Up From Failure: A Successful AP Calculus Teacher's Journey
Spring Valley High School Calculus Teacher Laurel Ferguson (center) and her students illustrate a graph chart exercise. This helps students understand the difference between various calculus functions
Meet Laurel Ferguson. When she began teaching Advanced Placement Calculus at Spring Valley High School she struggled. It was 2006, her students took the AP exam near the end of the school year, and none of them passed. “I was devastated, and lost,” Ferguson said. A few weeks later she found her way to her first WVCPD Advanced Placement Summer Institute. “It changed my life,” Ferguson explained. The AP Summer Institute (APSI) is a four-day professional development course offered at locations around the state. WVCPD hires College Board endorsed instructors to lead these courses that range from AP Studio Art to AP Chemistry, and AP U.S. History. West Virginia high school teachers must attend an AP Summer Institute once every three years in order to teach AP courses in the state. Students who take the year-end AP exam and earn a 3, 4, or 5, may earn college credit or advanced placement upon entering college.
Ferguson has attended APSIs almost annually, as well as the non-required AP Fall Institutes. Her students have benefitted from her commitment. “Approximately 90 percent of my students are passing the AP Calculus AB exam,” she said. This rate dwarfs the state pass rates for this course which hovers around 43 percent. “We would not be here if it were not for the West Virginia Center for Professional Development,” Ferguson said. “The Center’s sessions have shaped who I am as a teacher, and now I am shaping the lives of my students.” Ferguson said. “I teach difficult content in a fun and interactive way, but most importantly, I let my kids know they can do this work. They eventually believe it themselves,” she explained.
The instructors WVCPD hires keep an open line of communication with West Virginia teachers. As a result, Ferguson now has expert calculus teachers at her disposal for guidance and support. “You never feel like you are alone, this makes me a better teacher and makes my students more successful,” she said.
“I truly feel like I have a partner in WVCPD because the office helped me to overcome a significant hurdle and become a successful AP teacher,” she said. Ferguson’s AP journey is coming full-circle. She is now an AP reader and is hired by the College Board to travel to a designated location in the summer and score (or grade) tests taken by AP students around the world.