Her computer-science students had a 100% passing rate on the Advanced Placement exam last spring, compared with 64% nationwide. Ten of the 39 African-American teenagers who passed it last year in New Jersey were in her class…
In her view, there is a misconception that teachers need extensive experience in computer science to teach it. Ms. Cuttler began her career as a math teacher seven years ago and has a masters in applied math from University of California San Diego. While there she took one undergraduate class in computer science. She prepared to teach the subject through a weeklong AP Summer Institute in 2013 and worked through several Java software books on her own.
Her success earned her a $25,000 national teaching prize in December from the Milken Family Foundation. She plans to spend it on furthering her computer-science education and a college fund for her 10-month-old son...
Ms. Cutler’s smiling but no-nonsense style was on display during a recent lesson. She used a timer to change tasks every two or five minutes to keep a sense of urgency. As her students worked in pairs to write Java code on paper, she moved from team to team asking, “How would you fix that?” and “How do you know?” and “Why?”
Expectations are high. Her classroom wall has a faux parking sign warning “No Slacking Any Time.” Below it hangs a chart that tracks each student’s absences to underscore the connection between their grades and showing up. All of her AP students have mandatory tutorials in small groups outside of class. Some see her for one-on-one help too.
Nigel Harvey, 17, says Ms. Cuttler has a way of making him feel like he should keep pushing himself. “I remember this time I got 100 on a test,” he says. “There was an extra credit problem, and she said ‘Nigel, you could do better.’ ”So could Mark Weber.
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