When high school math teacher Kathy Commeret reviewed applications for student teachers, Elizabeth Goff Sterbrook’s stood out, and it had more to do with language than math.
Known as Miss Goff to her students, the young teacher has made her way to Comstock Park High School all the way from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. She teaches two junior and senior pre-calculus classes, two ninth grade pre-algebra classes and assists with AP calculus.
While math has universal rules, Goff can teach it to students in their native language.
Comstock Park has a sizable Spanish-speaking population, and Goff said all but one of her classes include students who are second-generation Spanish speakers with mostly Spanish spoken at home.
She said these students are their own generation and have their “very own culture in a way.”
“It’s always nice to have someone you relate to, someone who understands there’s not English spoken at home,” Goff said.
She will graduate with dual degrees from Cornerstone University and Grace Christian University with majors in math secondary education, biblical education and a minor in Spanish.
Commeret was impressed by Goff’s educational background and fluency in Spanish. “Having a minor in Spanish really influenced my decision,” Commeret said. “She came and interviewed a few times and we decided to give it a go.”
There have been some funny and candid moments. Sometimes students will start speaking Spanish to check that she really knows the language. She chuckled that there have been a few cases where a student starts cursing in Spanish. Goff will admonish students that cursing is not acceptable no matter what language.
A Life-Changing Decision at 11
Goff sought out an education in the United States because many in her country have high regard for its education system. Poverty, corruption and violence persist in Honduras and many view education as a way out of being poor.
Poverty is a matter of perception, Goff said. Her family worked hard and had more than a lot of people in a country where one in five live in extreme poverty.
A good student who received English education while living in her hometown of Ahuas, Gracias A Dios, Goff was one of the only girls in her town who knew English. But when her whole family, including mother, father and siblings, planned to move to another community to take care of her grandmother, she had to make a major decision.
Because the move would require Goff to give up her English education, she decided at age 11 to move to Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, and live with her aunt and uncle to continue her education.
She went on to graduate from the Academia Los Pinares, a prestigious private school. Then, with the help of the aunt and uncle, who relocated to Wyoming, Mich., Goff navigated the application process to attend college at Grace and Cornerstone.
“For international students the process is always harder,” said Goff, noting there are more essays, applications and information required.
Goff has quickly gained the rapport of students and built relationships. Rylie Dettwiler, an 11th grader, likes that there’s more than one teacher in her pre-calculus class to help her and fellow students. “She knows math can be hard,” Rylie said. She likes Goff and appreciates that she helps students as well as teaches.
Close in age to her students, Goff, 23, knows she has to earn their respect. “I work hard at dressing up and making sure I don’t look like them.”
Goff said Commeret has made the biggest difference in her student teaching experience. “She has welcomed me completely. She has encouraged me when I make mistakes and helped me move forward.”
Commeret has been impressed with Goff’s ability to connect.
“She was interested in building relationships with kids. She fits well with students,” Commeret said.
By mid-March Goff remained in the area and was missing her students due to the closing of schools.
Goff said her teaching philosophy involves building strong relationships with each student. She said it’s important to have consistency as well as high expectations in the classroom. Approaches vary from class to class.
“For one class the best technique may be to play a review game that is interactive,” Goff said. “In a different class students may need to sit and work through the content on their own without their peers being a distraction.”
As a Christian, Goff said that many see math and science as not compatible with Christianity. She sees it differently. “When I look at math I see a lot of God’s designs showing up — a lot of God’s creation giving us a glimpse of his creation.”
Most math in high school has one answer, and that consistency is “helpful for a child growing up in chaos at home.”
She appreciates the opportunity in Michigan schools, with their resources to help students before, during and after school. She noted there’s no special education in Honduras so students with disabilities typically don’t go to school.
As her student-teaching experience draws to a close, Goff is exploring her future options. Her fiancé lives and works in the Cayman Islands, so she is unsure of where her future will take her. She has been in Michigan for five years and will miss the seasons — especially fall.