It’s a phrase that has dogged teachers since the dawn of time: “When am I ever going to use this?” Kevin Hanlon, a 29-year-old math teacher and department chair at Port Chester Middle School, is trying to eradicate the question from his classroom by taking a real-world approach to teaching math. That he’s been successful is just one reason he’s a Wunderkind. The other reasons? He’s been teaching for just three and a half years—as his second career, might we add (he started off in sales and marketing)—and already oversees the eight-teacher math department at the 1,000-student school, all while making a splash in Albany, and the press, by calling for sensible Common Core implementation.
“I create my lessons around questions students would encounter every day in the real world,” Hanlon says. When teaching percentages, for example, Hanlon eschewed worksheets in favor of sending students to local restaurants to calculate what their tax and tip would be on an actual meal. “The more you make it real to students, the more impact the lesson will have,” says Hanlon.
Hanlon was handpicked by the district as Port Chester’s ambassador to a state Common Core intensive training session last November. He arrived with a journalist from the Journal News in tow to raise awareness about the difficulties posted by the transition to the new standards: His eighth-grade students, he says, are held to standards designed as though they’ve been plugging away at Common Core lessons since the get-go. He was quoted in the regional newspaper, asking: “How can any company have a 12-year plan and start it in year eight?” Regardless, Port Chester is counting on Hanlon. Port Chester schools’ Curriculum Director Carlos Sanchez told the reporter: “We need Kevin…to help us make sense of it.”