Canyon’s District math teacher contender for top state teacher honorsSep 07, 2023 02:04PM ● By Julie Slama
Midvale teachers, East Midvale Elementary’s Rachel Teasley, Midvale Middle math teacher Max Eddington and Hillcrest High’s Tasha Jensen, were the finalists in this year’s teacher of the year. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
When Midvale Middle math teacher Max Eddington went to the University of Utah as an undergraduate, he was planning to study piano performance—then, later, Russian.
“I had no plans of being a teacher,” he said. “All while growing up, I was very serious about piano. I’m a classically trained pianist, and I paid for most of college as a pianist.”
Eddington’s love of Russian came about in eighth grade when a girl who spoke Russian moved to the United States from Yugoslavia and sat next to him in math class.
“She had no idea what was going on. My brother-in-law speaks Russian so he would teach me things to say to her and then she would say things back. I tried to remember them so my brother-in-law could tell me what they meant. It was fun to know words in another language and I became kind of obsessed with Russian,” he said.
With his mind set in those disciplines, Eddington chose his classes.
“When my dad, who really is a gifted mathematician, asked to see my freshman schedule, and I didn’t have any math classes on my schedule since my AP (advanced placement) calculus had fulfilled the requirement, he said, ‘You need to take a math class even if you don’t need it.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to spend money on credits that I don’t need.’ His exact quote was, ‘You never know when you’re going to want to be a math teacher.’ I just rolled my eyes and I didn’t take one. So when I got my first job as a math teacher, I called my dad. He knew me better than I knew myself at that point,” Eddington said.
Now, that math teacher is a candidate for the state teacher of the year, after being heralded Canyons School District teacher of the year this past spring. It was the first time in Canyons’ history where the top three finalists were all from Midvale.
“I knew that I was the middle school choice, but I was totally surprised, no idea that that this honor was coming,” he said. “When it was announced the winning teacher is from a Midvale school, I hadn’t even put it together that all three of us (finalists Hillcrest High’s Tasha Jensen and East Midvale Elementary’s Rachel Teasley) taught in Midvale.”
Eddington was awarded a $1,000 cash prize from the Canyons Education Foundation and an inscribed crystal award from Canyons Board of Education as well as a gift basket. He was selected from a record number 3,000 nominations.
On hand was Midvale Mayor Marcus Stevenson, who was joined by Canyons School District Superintendent Rick Robins, to honor the teachers. The finalists also were honored at the Midvale City Council meeting with a proclamation.
“My family came up from Arizona, my girlfriend, friends and so many came. I had a great crew there to support me,” he said.
Eddington is in his ninth year teaching.
“I taught my first four years at four different schools and each year, I could tell the school was not a total perfect fit for me so I went to a different school. Midvale is just the perfect combination of students, staff, faculty, the building—everything about it just fit and I feel so supported. I love it and have no plans of leaving,” he said.
When Eddington first started, he taught an honors section of math along with general education courses, but he prefers teaching the non-honors classes.
“My skills are better geared toward helping students who are not feeling motivated to learn, who are struggling or behind. I’m skilled at reaching and connecting with and filling gaps in their educational past and helping them make big strides in their learning,” he said.
While Eddington earned his Bachelor’s in Russian, after serving a church mission in Russia, his Master’s in Education from Arizona State University is a dual certification program that included teaching kindergarten through eighth grade as well as special education kindergarten through 12th-grade students with mild to moderate disabilities.
At Midvale Middle, he teaches students who have Individualized Education Programs.
“Having that education has been important for me to know how to educate kids with disabilities because it’s something that I studied to know how to approach those students in my general classes who have individualized learning plans,” Eddington said, adding that he has used his Russian as well to help students who speak that as their native language.
His approach for all students starts with personal relationships.
“I try to communicate with every single student in every class every day. I try to know things about them outside of academics and to find ways for them to know that I am not just a teacher, but I’m a person who cares about them,” he said. “At the same time, I have very high expectations for every student, and they try hard to reach those goals. I spend a lot of energy, trying to get my students to understand why learning these things are important. One of the most common questions that I get as math teacher is ‘When are we ever going to have to know that?’ I help them imagine their futures and the fact that they’re going to need to earn money. They’re going to need jobs and the best way to be secure is to be educated. My main answer to the question is that ‘You’re going to have a higher earning potential, be more secure and graduate from high school.’”
Eddington also challenges his students to find something in their lives not connected to math.
“I try to help them feel confident because a lot of these kids have convinced themselves at some point, that they’re not able to do math. But when they realize they will have to use basic math skills throughout their lives, it helps them kind of break down the walls of math trauma. Being afraid of it is no way to live. So we just really work on trying to become comfortable with it and not afraid of it—confident that we’re all able to do it,” he said.
Eddington also tries to have them envision their future, mounting his framed degrees on the wall and place the award he received as teacher of the year nearby.
“We talk a lot about higher education in my class and it’s a good visual for them to have in the classroom to help them see what can be ahead for them,” he said.
When Eddington made the decision to teach, he wanted to be in a middle school.
“It was a time in my life that was difficult, and I didn’t really have mentors and teachers who really cared about me. I like being there at this formative time in their lives and being an adult who cares and treats them with respect,” he said.
More than 20 of his students respond to Eddington so well that they were prompted to write nominations, praising the fifth-year Midvale Middle teacher, for this award.
“When you walk into Max’s classroom you are overwhelmed with the sense of community and belonging,” said Midvale Middle Principal Mindy Robinson, who as a former math teacher, also appreciates his problem-solving skills on the school’s building leadership team. “Students are respectful. They are willing to take risks and are encouraged to care for one another, while being engaged in every part of the lesson.”
When Eddington decided to teach, he gave up another job he loved.
“I was the wilderness driver guide in Alaska and drove tours across the state and in the Yukon Territory. I’ve been on a highway called the Top of the World Highway to a one-lane, dirt highway in northern Alaska. I saw migrating caribou and hundreds and hundreds of moose during those two years. It was a cool experience, but it’s a five-month contract that (conflicts) with the teaching schedule,” he said, now having to limit his outdoor adventures to some backroads in his time off from school or when he’s not on stage as he was two summers ago when he played Willard in “Footloose” at Sundance Summer Theatre.
“The reason why I continue teaching is because it’s making a difference in their lives,” Eddington said, then adds mathematically: “Even if it’s a slight angle, it goes on a more positive trajectory. That means a lot to me and that’s why I teach." λ