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Heather Mosley | SBJ

No Ceiling Season 3 Guest: Cicely Woodard

Springfield Public Schools

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Local women share their journey to the top of their professions and the challenges and triumphs they faced along the way. They’re rewriting the script on success and there’s no ceiling.

Cicely Woodard is my guest on the seventh episode of No Ceiling, Season 3. She’s a math teacher at Kickapoo High School, and her approach to education has earned her national recognition, including the Tennessee Teacher of the Year and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Cicely is on a mission to make math accessible and applicable to students and to teach them that when they learn the equation they never thought would stick, that’s a lesson they can carry to every part of life. Math didn’t come easily to Cicely growing up, but because it was a challenge, she was drawn to it. In this episode, we talk about how she’s been a trailblazer in her profession, the journey she took to develop her teaching style and what it’s like to be an educator in today’s climate.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation.

Christine Temple: You’ve been in education now for 20 years. Was there a moment that you knew teaching was your calling?
Cicely Woodard: I was a Girl Scout and one of the things that we were expected to do for a badge was to teach someone something. I had this wonderful opportunity to go to a younger group of Girl Scouts and to teach them some French. By the time I finished the lesson, these younger girls were literally speaking in French, the things that I had taught them. I was so excited that I decided that I wanted to make teaching my career. At the time, I was a high school student, and of course I had math classes, too, and I thought, you know, I really enjoy the challenge of math. I liked when I finally got to the right answer. I got to school the next day and I wanted to learn more. I felt like even though it was hard, I felt like I could do it. I thought, you know what, I could be a math teacher.

Temple: What about your upbringing – and what makes you you – led you to embrace things that are hard?
Woodard: My parents were, and still are, really amazing. My mom, I can hear her voice in my head right now saying, “Cicely, you are brilliant and you can do anything you want to do, anything you put your mind to.” I really believe it’s their support and their desire to be there for us – I’ve got two younger sisters – that instilled in me this belief that I can face challenges and I can do hard things.

Temple: In the profession of education, there are a lot of women, but there are not a lot of Black women, and that number gets even smaller when you go into mathematics. When you went into this, did you know you were going to be a trailblazer, or did you figure that out when you were there?
Woodard: Oh, Christine, I had no idea I was going to be a trailblazer. When I was in middle school, even though you’re speaking truth, there are not a lot of Black women in mathematics, I did have some Black female teachers who were amazing. Because I had that opportunity to see someone who looked like me doing this work, it never occurred to me that I wasn’t supposed to be here.

Related: No Ceiling from SBJ Podcasts

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