After 13 years teaching math at Vita, Maryjane McHugh is taking a well-earned retirement this February. Growing up, Maryjane ironically knew she didn’t want to be a teacher; instead, she had ambitions to learn programming, which led her to study mathematics. Life had other plans, however, and she soon found herself accepting a teaching job as much because the commute was practical as for any other reason.
She found the experience much more rewarding than she had expected, and it started a career as a teacher, then a department head, assistant principal, and
principal, setting her on the path that eventually led to Vita. Early in her career, Maryjane found she particularly liked teaching girls, because they expected to be poor at math and it was satisfying to help them discover that they had just as much potential as the boys.
She takes similar pleasure in working with adult students. Many of them had unpleasant experiences of high school, or never had the chance
to complete school, especially women and immigrants. This can cause them anxiety that holds them back, but it also means that they do not take education for granted. “They’re more respectful than any teenager,” Maryjane notes with a chuckle. She describes her students as motivated and determined, committing to learn despite many having children to raise or working two jobs. “Sometimes, they come in and ask me to help explain their childrens’ math homework,” she says. “One of my favorite parts [of teaching] is when they catch me making a mistake,” Maryjane explains with a smile. “It helps them feel comfortable making mistakes themselves, and that helps them learn.” Another
thing she enjoys is seeing her students work together and support each other, such as when students with limited English skills help translate and explain concepts to each other, or students who are taking to the material naturally share their work and help out those who are struggling.
An important lesson she learned is to actively solicit questions from her students, and even encourage them to share the stories of their lives. Getting to know them makes the class more comfortable with her, and with each other, and the mutual support they offer can be a powerful factor in helping them achieve success.
Maryjane, on behalf of your colleagues and especially your students, Vita thanks you for your years of hard work. A caring teacher can be a powerful influence on a student’s life, and we will always be grateful for your choice to spend your time among us. Once again, we hope you enjoy your retirement!