Michael Ioffe has built a reputation for being responsible, mature and forward-thinking. By creating the Stumptown Speaker Series and with in-class projects, the Lincoln junior has proven to be one of Lincoln’s best leaders. And next year Ioffe will add teacher to his resume.
Last year Ioffe took Math Connections, a semester-long course. He was so consumed by the class, that he decided to take it for the whole year. He admired the freedom that the class gave students as well as the class’ productivity.
“I was really thrilled with the idea of the class. It encourages students to pursue projects of their own, with a group or individually,” he says. “The results from that have been pretty incredible.”
Teacher Chadwick Hamilton designed Math Connections to help students connect what they learn in school to real life. Student projects allow them to exercise creative freedom and develop self-leadership skills.
“(My) goal was really to empower students to study things that they wanted to study and learn the things that they want to learn. We found that when we give them that autonomy, really cool things happen,” says Hamilton.
When Hamilton announced he would be leaving Lincoln to teach in Hong Kong, the fate of Math Connections looked questionable when no teacher stepped forward to teach the class. That is, until Hamilton wondered if a student could teach the class.
“When I initially had the idea, Michael came to mind, but he wasn’t the only one. I actually talked to a couple of other students. But what Michael did, and I think this makes a lot of sense given his personality, was he actually put together a plan,” says Hamilton.
Having a student teach a class is a new concept for Lincoln, but because of Ioffe’s reputation, Hamilton had no trouble convincing the administration he’d be a good fit.
“When I posed the idea they were skeptical, when I said I think Michael is going to do it they said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’” says Hamilton.
“I’ve never been in a room where all of us haven’t agreed that he is one of the most outstanding humans we’ve ever met,” says Lincoln principal Peyton Chapman. “He’s a natural leader. He’s very talented and he has a high level of humility.”
Although the administration has confidence in Ioffe’s teaching abilities, he cannot legally be the listed as the class teacher. This means that Ioffe will act as a co-teacher alongside an official Lincoln staff member.
“This is a co-role, I’m not even allowed to put him in as the teacher. He will have to work with an adult, a teacher of record, to have support,” says Chapman. “We always have to have a certified teacher to be the adult who’s responsible for grading and all those things.”
That teacher is yet to be determined, but several have expressed interest.
“To be honest, if I were allowed to, I’d feel pretty confident working with him if he were the only teacher in the room. I think he has all the skills, but I’m also excited to see him collaborate with one of our faculty members,” says Chapman.
Although he is prepared to take on the role of teacher, Ioffe’s status as a student provides a number of challenges.
“The way I will teach next year will definitely be more hands-off. Mr. Hamilton is an incredible teacher and I don’t have his teaching skill or teaching education,” he says.
Accordingly, Ioffe plans on making slight alterations to the course to accommodate his schedule and abilities.
“We’ll probably just have one period, and we’ll cap the class at 20 kids. What we’re transitioning into is taking out the math part of it and focusing on the individual projects, so the entire class will be an opportunity for students to pursue a project that they think is worth pursuing,” says Ioffe.
The class will still be called Math Connections, but it will be less math-based and more focused on allowing students to find a topic they’re passionate about. As a teacher, Ioffe will plan the curriculum, oversee projects and provide resources to help students further their projects. These resources include materials and outside help for student projects.
“I’m excited to see what students create and what students can do when they’re given the time and resources. Each semester finishes with a showcase of student work and that is what I’m looking forward to,” says Ioffe.
“You often see teams where you have a visionary person, a detail person, and an action-oriented person; Michael kind of has all those qualities in one person,” says Chapman.