LOWER EAST SIDE — When Joseph Danquah decided to study math in college, he didn’t think he’d become a high school teacher, much less an award-winning one.
But that’s what happened for the 46-year-old Ghana native and Bard High School Early College Manhattan instructor, who recently won the Sloan Award for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics.
Danquah planned to teach college-level courses but ended up leaving his graduate program to help take care of his autistic younger brother, he said.
Interrupting his studies turned out to be a “blessing in disguise,” Danquah said. A professor told him about the Math for America fellowship program, he said, which provided professional development and placed him in DeWitt Clinton High School, where he realized that he enjoyed teaching high school students.
“In a sense, it wasn’t my choice to leave school and take on this job but it introduced me to the secondary school level,” Danquah said. “I wouldn’t have made that leap on my own.”
Today, Danquah teaches algebra and geometry to ninth-graders and pre-calculus and differential calculus to upperclassmen at Bard High School Early College, where he tries help students think differently about math.
“I’ve come to realize for most students, they see [each branch of mathematics as] all segmented,” even though they are more related that students think, Danquah said.
To make it easier for students to understand various mathematical concepts, Danquah tries to get to know his students so he can tailor the class around their learning styles.
“If I can make it so that whatever concepts are being presented, if they should run into it a totally different situation, they can employ the ideas they’ve learned to solve those problems,” he said.
“I don’t want it to be ideas memorized and then given back to me,” he said, adding that he was honored to be recognized and grateful to those who supported and mentored him throughout his dozen years of teaching.
That approach helped him win of this year’s Sloan Awards, which was given to seven math and science teachers citywide who were nominated by parents, students, teachers and administrators, according to the Fund for the City of New York, which manages the awards.
To qualify, instructors must have taught math or science in city high schools for at least five years and “must demonstrate excellence in teaching and in achieving results,” according to the organization.
The winners are chosen by an independent panel of scientists, mathematicians, and educators and received a $5,000 award as well as $2,500 for their schools’ science or math departments.
“This year’s [award] recipients … are innovative in their approach to helping students navigate challenging coursework, achieving outstanding results and inspiring New York City’s youth to pursue careers in the STEM fields,” said Mary McCormick, President of the Fund for the City of New York, in a statement.
“These winners provide students at all levels with a foundation for success in the classroom, in college, and beyond. They serve as excellent role models for other teachers,” she added.