Math teacher Ruth Knop sets a National precedent for teaching

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Amanda Lucidon, via Ruth Knop

Awardees standing on risers applaud as President Obama enters the room. There were 108 awardees this year, all teachers of secondary math or science classes. “We were all just mesmerized. They lined us up on risers and since I’m short I got to sit in the front,” Knop said. “Very nonchalantly one of the doors opened and the president walked in.”

Math teacher Ruth Knop travelled to Washington, D.C. on July 26 to be honored as a recipient of a Presidential Award for Mathematics Teaching in 2013. Knop was the only recipient of the award from Missouri in 2013. The winners of the 2013 awards were announced July 1, 2015.

“I had a colleague nominate me for the award back in 2013. That July, I knew I was a state finalist,” Knop said. “Once it went to the federal level, I waited on the office of the presidency.”

Some of us come from large schools and some come from small. Some of these teachers come from schools where they are the only teacher there.”

— Ruth Knop

Established in 1983, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) program allows the President to honor up to 108 exemplary contributors to mathematics and science education each year. Awardees receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and a paid trip to meet the President and attend professional development events in Washington D.C. during the summer.

“These teachers are shaping America’s success through their passion for math and science,” President Obama said in a press release. “Their leadership and commitment empower our children to think critically and creatively about science, technology, engineering and math. The work these teachers are doing in our classrooms today will help ensure that America stays on the cutting edge tomorrow.”

Knop used her prize money to travel around the country with her family.

“We were only home about four weeks this summer,” Knop said. “We went to New York City, Cape Cod and Cooperstown to see the [Baseball] Hall of Fame. We saw Niagara Falls and camped in Michigan.”

To be considered for the award, Knop a long application process in which she video-taped herself teaching a class and answered questions about teaching, which amounted to a 10-page research paper.

“It was just amazement, I don’t know what I really felt. I waited so long, that I was just thinking ‘finally.’ It made me feel really honored,” Knop said. “I felt like I submitted a very authentic application, and it’s just an honor to be picked out of all of those teachers to represent Missouri.”

He said, ‘I heard you guys were a lively bunch. What did we feed you?’ We all responded, ‘water’. I was just impressed that he was so quick-witted.”

— Ruth Knop

Knop was notified about the award ceremony a week before she had to be in Washington to meet the other teachers. After a morning of professional development activities, she and the fellow awardees travelled to the White House for presidential recognition.

“My heart skipped a beat, and everyone started clapping. [President Obama] was kind of fist-pumping as he walked in and clapping for us. He said, ‘I heard you guys were a lively bunch. What did we feed you?’ We all responded, ‘Water,’” she said. “I was just impressed that he was so quick-witted. I really think he’s a very authentic person. I remember shaking his hand and saying, ‘Hello, Mr. President. My name is Ruth Knop. I am from St. Louis, Missouri.’ He said something back, but I don’t know what it was. He wasn’t as tall as I thought he would be. He was also very thin.”

The award trip was a chance for Knop to learn from the perspectives of other teachers around the country.

“Some of us come from large schools and some come from small. Some of these teachers come from schools where they are the only teacher there,” Knop said.

Knop, along with her fellow awardees, is now part of President Obama’s “100kin10” campaign to “train and retain 100,000 STEM teachers in the next decade” according to a White House press release.

“It’s so easy to take where you work and the kids and parents you work with for granted,” she said. “I learned that we [teachers] are all more similar than we think.”