When Mary Zietlow was a high school student, her favorite subjects were math and theater.
“I had this notion – I would be a math teacher and do school plays,” she said.
Zietlow did in fact become a math teacher, teaching in various parts of the world.
This year, she is the math coach at Waupaca High School – a position made possible by the Jobs Fund money.
She always liked math and was lucky to be part of a special math program when she a seventh-grade student in Lincoln, Neb.
While that particular teacher had a reputation for being strict, and the program she taught was tough, Zietlow found it to be fun.
“It wasn’t more arithmetic. It was getting more into theory. It was challenging but doable. She taught the logic part of it. To me, it was like – is this math?” Zietlow said.
As a high school student, Zietlow enjoyed helping her friends who were not mathematically minded.
When she started her freshman year at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, she immediately declared her major.
“I thought education was a good way to help people and also do your subject that you you’re good at,” she said.
Zietlow, who was born in Monroe County in Wisconsin, says the key to her enjoyment of school was a good school system.
She was a child when her parents moved the family from Wisconsin to Nebraska.
Zietlow received a degree in education, with an endorsement in mathematics, and was a substitute teacher for a short time after graduating from college.
It was 1989, and the country was in the midst of a recession.
When a friend told her she knew of a place in which Zietlow could stay in New York City, Zietlow found herself moving to the Big Apple.
“I don’t know why I did it. It seems so bold,” she said.
Zietlow applied for teaching jobs there. One of the jobs she ended up applying for was to teach in London.
She learned of the program through a newspaper ad and applied.
“They were recruiting a lot,” she said. “They were recruiting in New York, Washington, D.C., several cities. It was a definite learning experience. The British government had reformed its education. It had passed a law in 1988 that caused teacher turnover.”
Teaching in London meant that Zietlow got to see a different approach to education and assessment.
She said what she liked about the experience was that the teachers guided the students, with the students doing a lot of the decision making.
“I kept wanting to do too much. My colleagues had to keep pulling me back,” she said.
Zietlow taught in London for two years and said, “One day, Princess Diana was at the neighboring church. The kids were late. They were catching a glimpse. The other exciting day was when Margaret Thatcher announced she was stepping down. There were screams for five minutes.”
While teaching in London, Zietlow saw another ad in a newspaper – that time for a job teaching math at a private school in Madrid.
They used the British curriculum, and she got the job.
“What was fun was the group I taught did lots of theater. I got to do theater again – amateur theater,” she said. “Then, it was time to come home. I was feeling separation from my family.”
Zietlow moved to Minneapolis where she began graduate school at the University of Minnesota, earning a master’s degree in mathematics.
“I’m glad I did that. It solidified the theory,” she said. “The training, the mathematical thinking – it was helpful to think more about the way you are presenting math.”
The climate during the 1990s was one of education form, and after that experience, Zietlow felt well prepared when she went into the classroom.
She worked in a Minneapolis suburb for three years and then married her husband, Eduardo Leandro, whom she had met during graduate school.
He is from Brazil and was working on his doctoral degree in math when they met.
“He got in a post-doctorate in Paris, so I got to go back to Europe, but only for a year,” she said with a smile.
While they were in Paris, Zietlow tutored students.
She described her experiences teaching in Europe as good experiences and recommends that young people go abroad for a year if they can.
“You appreciate your own country,” she said. “You see how they see your country, and you also see their culture.”
After Leandro’s post-doctorate work in Paris, he got a job in his hometown of Recife in Brazil.
They lived in Brazil seven years.
Their two daughters – Talita, who is 7, and Laila, who is 1, were born there.
During that time, Zietlow worked at the American school.
“We had been planning to move back for some time for family reasons,”
she said. “He was very happy working in North America. We started our planning before the recession.”
Her parents had returned to the state about 20 years ago, and a year ago, Zietlow and her family moved, with the help of her family.
They looked for jobs, and when the math coach job at Waupaca High School came up in September, Zietlow was curious about it.
Of Waupaca, she said. “I have to say the first thing you notice is how friendly everyone is. I just couldn’t get over it. Everyone is helpful.”
She says working at the high school is fun.
“I get to work with the students, but then, at the same time, you’re trying to design lessons. You get to delve into the research and design activities that can be more effective,” Zietlow said.
She goes into classrooms, and students also go to her.
“It’s new not just for me but for the teachers. I think we’re all on a learning curve,” she said. “At the same time, I feel like there is a whole lot I can do.”
Zietlow said that what she likes is getting to know the students. “I try to individualize the tutoring. When you work with someone you know, you can tie the idea into something that hits home with them,” she said.
Outside of work, Zietlow enjoys going for walks and cooking. “I’m happy with the transition,” she said. “She’s (Talita) transitioned well and is loving school.”