Math Matters

“You matter.”

This is the philosophy fifth-grade mathematics teacher Florence Falatko ’03 keeps in mind as she fosters learning among her Cromwell Valley Elementary students.

“The students matter, the teachers matter, we all matter,” she says.

For 15 years Falatko has found ways to help her students reach their potential as learners. Her diligence—and her success—were recognized in July, when she won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Math is a subject that many find intimidating—even Falatko struggled with it when she was younger. Her students, however, quickly learn that they have nothing to fear. Activities like managing mock stock portfolios, creating Lego robotics, and even tracking the NCAA Tournament and World Series help Falatko’s students turn abstract concepts into something real.

“You’re still teaching the standards,” she says, “but it’s real. And we all know if it’s real and it matters to us, it makes a difference.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of Falatko’s journey is where it began. Having majored in economics as an undergraduate, she began her career as a financial analyst managing a hedge fund before taking time off to raise her two sons. When she volunteered at their elementary school, her talent was clear to the school’s principal, who suggested that she consider becoming a teacher.

“The big thing that attracted me to [teaching] was the interaction with children and seeing what children understood.”
—Florence Falatko ’03

Falatko was receptive to the idea. “The big thing that attracted me to [teaching] was the interaction with children and seeing what children understood,” she says.

In 2003, she completed Towson University’s Master of Arts in Teaching program. Falatko got her job at Cromwell Valley Elementary—
which has a magnet program for STEAM education—right out of grad school.

“This is my only experience as a hired teacher,” Falatko says. “The environment is very creative and supportive.” Finding inspiration in such a positive setting has allowed Falatko to create a learning experience that applies to the world outside of the classroom.

“I love the learning from the children, I love the learning with the children,” she says.

That passion is evident in Falatko’s classroom. Cromwell Valley principal Cathy Thomas says Falatko brings much to the table, not just as a teacher, but as a mentor. “[The other teachers] value and respect her expertise,” she says. “She is very dedicated to equity for students.”

That commitment earned her the prestigious Presidential Award, the highest recognition that a kindergarten through grade 12 mathematics or science teacher can receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. She is one of only 104 teachers this year to earn the honor.

Falatko will receive a presidential citation, a trip to Washington for a White House awards ceremony, and the opportunity to participate in discussions led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation. She also gets a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation, which coordinates the program for the White House.

Thomas couldn’t imagine a more worthy winner.

“There’s no question in my mind—and I don’t think in anyone’s—that she was definitely the right person to choose.”

By Mindy Weber


Falatko is one of only 104 teachers this year to earn this honor.