Teacher Spotlight: Riki Weeks, Upper School Math

Riki Weeks doesn’t just want your student to know how to solve math problems. He wants them to understand and explore why the equations even exist. Mr. Weeks, Grades 7-12 Mathematics Chair and Upper School Math teacher, knows his department is uniquely positioned to guide Flint Hill students to success.

Why do you love teaching math?
Math is one of those things that doesn't always come easy for people, so I really enjoy finding ways to make it make sense. And partly because there's just an inherent beauty and utility to math that I think everyone should be aware of. Bringing that awareness to students is really important to me. But then also having them feel a sense of accomplishment and success in math tends to be a big gateway for folks to the next level. Allowing that to happen for them is really rewarding.

What’s the next level?
College or just interests. The high-tech world we live in today. Math is a pretty important tool in navigating that successfully, whatever you're doing, so trying to move that forward, I think, is really important in general.

What is your favorite thing about teaching this age group?
For adolescents, there's a certain sense of curiosity that you can still pick. They don't know what they don't know. So, you know, you can use that to your advantage. And I think for the older grades, they see again a purpose to what they're learning. The curiosity kind of morphs itself into purpose and we can tap into that as well. It's nice to allow them the freedom to explore the material at first and then fill in the gaps. You use the curiosity and the purpose as the fuel to kind of get them from point A to point B.

But the relationship-building, I think, is what's most important. Students start to see you as not just a teacher, but a coach and a mentor and a role model. And finding the intersection of all those things is what makes working with this age group really fun.

What sets Flint Hill apart from other schools?
I think there's a variety of benefits to Flint Hill, starting with the relationship piece. Of course, small class sizes allow me to know my students a little more closely and personally so that I can check in about, you know, their football game last weekend or what's going on outside of school or those types of things. But then also we develop stronger relationships in class and they feel more comfortable coming to me when they need help or asking for extensions. Those things become more manageable.

The other thing I like about Flint Hill is our focus on really exploring the math first. We do kind of a soft launch. Then for the students, there’s just the natural curiosity of how something works and then really taking it apart and figuring out how we explain it. Not all programs do that. Some are really focused on mechanics, like “How do you solve this equation?” but never really get into why we even need this equation in the first place. So we tend to come at it from the other angle, which I think for a lot of students really helps them make sense of the math that they're learning.

I've interviewed students with some of these same questions, and almost all of them have talked about the great relationships they have with their teachers.
Good! Yeah. I think the way that we work together as a department is special as well. I've worked at other schools and I can say here that the department really is a team in considering our strengths and, you know, the positions we play, so to speak. But then also coming together and sharing what is best practice, what is working, what's not working. Maybe sharing some history about a student that really helps influence and inform how to get the best from them. So you know, there's a sharing that isn't always present that is present here. And I think partly it's because of the atmosphere we've created especially in this [math] hallway.