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Math students come alive under former stock trader

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- It was a revelation that struck him as odd, but at the same time made perfect sense.

After growing up in a family of educators, Stephen G. Davis realized he was getting more from educating his clients about the financial market than selling them stocks.

"It wasn't about the sell," said Davis, a fifth-grade math teacher at Lamar Reese Magnet School of the Arts. "I felt good if I left the table with the client knowing about the products I was selling, the overall industry and how it fit into their financial plan."

Davis, 34, decided to pursue his doctorate in organization and management from online university Capella to perhaps, in his words, become a college professor. He soon started teaching courses online at three different universities, the University of Phoenix, Colorado Technical University and City University. He taught classes in management, finance, business, communication, math and financial planning for the online universities.

"While spending countless hours on the Internet and conversing with students from all over the world, I found myself loving, absolutely loving, teaching," said Davis, one of eight finalists for Dougherty County School System's 25th annual Teacher of the Year award.

"In my heart, I had finally found my calling ... transforming minds from the abyss of the unknown to the known. It was truly a feeling of utopia, coupled with the greatest job satisfaction anyone could ever dream of... helping guide and make a difference in the lives of those I was instructing."

After teaching people that weren't directly in front of him, Davis changed his direction and began working in the same school system that his father and two of his brothers work in and mother retired from. Davis started work at Lamar Reese in January 2008 and soon found himself hooked.

Davis engages his students and aims to make math fun for them.

"We do a lot of hand movements, gestures, songs and at the end of the day it's all connected," said Davis, the son of John I. Davis Jr., the principal at South Georgia Regional Achievement Center. "I think the reason people don't learn math is because one day they learn fractions, the next day they learn decimals and maybe two weeks later they learn percent. And the truth of the matter... it's all the same stuff."

Students learn math from Davis in 120-minute blocks. He teaches 28 children at a time. Recently, he was helping his students learn sixth-grade math. Although it was challenging, the students were giggling, blurting out answers when asked and doing gestures to help them understand prime factorization.

"What I like about Mr. Davis is that he makes teaching math a two-way street because he puts arts and the academics together, so that they'll all form visual and auditory," fifth-grade student Arrianne Quimby said. "I like that he takes time out to explain. He doesn't rush through it. He teaches you it over and over, so you don't forget it and that you master it because we're not going to forget when we leave his class."

Classmate Janarius Johnson likes Davis' teaching style.

"He has a good and exciting personality," he said. "He just comes up off the top of his head (different ways to learn math) that everyone can understand. He always jokes around and we have a lot of fun. He comes up with little moves so we can understand math stuff."

The impact of Davis' teaching paid off quickly for Lamar Reese. After taking Principal Valerie Thomas' vision of having Davis teach his fourth-grade class fifth-grade math as well, the school's math scores improved 65 percent on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in 2009. More than 43 percent of those students exceeded the standard.

"We (need to) keep them excited and they love to talk and move," Davis said of making math make sense to children. "In my environment, if they can talk and move, their excitement expands exponentially, which in turn, affects their achievement."

This is the second story of an eight-part series on the eight finalists for the Dougherty County School System's Teacher of the Year award. Tuesday's story will feature Sherwood Acres Elementary School second-grade teacher Tammy Gregors.