Manhattan High math teacher Dedra Braxmeyer welcomed her students to class Friday or National Mason Jar Day as indicated on her whiteboard.
As Braxmeyer goes over quiz answers with her students, she has a smile on her face, which fellow teacher Laura Sapp said she always exhibits.
Sapp called Braxmeyer an amazing classroom teacher who relates to her students well.
“I’ve hardly met any other teacher that’s as passionate as she is about her students and what she teaches,” Sapp said. “Truly everything she does in this school is for the benefit of the students. She is the least selfish person there is.”
Those attributes are part of the reason why Braxmeyer became the USD 383 master teacher in November. Each district nominates a teacher for consideration in the statewide contest.
Emporia State University established the Kansas Master Teacher awards in 1954 to honor teachers who have “served the profession long and well and who also typify the good qualities of earnest and conscientious teachers.”
“There are so many excellent teachers, so it was meaningful to be selected from such a outstanding group of educators in the district,” Braxmeyer said.
Braxmeyer, 42, is in her 20th year of teaching and her 13th year at Manhattan High. She’s teaching trigonometry and advanced algebra 2.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I love my job. The kids are fun to be around. It’s a great environment to work in.”
Manhattan is her home now, but Braxmeyer grew up in Lebo, a small town near Emporia. High school is where Braxmeyer decided that she would make teaching her profession.
“I really, really enjoyed my classes and teachers and the environment,” she said. “I knew then I wanted to be a teacher as well. I wanted to be a part of that environment.”
Braxmeyer received her bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and secondary education (mathematics and computer science) from K-State in 1999. She earned her master’s degree in education (instructional technology) from Peru State College in Nebraska in 2001.
Braxmeyer spent her first seven years of teaching in the Omaha, Nebraska, area, where her husband, Adam, attended Creighton University for graduate school. They moved back to Manhattan when her husband got a job.
“Manhattan was a town we both enjoyed while being students here,” she said. “It was always on our radar as a place we’d consider moving back to. I’m pretty sure we’re lifers.”
While Braxmeyer never deviated from her career as a math teacher, there are some differences between Braxmeyer’s time as a high school student and her current position as a high school teacher.
“I graduated with 30 students in my class,” she said. “Now I have 30 students in each of the classes I teach all day, but I enjoy being in a big school.”
Braxmeyer said the content of math classes are the same, but the age of the smartphone has removed one crucial argument from math teachers.
“We have reached that point where you can’t give the students that argument anymore of ‘What are you going to do if you don’t have a calculator?’ because they truly are living in an age where you have access to a calculator all the time,” she said.
One of those students is her son, Owen, 15. Owen is a student in her third hour trigonometry class.
“Since he’s going through high school, I know a lot of his friends, and I have them in class, too,” she said. “I’ve always liked this age group, but it’s even more fun when I know the students outside of school as well.”
Braxmeyer and her husband have three sons, Owen, Miles, 12, and Graham, 8.
In addition to her time with students, Braxmeyer said she enjoys the collaboration with her fellow teachers.
Sapp said Braxmeyer is always willing to help co-workers.
“If there’s any questions I ever have or just want to bounce ideas off of her, she’s the first to come in and say I’ll help,” she said.
Braxmeyer said one of her favorite parts of teaching is working one-on-one with students.
“I’ll often have kids come in after school, seeking extra help or wanting to go over something again,” she said. “When they spend an extra five or ten minutes and something clicks, they feel good and I feel good that they feel good.”
Braxmeyer said her goal isn’t to make math the favorite class of her students, but she wants them more aware of how math can work away from the classroom.
“I think most students gain an awareness or an appreciation that it’s not just for math teachers or engineers,” she said. “Math is for everyone. Even if it’s not your favorite subject, you can still appreciate and use it.”