The person a student becomes when they finish their education can be mostly attributed to the people that surrounded them, influencing their actions. Teachers are the prime example of this, and math teacher Cathy Gunvalson is no exception. This is Gunvalson’s 40th year of instruction, with 39 years at Stillwater Area High School. Throughout this time, she has brought math into student’s lives in an interactive and engaging way.
Gunvalson began her teaching career in 1975 at Apollo High School, but moved to SAHS the following year. When she came to the high school, she was the only female teacher in the math department since 1953, the same year she was born.
Gunvalson said, “I’ve always been really proud to teach here at Stillwater, we care a great deal about kids. The math department has always been a tight little family where everybody looks out for each other and helps.”
The learning environment is an important concept for teachers to understand if they truly want their kids to succeed. This is something Gunvalson takes to heart, as when she invites students into her classroom, she is also inviting them into her home.
Gunvalson said, “As a teacher, I can provide a warm and caring place to let kids know that there’s someone who cares about them, that I’ll do whatever I can to help them be successful.”
The approach Gunvalson takes on math is unique and shows just how knowledgeable she is on the subject. Her use of analogies during class time keeps students engaged in lectures and makes the learning process easier and more interesting.
Gunvalson said, “There’s a lot of things that I’m not normal about anymore, I look at things and think, ‘those angles are equal to each other,’ I’ll see somebody else and what they’re wearing and think, ‘Oh, I can use them in a lecture!’ But I suppose that all comes with always thinking about a math problem.”
After 39 years in the math department, Gunvalson has shaped the way Calculus is taught at SAHS. This past year, math teacher Rob Benson joined her crusade to teach college-level mathematics.
Benson said, “I’ve really got to know her this last year. This last year I started teaching calculus, which is her baby, and she has made calculus doable. I don’t know what I would have done without her.”
Working alongside Gunvalson to craft their Calculus curriculum, Benson got to know Gunvalson on a very personal level. Most of their time is spent talking about an upcoming quiz or test, but they have become close friends as well.
“To watch her on a daily basis, putting in the effort everyday. Sick, on her deathbed, it seems like she’s going to be here and she’s going to do whatever she can to make sure her students get the best education they can get,” said Benson.
From the perspective of a student, Gunvalson as a teacher may come across as friendly, but passionate about her subject. AP Calculus is a considered a college course, and despite the rigor and demands of the course, Gunvalson does her best to make sure students do the best they can in anticipation for the upcoming AP test in May.
Gabby Arland (’15) said, “It’s very welcoming, she always has her mints or her lotions for us, so she’s very inviting and there’s a lot going on because she’s teaching advanced math, but considering that it’s pretty relaxed, you never feel like you’re under any pressure.”
With multiple classes of over 30 students, Gunvalson caters to the needs of each individual student by making time for each one of them, offering help sessions and “Calc parties” before and after school most days.
Arland said, “I think that she’s really good at answering questions, not a lot of teachers can be as approachable, but you always feel like you can ask her a question, and she takes a lot of time to go through it to make sure that you understand.”
Despite having a full classroom, during work times or when correcting homework, Gunvalson takes the time to answer any and all questions, as they help the class as a whole. Gunvalson can have as many as ten students wanting something from her at the same time, but she will patiently address each question separately to the best of her ability.
Arland said, “I really appreciate that when she’s talking to you, she’s very focused and attentive to you and not distracted, I would say she has taught me to focus on who you’re talking to, it’s a people skill that I’ve learned from her.”
The math department at SAHS is proud to have Gunvalson, as she has taught the wonders of math to hundreds of kids over the years. Her patience and dedication to the success of students make her an ideal teacher. Students and teachers could learn a thing or two from her, and not just about math.
Arland said, “She’s a really good teacher. I’ve enjoyed having for the past two years, I think I have a really good understanding of math because of her.”
“She has a kind heart and she is just a good person, it’s going to be sad when she’s gone from teaching here,” said Benson.