Name: Latreil Jackson
Alma Mater: Mercer County Community College 2012, Rider University 2015
STEM Career Path: Math Teacher, Substitute Teacher, Math Coach (Tutor), online math support community leader
What/Who inspired you to pursue mathematics?
LJ: I was always drawn to mathematics in school, as it was my favorite subject. I will always remember how my 5th grade teacher created math lessons that incorporated experiments and deep thinking. In an urban school setting math lessons that included building roller coasters with legos and dropping insulated eggs out the window were out of the norm. He also hosted the after-school club where we played the card game 24 to build our math proficiency. I think I can say that my 5th grade teacher is responsible for inspiring me to pursue mathematics.
Working with kids can be a very rewarding. Tell us about the unique ways you are able to advocate STEM to your target audience.
LJ: Teaching helped me to get over my own shyness and insecurities that were blocking me from delivering at my full potential. I had to realize that students really want to learn, even if they don’t show it. They are eager for something new and when you are able to teach it in a relatable way, they generally appreciate and respect you for it. After coming to this realization, I began to spend lots of time decoding math concepts that my students always got stuck on. I observed their process, asked them questions and revisited the concept, teaching specifically to undo the false belief or strengthen a weak math skill they needed to be successful in fully grasping the concept. Doing this as a teacher and now a coach has built confidence in my students, and making STEM careers a reality instead of something for someone else to pursue. I also research black inventors and STEM contributors and share with my students that someone who looks like them was also able to push through difficult math problems and other adversities to accomplish great things in STEM.
Tell us more about Knowledge Over Grades and how it has made a lasting impact in the STEM community.
LJ: Knowledge Over Grades is the name of my math education business. The name was inspired by a few different situations I encountered in life, but two specifically stand out to me that I will share. I attended Trenton High School in New Jersey and graduated at the top of my class. However, when I got to college I learned that my A’s in high school did not match the A’s at some of the high schools my new classmates went to. Needless to say, I was behind in my math knowledge and worked through a lot of frustration and extra studying to keep up with my classes.
Check out one of Latreil’s latest videos here:
Another situation that inspired my company name arose when I was a substitute teacher. In one eighth grade math class, after sharing that I was a math tutor, I watched as the students passed around one sheet of paper and took turns copying it. I stopped the class and reminded them that soon they’re going to need that information for a test and that copying it will only get you an A for that assignment but will not prove that they know it. They all stopped for 3 seconds and thought about it. Then some students went back to copying, but to my surprise several students raised their hands for help. This one instance taught me so many lessons which inspired the way I taught from then on. It reminded me that beyond the grade, proof of your knowledge will soon be required of you, hence the reason why knowledge should be valued over grades.
I am not currently in the classroom setting, but I do share knowledge of math facts, study skills and motivation to my followers on social media. Many have engaged with my content and reached out to me for tutoring, clarity and to work with their students in various programs. Several have also enrolled in my course for basic math skill building called “The Top 7 Concepts You Must Master to Pass Algebra” (knowledgeovergrades.net/algebrastop7).
Fun Fact about you.
LJ: I have two fun facts:
1) I was a twirler on my high school marching band.
2) I took a break from Knowledge Over Grades and started a self-love blog. What I learned while researching content for my followers, and myself, I also use in my math education business now. I look at that period as an enrichment for my current business.
In your opinion, why is it important for more Women of Color to be involved in STEM?
LJ: When I was younger I always thought the boys had more fun than the girls; and I wanted to play with them, even though I didn’t know the rules of the games. But that’s the thing, learning the rules. STEM is not just made for men. We all have the capacity in our brains to contribute to STEM advancements. Women of color need to know that their contribution is no less valid than anyone else’s. We as women of color need to recognize, pursue and stand in our intelligence so that we can show our peers and the next generation of STEM what they are also capable of.
Any advice for women that are discouraged to pursue mathematics?
LJ: There are many reasons that girls and women shy away from mathematics. It could be fear of failure, and it could also fear of success (which are both what I deal with sometimes). It may also be the result of a fixed mindset (opposed to a growth mindset) which keeps you believing negative messages about math and your ability to succeed in it. However, I believe that since mathematics is so widely despised and poorly taught, it is the duty of the ones who quickly grasp it to help those who don’t. Mathematics is weaved into our everyday lives and innumeracy is widespread throughout our communities. Use these disadvantages to motivate you to help others, even if it’s just by your example helping them to see that the understanding complex math concepts is achievable.
For young women of color that are interested in pursuing a lucrative career in mathematics, how do they get there?
LJ: Lucrative careers in math don’t have to be extremely hard to achieve. Math is a subject many people are lacking in. Math is also what makes the world go round. So one thing you can do is start to figure out if you want to work for someone or for yourself. If the latter, you could market yourself to businesses as their accountant, financial advisor, market researcher, tutor, package engineer, and the list goes on. You could also be a math professor, data analyst, statistician, inventor or whatever you want to be. Since the average person would rather hand this job over to an expert, be the expert by mastering your Algebra skills and attending a good college that will make you work instead of just pass you along with a curved grade. This will allow you to come out of school confident in what you know, ready to solve math problems for people who don’t want to.
Best Advice You Have Ever Received?
LJ: “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not making decisions.”
In math we make mistakes all the time, but an accumulation of math mistakes does not mean we can no longer do math. It means that we made a decision based on what we thought we knew was right. Decisions come out wrong sometimes, but the questions is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ In the book Mathematical Mindsets, Jo Boaler explains how the brain thrives and grows when we make mistakes AND THEN grows again when we go back to correct it. However, this brain growth only occurs when we have a growth mindset, being certain about what we can accomplish with effort and correction. This is a lesson we can use for anything we encounter in life. Try your hardest at everything you do and your brain will support you, that’s backed by science.