Zechman sums up excellence: Perrysburg teacher finalist for highest math, science honor


PERRYSBURG – Perrysburg High School’s Tara Zechman is a finalist for the nation’s highest honor for math and science teachers.

Zechman, a math teacher at the high school, is one of four finalists from Ohio whose application has been sent to the National Science Foundation for national review.

If she wins the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching award for grades 7-12, she will receive a paid trip for two to Washington, D.C., to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities; and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

Zechman said she was told it could take up to 18 months to learn if she won.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are the nation’s highest honors for mathematics and science teachers. The program recognizes teachers for their contributions to instruction and learning, as well as their ability to help students make progress in mathematics and science.

Zechman said she learned in March that she was a finalist after being nominated in November.

What followed was an application process that included videotaping a 30-minute lesson with her students, answering questions that totaled 27,000 characters, providing five pieces of evidence that went along with the narrative she wrote, and three letters of recommendation.

Zechman received feedback from the state and was given two weeks to write an additional three pages of information and additional documentation.

She chose to videotape her AP calculus class talking about graphical analysis and how a function, a derivative of a function and the second derivative of the function all relate together.

“In my classroom, the students are involved all the time. Their discovery of information, they’re working in groups collaboratively, they’re always talking and asking questions and doing the work,” Zechman said.

“Part of the lesson that I did is part of a 20 questions activity. One person in the group was given a graph and then the other people in the group had 20 questions to figure out what the graph looked like.”

Zechman also teaches honors trigonometry/pre-calculus. Next year she will start a calculus II class at the high school.

The ways she structures her class is to assign homework to include reading and taking notes on a topic they’ve never seen before.

“I want them to have a base understanding of what it is.”

The next day in class, Zechman will answer questions while the students do the problems.

“I’m not up at the board teaching every problem. They’ll do a problem, they’ll encounter something that’s not right or they’ll encounter a question, and they will talk about it as a whole class,” she said. “That’s where my teaching comes in. … It’s very interactive.”

Zechman said she is always giving her students scenarios they haven’t seen before so they can’t quite get there without asking her questions.

“That’s where the learning is coming from. They’re asking the questions; they’re figuring out the answers together.”

Zechman said her dad was a lawyer as well as math major so math was always something they did in their house.

“I thought I wanted to be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer or an astronaut,” she said of her goals at age 10.

The lawyer option soon went out the door when she realized she wasn’t that good at arguing. The astronaut was next after she concluded she didn’t want to go to space.

“I always loved my math classes, and I was always good at explaining it to other people,” she said in making the decision to become a teacher rather than a doctor.

Zechman is a Perrysburg native who attended St. Ursula High School and graduated in 2000. She then went to the University of Notre Dame and graduated four years later with a degree in math.

She taught for a year in a Chicago suburb before moving home with her husband, Nathan, who is also from the area.

She has taught at Perrysburg since 2005.

The couple have four sons: Aidan, Keegan, Logan and Nolan.

Not only are they in alphabetical order, they also are a nod to Zechman’s Irish heritage.

Her children are all very, very good at math, she said. When they were babies, everything was math, including how many buses do you see and what shape is that.

“That’s just how I raised them … it was always about math.”

Zechman also is the head student council adviser at the high school, as well as head chair for the high school math department, part of the district’s math committee and is a member of the district and building leadership teams.

She also serves as manager for her sons’ soccer team.

“I do a lot, I guess,” she said with a laugh.

Her ultimate goal is to join the Bowling Green State University faculty and teach future teachers, but she plans to stay at Perrysburg until her youngest son graduates.

Zechman was also nominated for the Ohio Teacher of the Year. That application isn’t due until June, but first she has to apply for and win the regional teacher of the year.

She has had four or five students in the last couple of years who have gone on to be math teachers.

“They have told me that they want to become me when they grow up,” she said. “That is a very nice thing for them to say.”

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