The principal of the High School for Environmental Studies prepares to accept a check for her school's science program

On Wednesday, we highlighted seven math and science teachers who received awards for their teaching. They were formally honored on Wednesday night, and yesterday the Fund for the City of New York launched a tour of their schools. We joined the tour’s first day to ask students what qualities make a math or science teacher great.

At Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, juniors and seniors gathered in the library were told that math teacher Kate Belin had won $5,000. Several students whooped with glee and one shouted, “You could go to Africa with that!” Principal Nancy Mann rejected the students’ request to use the school’s $2,500 reward to build a second gym.

Next, at a highly selective school that the Department of Education does not manage, Hunter College High School, members of the math team praised Eliza Kuberska, their Math Team Advisor. Noting that Kuberska exhorts them to “do it for the love of math” and challenges them to tackle problems more complex than most high schoolers typically face, the students brought their teacher to tears.

At the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, it was science teacher Marissa Bellino who made her students cry. Senior Alejandro Vinueza, who has Bellino as his teacher for the third time and traveled with her to Japan to learn about lowering carbon emissions, read a prepared speech but paused shortly after beginning to rub his reddening eyes. “Damn, I’m getting emotional now,” he said. Later, he told me how Bellino inspired him to pursue a science major in college and how she has opened his eyes to environmental awareness. “You know when someone says that they had an experience that changed their life forever? I didn’t believe that could happen until I went to Japan,” Vinueza said.

I asked students from the three high schools what makes for a great math or science teacher. Here’s what they said:

Fannie Lou Hamer receives a framed portrait of math teacher Kate Belin

Good teachers connect:

  • “A good teacher understands that every student has their own problems and it takes that one on one interaction, that personal connection, for the students to learn in his or her own way.”
    Tulio Santos, senior, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School

  • “[Ms. Kuberska] looks out on a room of 40 students and it feels like she is having a personal conversation with every one of them.”
    Meena Boppana, senior, Hunter College High School
  • “They’re not afraid to do whatever it takes to get from Point A to Point B. They’re always there, not just to guide you along the steps, but to push you to take the next step by yourself.”
    Hugo Salazar, junior, High School for Environmental Studies

Good teachers engage:

  • “[Ms. Belin] makes it interesting for us because she knows if she gives us a textbook and says copy this and memorize this and read this chapter that we’re not going to learn anything.”
    Rosa DeJesus, junior, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
  • “They make it fun. Like they do more interesting demonstrations, or in science, they do more lab work and all that stuff.”
    Samantha Blanco, junior, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
  • “The first thing I could tell about [Ms. Bellino] was that she just loved what she was teaching. She wanted us to learn. She was so passionate, so energetic and she just made me want to get up and go out with her into the world.”
    Alejandro Vinueza, senior, High School for Environmental Studies

Good teachers challenge

  • “[Ms. Kuberska] takes time after she presents the question to give students a moment to think about it before saying anything. She gives students challenging problems that use novel techniques, not just the rote problems you see in textbooks, but problems that you have to figure out how to solve on your own.”
    Aaron Landesman, senior, Hunter College High School
  • “A great math teacher makes students think a lot. Not just by giving them formulas but by getting students to work out problems themselves.
    Meena Boppana, senior, Hunter College High School
  • “[Ms. Kuberska] has all the qualities of an ideal math teacher, but what distinguishes her is that she gives us very difficult problems. On tests, most teachers ask you to redo problems that you did in class with different numbers. Instead, on her tests she asks you to figure out different types of problems on the spot.”
    Richard Deng, senior, Hunter College High School