Amber Willis is a Program Director at Deans for Impact, leading work with the Learning by Scientific Design Network. Prior to joining the team, she taught middle and secondary mathematics for 11 years and was a teacher educator and coach of teacher-educators at TeachingWorks at the University of Michigan. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics Education from Oakwood University, a master’s degree in Mathematics Education from Nova Southeastern University, and a doctorate in Educational Studies with a concentration in Mathematics Education from the University of Michigan. Her interests are motivated by a commitment to children and a desire to (re)humanize their experiences in schools.
The idea of me becoming a math teacher happened during my freshman year of college. I was sitting in the library with friends from my Calculus class. We were preparing for a test, and I had just finished explaining how I got an answer to the group when my friend said, “that was good, Amber, you should be a math teacher.” He planted the seed.
While teaching is complex, challenging work, I believe that it is learnable with the right supports and development. All teachers have the power — and the obligation — to continually learn and improve. I also believe that small ideas can change programs and schools for the better. I was excited to join Deans for Impact because we both understand that Educator-preparation programs and teachers are capable of deep and lasting improvement with the right commitments, structures, and leadership in place. Deans for Impact is an organization that believes small changes have a significant impact.
I understand some of the levers that can help teacher educators, schools, teachers, and students be successful. I also recognize the historical footings of American racialization and hegemonic discourses and how they have affected our schooling system, keeping so many children from being taught in equitable and ambitious ways. One of the Deans for Impact’s guiding principles is rooted in transformation. We are committed to the hard work and learning science principles that it will take to contribute to a radical transformation.
I don’t have a favorite teacher, but I will say that one teacher who impacted my life was Mr. Williams, my 8th-grade Algebra 1 teacher. Mr. Williams approached my mother at the 8th-grade orientation meeting and suggested that she enroll me in his Algebra 1 class. Later I found out that my mom was not the only Black parent he approached that evening; many other Black students were recruited that year. Mr. Williams, a Black math teacher, knew the advantages and opportunities that would open up for students if they took Algebra 1 in the 8th-grade instead of waiting until high school. Mr. Williams showed his commitment by inviting all of us to his home a few times a week for tutoring, where he filled in any gaps that we had in our mathematical knowledge. I didn’t understand then that he set us on an uncommon trajectory for kids like us and went above and beyond to keep us on that path. Mr. Williams’s home was the math tutoring hub for Black students in my community for many years after that.
I recently discovered a food truck in Ann Arbor, MI, called BAO BOYS, and I love them. They only have a few items on their menu, but my favorite thing to order is the Shorty Bao. It has Korean braised short rib, vinegar slaw, and a VERY special green sauce.