Featured Interview With Canaa Lee
Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?
I grew up in the small town of Brinkley, Arkansas that had a population of roughly 5,000 people. (There are approximately 2,800 currently living there) I have been a teacher since I was 12 years old. I started playing the piano at the age of 6. My skills advanced rather quickly so my parents allowed me to give piano lessons to earn some money in addition to the allowance I was receiving. As a junior in high school, I was a first grade tutor in reading and mathematics. In college I tutored students in math, biology, English and study skills. I have been a high school teacher for ten years now. I have taught middle school, high school, college and on the university level.
My forte in high school was mathematics. Mathematics came easy to me, and I helped my friends with their homework. My first passion was music, but I soon realized that by majoring in mathematics would make me be more marketable with a degree in mathematics verses a degree in music. While completing my undergraduate work at Arkansas State University, I had a job as a Student Support Services tutor. I was able to make my own schedule and set my own hours. I loved teaching college students! That is when I knew I wanted to be a college instructor. However, instead of continuing with my education, I decided to get a job as a high school teacher so I could acquire some work experience.
My first teaching job was in Fort Worth, Texas, at South Hills High School. I went to back to school for a master’s degree to be to teach in college. I started graduate school at the University of Texas at Arlington in the summer of 2002. I resumed my course of study in a masters of arts program in mathematics education in January 2004. I completed my graduate work at the University of Central Arkansas in August 2005. Now that I had my Master’s Degree, I could teach in a college. I continued to teach high school full time and be an adjunct faculty member at the college. In 2006, I took a position as an instructional specialist at Carter-Riverside High School in Fort Worth, TX. In 2008, I took a position as a lead content teacher at Leonard Middle School in Fort Worth, TX.
I taught at Little Rock Central High School from 2003 to 2006. While I was a teacher at Little Rock Central High School, I enrolled in an on-line multicultural education class. The class changed my views about at risk students in public schools. I was fortunate to grow up in a home with two educated parents who understood and valued a good education; my parents were role models for me; I was academically competitive so I could get scholarships to go to college. After taking the class, I was more conscious of and sympathetic to the struggles and circumstances among minority students; inequity between girls and boys, inequity among minority students and white students. I have a broader understanding of the students that I teach and design innovative strategies and/or methods to make them more successful in high school. In turn, they are able to compete in the world; become well-adapted adults in our society; possess the communication skills to be productive on the job.
In 2004, our campus improvement plan, Central High School wanted to promote literacy across all content and subject areas. Every content area teacher needed to utilize reading strategies. The question that most math teachers ask themselves is “How do I teach reading in my math class? Why do I have to teach reading in math class?”
It was challenging enough teaching the concepts, and now we were expected to teach reading too. Often times I found myself reading and explaining everything in the book. This was very time-consuming, as well as exhausting. Unfortunately, this did not help students comprehend the material. In addition, my efforts in encouraging students to do homework fell on deaf ears. Usually, from the time students left class until they got ready to do their homework, they forgot almost everything we talked about in class. What is a teacher to do?
The most effective way for me to incorporate reading in algebra was to select the topics that have a common theme and infuse them into story. The vocabulary in the textbook was advanced for my students; as a result, they find the concepts difficult, and are easily frustrated. For example, there is a unit called “Family of Equations and Inequalities.” Now, my students would learn the main algebra topics and learn the math skills at the same time!
As an expert algebra teacher, I understand that algebra is based on the concept of a line.
However, there are many skills students must master in order to master the concept. Through the use of culturally relevant stories and utilizing the graphing calculator daily, my students were finally able to make the connection between skills and the concepts. The stories helped students follow along throughout the whole unit. There were questions asked along the way so the student is able to “demonstrate your understanding”. The assessments were directly related to the unit so students have the opportunity to incorporate the graphing calculator in almost every unit.
Writing units and creating real world performance assessments required a lot of hours outside of the normal work day. However, when I put my creative hat on, there was no stopping me.
It was imperative for me to show my students that algebra is more than just a “bunch of letters and numbers with no meaning.” For example, relating parabolas to a hill or a valley is an idea every student can relate; illustrating the relationship between linear equations and inequalities helps students understand that everything in algebra is related and is not really that hard at all!
In the summer of 2008, I moved to Garland to teach at Garland High School. I have been blessed with the opportunity to be Program Administrator for Project Educating and Diversifying to Grow Exponentially (EDGE). Helping students become more competent and confident in mathematics has been a passion of mine for several years now. My vision for educating children in mathematics is that “every child is capable to mastering mathematics. In order for mastery to be achieved, students must be provided with meaningful learning experiences; an opportunity to conceptualize and internalize the mathematics, and to experience a progression through mathematics that is related to their prior knowledge” ~ Canaa Lee
In 2010, I orchestrated the establishment of Project E.D.G.E. (Educating and Diversifying to Grow Exponentially). In order to provide the African American students with the best possible learning experience, I partnered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – Garland Branch partnered with Garland Independent School District (GISD), the City of Garland, Lakeview Centennial and South Garland High School to launch this program: The purpose of this program is to address the needs of African American students, to help them succeed academically and to provide African American students with an opportunity for a promising, prosperous future quality of life in venues other than sports and entertainment.
My first book, “Algebra for the Urban Student” was inspired by students that I taught. So many times students do so well in class, but when they leave my classroom they have forgotten everything or are confused as to how to do their homework. My students would say to me, “I wish I could stick you in pocket and take you home with me.” Because I heard this so frequently from them, I started writing stories for my students. The activities are guided practice exercises so they would a “navigation system” for them throughout the assignment. It is closest thing to having me right there with them as they were doing their homework. My stories became a hit with the students and parents alike. I have written enough stories to compile them all into a book.
My book, “Algebra for the Urban Student”, takes into the consideration the challenges minority students in the math classroom and use cultural relevance to help them wrap their minds around abstract concepts so they are able to experience in their math class. It started off as a collection of units for my students, so I could ensure that were exposed to and mastered all the topics for the assessments. Parents commented on homework assignments because they could now help their children with their homework because it was easy to understand and follow without even stepping foot in my class! My students liked coming to class because they wanted to know the next story I had written. For the first time, many students understood their homework and could complete their assignments. Also, students were improving their reading and comprehension skills in both English and algebra! I had written enough units and assessments to write a book. Textbooks are designed for math teachers and professors: “Algebra for the Urban Student” is intended for the common student.
Shortly after my crisis of belief in August 2013, I gave up my career and sold my house to move back to home town of Brinkley, Arkansas. In August 2014, the second book I wrote is called, “Algebra Easy as Pi.” Everything, from the writing, editing, printing and assembly had been done by my own hands. No one was able tell the story and take the time to give the attention and message like I am able to do. I was very excited about this book. It contained more than 600 pages of activities that were custom-written and tailored to the needs of students. Each activity was all-inclusive, with a tour guide that told a story, explained vocabulary and concepts, asked questions to help you make sense of it, and also multiple choice questions to help with test preparation. And if you still had trouble, I have included a page by page answer key to each and every activity! There are seven chapters, including assessments and project guide. Each book is print on demand, printed right at my home.
Yes, it was a lot of work but it is well worth it because each of these activities has been tried and tested by students and worked because I took the time to ask: What did you learn today? What did you like about the activity? Did the activity help you understand the concept? If not, what can be done to make it better?
The purpose of the activity to take some of the pressure off the teacher from having to think of every question they need to ask students to lead them to the correct answer. In addition, the questions help students think and learn how to think logically. These skills help students become better test takers. There are practice test questions included in the lesson. In addition, there is a key included with this activity. If you enjoy these kinds of lessons and activities for your students, you will love the book, “Algebra Easy as Pi” because it contains over 600 pages of activities just like this one!
In the fall of 2015, I sat down to share with a friend a mine my life story. Many times we do not take the time to get to know our friends and want to fit them into our own thoughts, feelings and way of life. Trying to fit into a box is very uncomfortable for me and takes away from whom God has created me to be. A box with the standards of the world made my life miserable and lonely; this is not how we are to live! By no means am I perfect, but I do take my faith seriously and am not willing to compromise it for anyone. I can say that I have not always been convicted in my faith as a Christian, but behind every believer is a supernatural story of grace, love and redemption.
I have shared a snapshot of my story on Facebook, and I have also shared my testimony in church. For those listening, it said to be “compelling, inspirational, moving and motivational.” The Lord put it on my heart to dig into my past and to share my failures, heartache, mistakes, feelings, and experiences that helped shape the person I was BEFORE Christ and what led to my supernatural encounter with Jesus that transformed my mind and my heart into the godly woman I am today.
I do not to try to deny whom Christ has molded me into. When I decided to surrender my life to Him, at was at the mercy of the Almighty God. He gave me grace when I deserved judgment. From that day forward, I know because I am forgiven much, that I do love much. It is my love for Christ that drives and compels me every day to want to be live like, talk like, love, like, give like, be bold like Christ every day.
So I got it all together and published it on Amazon: “What Does a Christian Look Like? Epistles of a Repentant Heart” is a heartfelt collection of poetry and letters that expresses the brokenness of my sinful heart to the renewed heart and mind through the “amazing grace” of Jesus Christ. One of the greatest miracles is when one sinner repents; this is a living testament to the validity of the Bible! We oftentimes think we are the only ones that feel, think, hurt, and believe the way we do. I am here to tell you, we are not as different as we may think. It is ONLY by the power of Jesus Christ that we were once lost but now found, and now given the light of life; never to walk in darkness again, but to have the Jesus to be the lamp unto our feet and to be light unto our paths.
I spend most of my time writing and making Facebook videos. I do not have any children nor any pets.
At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?
As a child, I excelled in all subjects. Needless to say, I was a straight A student. Although I did not read a lot of leisure books, I always had my nose in a school book. My earliest influences were my high school English/World History teacher, Miss Mitchell. Most students avoided her class because of the level of rigor she required. I, however, embraced the challenge because I was confident that Miss Mitchell would without a doubt prepare for college and beyond. I applied for several summer enrichment programs and often got denied. It was not that I was not qualified, but my essay writing was inadequate. She taught me how to write for an audience. I thought I was a good writer until Miss Mitchell critiqued my applications. At the time, it seemed harsh, but her criticisms helped to become a more focused writer. She taught me how to write for all audiences. From that point forward, each application I submitted henceforth was acceptable. As a result, this experience positively impacted my written communication forever.
After teaching high school mathematics for five years, I developed the art of story-telling in order to make algebra fun and easy. Not only was algebra fun, but it was also entertaining. I created all authentic learning tasks and assessments. Telling stories in algebra had a dual purpose: students were able to improve their reading and comprehension skills. Furthermore, students understood the algebra concepts that were introduced. Parents were excited because they understood what was being taught in my class and were able to help their child with their homework.
My goal is to make algebra as meaningful and relevant to students as possible. I also created two projects that have students apply algebra concepts using a newspaper. You will be amazed as to how much algebra is in a newspaper! The second is using geometry in the real world. Math really is everywhere. If I do not expose students to the real life in the world, then they will have no idea it exists. After 7 years of creating, writing and utilizing algebra concepts in my teaching pedagogy, I decided to write the book, “Algebra for the Urban Student.” Math does not have to be that hard. Telling a story and relating algebra to experiences we are already familiar with, people can understand and grasp any math concept: plain and simple.
In contrast of my professional life as a teacher, writing was very therapeutic for me. When no one wanted to listen to me or was able to understand my struggles of dating, and my lack of communication with my Daddy, I began to journal my thoughts and feelings. From about the age of 25 to 28, poetic words flowed out of my heart like a fountain. Oddly enough, the season of poetry ceased after 3 years. My world came crashing down on October 5, 2011. My mom called to tell me my Dad died! What do you mean Daddy died? I was in denial and soon thereafter the emotions came. This was the first time in my career I put everything on hold and had to STOP! In 2012, I met the woman who soon became my best friend and introduced me to the Christian lifestyle. My life slowly started to pick up. I decided to make some changes in my life. I was a published author and a public speaker; I had a new best friend. I even started to go to church. A new circle of friends was a breath of fresh air. Instead of just going to work and going home, I was actually enjoying my life and the people that I was around.
In 2013, I decided I wanted to do something special for my 34th birthday and went on a singles cruise. It sounded like a great, relaxing and enjoying vacation. I met the nicest guy ever. The events that happened after this changed my life forever!
In that very same year, I became a Bible-believing Christian. Now I turn my affections to what the Lord puts on my heart. All of the letters that I wrote that are my book are messages God put on my heart. Each person that I encountered was either family members or men that I dated or attempted to pursue a relationship with me. I must admit that writing these letters were hardest messages to deliver. I feared the backlash. To my surprise, I did not receive any negative feedback! This was confirmation these messages were inspired by God! So I write about real life situations that impact people every day. I use the gift God has given me to help people understand and deal with issues that plague our lives: relationships, faith, sex, prayer, death, and the list goes on. It is a blessing to be able to use the gift of writing and words to help people see their need for Jesus in a way that customized just for them.
Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who Inspires you in your writings?
Unless it was a school book, I was never much of a reader. Shortly after becoming a Christian, I wanted to know what a Christian lifestyle was supposed to look like. I began watching Christian movies and documentaries. They helped mold my thinking as to what it really means to walk with the Lord. In 2014, I graduated to reading Christian-based postings and blogs. I took a special interest in faith-based issues that people are faced with every day: relationships, marriage, death of a loved one, depression, praying, forgiving, just to name a few. I have been very selective in the speakers and pastors that I watch on television. My most influential writers are Ray Comfort, Greg Laurie, Robert Morris, and Max Lucado. Not only are they writers, but they are also pastors and preachers. I was drawn to their style and heart-felt messages and writings – which included storytelling- that drew me into the story from the context of the Bible. It became so real and applicable to my life, that I have been able to share my faith more effectively, both non-offensive and truthful. Furthermore, it has been a model for my writing that speaks to the conscience and the heart.
Tell us a little about your latest book?
My broken relationship with my Dad was the barrier that hindered my relationship with God. From the time I was 3 until 25, my relationship with my Dad with a constant battle. I never felt loved or appreciated. I always felt like the butt of every joke and nothing that I did was ever good enough. As a child, I was overly sensitive, but as a young adult I became arrogant, sarcastic, conceited, a “hot head” to over compensate, and to mask the brokenness I felt in my heart.
When my Dad died, the Lord exposed the secrets, the hurts, the lies, the things that had kept our family in bondage. Daddy was a victim of a broken heart, and in my life I experienced the same kind of brokenness. It is said my Dad made peace with God, and two days later he died. Our lives have never been the same. I witnessed the supernatural change of heart of my Dad is a constant reminder of the ultimate loving sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross for me and for all mankind. In God’s perfect timing, the Lord restored him, forgave him, and took him to Heaven, so Daddy could have the love he desperately needed and wanted.
My freedom of Christ compels me to share my pain, my heartache, and to share my Daddy’s brokenness. The Lord put it on my heart to dig into my past and to share my failures, heartache, mistakes, feelings, and experiences that helped shape the person I was BEFORE Christ and what led to my supernatural encounter with Jesus that transformed my mind and my heart into the godly woman I am today. What Does a Christian Look Like? Epistles of a Repentant Heart is a heartfelt collection of poetry and letters that expresses the brokenness of my sinful heart to the renewed heart and mind through the “amazing grace” of Jesus Christ. One of the greatest miracles is when one sinner repents; this is a living testament to the validity of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
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