by making them practice multiplication tables with me! By the end of the sessions, you can see that every kid has been elevated in their abilities and they’re a little more confident. It’s really great to see.