Equation For Success
Math teacher Kay Toliver says her celebrity is part of a cosmic plan. But maybe it just adds up.
On the cover of our March 1993 issue, we called math teacher Kay Toliver a "rising star." Like most teachers, she had spent her career in relative obscurity. Certainly, she was a star in the eyes of her students at New York's P.S. 721 East Harlem Tech Middle School, where she taught math. But it wasn't until 1992, when Toliver won a prestigious Disney American Teacher award, that word of her talent began to spread. That same year, she was named one of 216 Presidential Award winners by the National Science Foundation.
Then came Good Morning, Miss Toliver, a documentary broadcast on PBS in the fall of 1993. The half-hour film showed Toliver employing her practical, hands-on approach to teaching math. It won a Peabody Award and became a popular staff-development tool, used by thousands of schools nationwide. Toliver was transformed into a genuine celebrity. She went on to host an instructional television series titled The Eddie Files, which led to two staff-development video series: The Kay Toliver Files and Teacher Talk. "I've become a video star," she says, laughing.
Toliver spends much of her summers on the road, giving speeches and conducting workshops. During the school year, she still works her magic in Room 504 of East Harlem Tech, an ancient red-brick building where she has taught since 1967. "The kids come first," she says. "I'm still a classroom teacher-that's what 1 do best. But I'm always amazed at how many teachers know me when 1 go travel around the country."
Perhaps because her fame came relatively late--she was 46 when she won the Disney award--Toliver seems unfazed by the attention. It's all part of some cosmic plan, she explains. "I was born to share my knowledge with others. There was a reason for all this to happen. If other teachers find that what 1 do is helpful for them, then it's good for the children. And that's what it's all about."
Although she must have had offers to go on to bigger things, Toliver says she will never be lured away from her work at East Harlem Tech. She plans to teach at the school until the day she retires. And that, she says, won't be any time soon. "I'm having too much fun."
Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 77Published in Print: August 11, 1999, as Equation For Success