Making it add up: Lori White’s calculated effort makes math fun

By Chelsea Retherford | Living 50 Plus

Students taking Algebra 2, precalculus or finite math may struggle to find ways to apply those equations to life’s everyday problems. Lori White, who teaches all three courses at Rogers High School in Green Hill, strives to help her students grasp the bigger picture.

“When they can see a purpose for it, math becomes more meaningful to kids,” White said. “Where are you going to use this? That’s the question.”

White has gotten creative to find hands-on projects for her students at Rogers, where she’s taught for nearly 35 years.

She said the training she’s received through the Alabama Math Science Technology Initiative (AMSTI) — as well as tips and tricks she’s found on Google and other online resources — have helped inspire many of those projects.

Over the years, her students have designed roller coasters, or modeled the positions on a Ferris wheel through parametric equations.

“I always like to do some parametric motion projects with the kids where they have to model things flying through the air,” she said. “If you hit a baseball, is it going to clear the fence and be a homerun? That sort of thing.”

She said the interesting projects also keep things fresh for her when it comes to lesson planning.

“I like to find new things to do so that life does not become stale. I think if every teacher would kind of reinvent themselves every couple of years —change things up — then there wouldn’t be as much burnout in the teaching field,” she said.

“I still do some of those same projects. I think if you can have a little fun along the way — that’s one of the things I love to do. I want everyone to love math. They usually don’t, unfortunately,” she added with a laugh.

White admits that it’s not always easy to find ways to apply those math problems to real-world scenarios.

“For some things I teach, I just have to be frank and say, yeah, you may never use it, but math teaches you to think logically,” White said. “When in life are you going to need to logically think through a problem? If nothing else, you know, math helps with that.”

As she readies for retirement in a couple of years, White said she hopes to keep her mind sharp by continuing to work math problems in her free time.

“I think it’s so important, and that’s one reason I love to read,” she said. “When I tell my students that I just love to sit on the couch at night and work math problems, they look at me like I’ve grown a horn at the top of my head.

“That’s how I learn. I feel accomplished when I solve problems. I know, I’m nerdy, but I like math and I love to help people solve problems.”

White didn’t always see herself at the head of the classroom. When she enrolled at the University of North Alabama, she initially pursued a degree in computer programming.

After deciding she didn’t want to spend her days sitting alone at a computer, a little bit of personal reflection told her she’d be better suited for teaching.

She graduated from UNA in December 1988 and stepped into the shoes of her own former high school math teacher, Judy Freeze, who had left Rogers to become an administrator for Muscle Shoals city schools.

“I got lucky and walked right into my home (at Rogers High School),” White said. “I have no regrets. I love my job. I love what I do every day, and I love the kids. I really do. I will put these kids up here against anybody. We are really lucky.”

White said she’s also lucky to have her family close to her at school. Her husband, James White, teaches history at Rogers as well, and their son, Cael, graduated from the K-through-12 school in 2021.

“Now that James isn’t coaching anymore, we ride to school together,” she said. “I’ll see him at lunch, and I’ll see him at three o’clock. It’s kind of neat because his vacations are my vacations. We’re off at the same time.”

“It’s been nice that we were all here together,” she added. “When my child was here, I got to watch him grow up and do all the things that kids do at school without having to take off work because I was here with him.”

White said she likely would have retired sooner if not for the Teacher Excellence and Accountability for Mathematics and Science (TEAMS) Act, which was passed by the state Legislature in 2021. The act granted highly qualified middle and high school math and science teachers up to an additional $20,000 to teach in hard-to-staff areas of Alabama.

White said she signed a five-year contract the year the act was passed with intentions of boosting her retirement a few years down the road. Now, she said she’s ready to retire as soon as her agreement is up.

“TEAMS probably kept me around a few more years,” she said, adding that she doesn’t intend to seek part-time work in the near future.

“I think when I retire, I will be retired. I do hope to become very involved with my church and things that I don’t get to do now. They fix meals and take to people and other little things I can’t do because I’m at work. I’m hoping to get to do that and spend time with my family.”

With over three decades of teaching experience, White said she’s learned as much from her students as she’s taught them. She said she also feels like she’s grown into a better teacher, gaining more patience, humility and wisdom over the span of her career.

“I’m not always right. I think when you learn to laugh at yourself a little bit, you have a lot more fun, especially with these kids,” she said. “When I first started teaching, I never would have admitted to a kid, ‘I don’t know.’ But now, sometimes, I just look at them and go, huh. Let me go look that up, or let me find an answer.”

More than anything, White said she’s grateful to have played a part in shaping students into successful adults over the years.

She’s seen many of her students return to the high school to teach other subjects, or in the elementary school. She said it’s a neat feeling to watch the torch get passed on, just as Mrs. Freeze had done with her about 36 years ago.

“It does a heart good to know that you maybe inspired them a little bit,” White said. “I have students from all walks come back and say, ‘I loved your math class.’ It makes me happy and, you know, I get to say, I told you so!”