12:29 PM

Bellows Tackles Math, Middle Schoolers in Secondary Ed Program

Math is hard. Even for soon-to-be math teachers. We’re not just talking about any old math, but something called combinatorics. Of course, that’s the branch of mathematics dealing with combinations of objects belonging to a finite set in accordance with certain constraints, such as graph theory.

Erica Bellows, a senior Math major at Bellevue University who is pursuing her Secondary Education endorsement as well, has an addition to that definition.

“It’s the worst,” she said with a wry smile. However, Bellows is working her way through those complicated equations with a strong circle of support. Her Bellevue University Student Coach Brittni Donahue set Bellows up with some tutoring last fall and that’s when it really started to click.

“I thought I was going to have to drop it and push everything back,” Bellows said. “She ended up setting me up with an online tutor. They’re basically investing in me graduating. When she sent me that email I cried. That meant so much to me in that moment.”

Bellows has found additional support throughout her Bellevue University experience and has special praise for Professor Michaela Schaben and Dr. Erin McDonnell-Jones.

“The professors are really flexible. I think that’s something that Bellevue really prides itself on,” Bellows said. “You can really tell that Professor Schaben enjoys what she does. Dr. McDonnell has been impactful from the get-go. She’s a great teacher and a great listener.”

Bellows hopes to offer that same level of support to some younger charges when she begins student teaching in September. It’s one more step in her journey in pursuit of a career as a middle school teacher. While Bellows had originally anticipated teaching at the high school level, her experience during the practicum portion of the Secondary Ed program convinced her that middle school was the place for her. That practicum experience let her know she was on the right path despite some early bumps.

“It can be overwhelming when you’re in that school setting. In Secondary Ed, it’s new kids every 40 minutes,” she said. “I got to experience that early on in the program. You get used to the classes. You get used to the students. It’s so wonderful to see the connections you can make so quickly with students.”

When Bellows graduates, she’ll enter a Nebraska job market for teachers that ranks about in the middle of the pack when compared to the rest of the country. The average teacher salary in Nebraska is $54,213 according to the National Education Association, ranking 25th in the country. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that across the country, overall employment of teachers is expected to grow 7 percent through 2026.

In the meantime, like many Bellevue University students, Bellows has to juggle additional responsibilities beyond school. She handles the billing and payroll for a local cleaning company, G2 Cleaning.

“It’s pretty flexible hours. It allows me to come to school in the morning, but as soon as I’m done with school I go right to work. I get off and do homework,” she said. She credits her understanding boss and mother, Cheri Smith, with helping make it all work. Husband, Chris Bellows, who owns a math degree himself, also chips in.

“He has been so supportive,” Bellows said. “He’s helped me with a classroom idea, because he can be that creative brain as well. He’ll stay up until midnight with me helping me with assignments.”

Bellows and her team of supporters will have some new challenges when she starts formal student teaching in September. She should wrap that up in January of 2020 and will begin looking for a full-time teaching job from there.

“There isn’t a lot of hiring going on in the winter, but schools start looking for people for the fall around February and March,” Bellows said. “I plan on doing some substituting and some volunteering until then and just beef up my resume in general.”

Fortunately, Bellows has done the math on all of it, crunched the numbers, and looks forward to combining her experience and her education to create a life where everything adds up.