Mathematics is more than a science for Cheryl McAllister. It is a passion. McAllister has been a faculty member at Southeast since fall 1992 and loves to teach college-age students. She currently teaches the required mathematics courses for elementary and secondary education majors, but in the past has taught several different levels of algebra classes along with trigonometry and a first-year seminar called “The Mathematics of Art.”
She is completing work on her doctorate in mathematics education at the University of MissouriᾰSt. Louis. She chose this area after realizing the importance of developing strong math skills in students at the elementary and middle school level.
“I taught developmental math classes for 10 years, and, in talking to the students about why they needed to take these courses, I realized that often the problem was poor teaching at the elementary and middle school level,” she said. “I decided I could make more of an impact to improve mathematics education by working to improve the preparation of pre-service teachers.”
McAllister’s career as a math teacher wasn’t her original goal. She intended to be a computer programer. The decision to become a teacher was a pragmatic one. When she got married and had her first child, she realized computer programming had little personal meaning to her, and she wanted a career that would allow her to be home in the afternoons.
“As a new mother, I decided teaching would be a good field to go into because I would usually be out of school the same times my child would be,” she said.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education-mathematics and a master’s degree in mathematics from Southeast and began her career as a high school mathematics teacher.
After teaching high school students for a few years, McAllister decided to make the move towards post-secondary education. It was after teaching two sections of intermediate algebra as a graduate assistant that she discovered her love of teaching at the college level, a love that has grown professionally during her time at Southeast.
McAllister describes her style of teaching as “student-centered” and likes to incorporate her computer knowledge into her classes through her Websites for the courses she teaches. Even though she uses traditional lecture and discussion methods with teaching, she likes to incorporate hands-on learning through projects and group work.
“I feel my role is to be a facilitator and a cheerleader for my students, especially the students who come to class with very negative feelings towards mathematics,” she said.
Besides helping students reach their mathematical potential, McAllister also likes to go fishing with her father, work jigsaw puzzles with her family and read a science fiction book now and then. Eventually, she would like to get back into painting and drawing and wants to travel to all of the world’s greatest museums such as the Smithsonian and the Louvre in Paris. But for now, McAllister is focused on spending her spare time with her family and working with her church.
Education is extremely important to McAllister, and she wants her students to realize that learning can become a lifestyle. After witnessing her father using education to support his family, she understands how important it is to ensure a quality education for her students.
“I really honestly believe that education is one key to realizing the American dream,” she said. “It is a key factor in leveling the playing field for individuals coming from diverse and sometimes impoverished environments.”
As a Southeast faculty member, her best advice for her students is to realize that no class is a waste of time if you put some effort into it. You never know when that history class, art class or math class will bring some value to you later down the road.