Before he even entered high school, Joseph Frencl knew he wanted to teach math. The calling hit him in his 7th grade pre-algebra class.
“That was just a totally different kind of math class than I’ve ever experienced in my life,” he said. “It just captivated me.”
Frencl hoped to captivate a new generation of students in the same way. Over the last 18 years, he has through corny jokes, pie-in-the face Pi Day, and even a song about the quadratic formula.
“If we have to do the quadratic formula, I will sing it and I will have the kids sing it, and if they don’t sing it, we sing it again until all the lips are moving,” he said with a smile.
However, his quirky efforts have not been in vain.
Since 1999, 90 percent of his AP calculus students have passed the AP exam and 34 percent have achieved the highest possible score of a 5.
It also hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Atlantic Coast High School AP Calculus teacher was named Duval County’s newest Teacher of the Year before a crowd of hundreds on Wednesday night
He received the honor at the 23rd Annual EDDY Awards, selected out of more than 160 top teachers across the county.
“It’s kind of a dream, but I’m so excited and proud and proud of my school, proud of my students. It’s a great night,” he said.
The evening hosted by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and the Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership honored the five finalists for the award.
Among them were Iris Caro, the lead teacher for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Department at Central Riverside; and Westview special education teacher Jessica von Eiff who teaches participatory learning in grades 4 through 8. Southside Middle School 8th grade intensive math and pre-algebra instructor Amanda Dyal was also among the finalists.
Dyal has spent the last two years working with students who’ve recently moved to the U.S. in the school’s Newcomers’ Program.
“Some of them need a mentor, some of them need an educator, some of them need a friend at the moment, so you just really have to get to know each kid and how you can best educate them,” she said.
Out of the group, Dyal is the newest teacher. She switched over to education from journalism about six years ago after finding inspiration in a story she’d covered.
“I wrote a story about the need for teachers, especially math teachers...It kind of spoke to me,” she said. “I kept going back and rereading it and rereading it and decided it was where I should go.”
For finalist Carol Wright, the night of appreciation was wonderful end to a rewarding 35-year career teaching the district’s most profoundly disabled. Wright retires from her position from Mt. Herman Exceptional Student Center this November.
“For me, personally, it’s kind of like my final exam and I’ve done fairly well on my final exam,” she said, glancing down at the shiny medal hanging from her neck.
Each of the five finalists received a $2,250 award, along with $1,000 to use directly toward their schools.
Frencl received an additional $1000 and will serve on the JPEF Board of Directors for the next year. He will also go on to compete for the title of statewide Teacher of the Year.
He said he plans to use the year in the spotlight to emphasize the importance of math and advanced placement classes.
His passion for math and his students has had a lasting impact. Former student Connor Milo presented Frencl with an award during the ceremony.
“The enthusiasm, the work ethic that he teaches you, the importance of preparation and organization and really the belief in yourself, extends for beyond the classroom,” Milo said.
Milo is now a sophomore at Florida State University studying business management.
“I still use it to this day at Florida State,” he said.
About the Teachers
Algebra 2 Honors, Precalculus, AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC
Education: Master of Science at Vanderbilt University; B.S. in Math and Physics at Cumberland College
Years Teaching: 18
About Teaching: “Now, for me, it’s not only working with the content but being able to connect with the kids, forming a relationship with them. If you can get them on your team and your side, then you have them and you can get them to accomplish anything.”
Lead Teacher for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Department, Central Riverside
Education: Master of Education - Special Education and Exceptional at University of North Florida; B.A. in Education - Special Education at University of North Florida
Years Teaching: 8
About Teaching: “Teaching for me is not only a profession. It’s a passion...Just to see the students coming into my classroom from not being able to communicate, to being able to be working at a grade level that’s what makes it all worth it.”
8th Grade Intensive Math & Pre-Algebra
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Journalism at Truman University
Years Teaching: 6
About Teaching: “(It’s) making the connection with the kids, really getting to know them and forming a relationship with them and seeing how you can best help them.”
Jessica von Eiff
4th-8th Grade Participatory Learning Academies
Education: B.A. in Special Education at University of Florida; A.A. at Florida State College at Jacksonville
Years Teaching: 14
About Teaching: “The most important aspect of teaching: At the end of the day, (it's) just having your kids be smarter than they were when they walked in your classroom in the morning...having them achieve one more feat that they haven’t faced at the beginning of that day.”
Teacher for Severe Disabilities and Autism
Education: Ph.D., University of Florida; Master of Education - Special Education at University of North Florida; Bachelors of Arts in Education at University of North Florida
Years Teaching: 35
About Teaching: "Teachers don’t think about winning or losing with other teachers. When you get all of us in a room, we’re there helping each other. We’re there saying ‘Well, you have that problem, I’m going to help you out.’”
You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson