First-time teacher redefines what it means to be ‘good’ at math

Person in a classroom sitting in front of a computer

There's an Ag for That

This article is part of an ongoing series about the impact UC Davis alumni are making in our world.

By Ashley Han

Quinn Cabral ’18 remembers struggling with math as a young student, but that did not deter her from studying statistics at UC Davis. She is now a first-year math teacher at Del Mar High School in San Jose, navigating her new career during a pandemic and helping students gain a solid understanding on the subject. 

“My goal as a teacher is to redefine what it means to be ‘good’ at math,” said Cabral, a Cal Aggie Alumni Association member. “Society makes us think that you need to think quickly and do well on tests to be considered good at math but that just causes a lot of unnecessary anxiety.”

Cabral felt that anxiety as a student; however, UC Davis allowed her to explore her educational interests and she discovered a newfound fascination with data science and analytics. Cabral said she felt comfortable enough to co-teach an AP statistics class during college because she secured concrete competence on the subject. She also found joy in tutoring students in Woodland as a side job.

Now, to prevent anxiety around math in her own students, Cabral is setting the norms and expectations in her virtual classroom straightaway. Her priority is to build a trusting relationship with her students and embolden them to ask questions freely.

“I want my students to know that my classroom is a safe place where you can make mistakes; there’s no such thing as a dumb question,” Cabral said. “Despite the challenges with distance learning, so far my students and colleagues have made it great.”

The Del Mar High School curriculum is all online this fall but Cabral says her administration and math team have been extremely supportive and collaborative. Her advisors even encouraged her to apply for the Knowles Teaching Fellowship, a five-year program that supports early-career high school math and science teachers, which she was awarded this year to support her career. 

“The Knowles Teaching Fellowship will support me and other teachers financially and with professional development,” Cabral said. “It’s been great to continue the theory-based discussions I learned earlier in my education.” 

Leading the youth

Person standing next to painted brick wall

Cabral initially transferred to UC Davis because it was closer to home and it’s where her father, Brian Cabral M.S. ’88, earned his master’s degree in engineering. She left the university with the skills and expertise to guide young minds. 

“Honestly, I didn't have the best math experience through middle and high school and so I want to teach the younger generation to find the fun in learning and prepare them for life,” Cabral said. “I’ve seen how the study and social skills I've learned in school become handier as you move on in life.”

When Cabral thinks about her time at UC Davis, she remembers the rigor and projects that took her countless hours and the fun times she had with friends in the swim club, who she still keeps in touch with today. 

“My goal as a teacher is to redefine what it means to be ‘good’ at math. Society makes us think that you need to think quickly and do well on tests to be considered good at math but that just causes a lot of unnecessary anxiety.”

- Quinn Cabral

“As much as I may have hated the course work at the moment, I appreciate that I’m able to use all that knowledge from UC Davis to here at Del Mar High,” Cabral said. “When I started teaching, I thought I would never use my statistics degree but I’m using it a lot more than I thought­—it’s really exciting.”

Cabral applies real-world examples in her math lessons like using minimum wage as the context for linear equations. She tells students that basic statistics can be applied to careers in data science and data analytics. 

“My hope for students is to not only learn math but take away the soft skills that will benefit them say if they go off to college or join the workforce right away,” Cabral said. “I learned these problem-solving and reasoning skills later in life so it’s a privilege to give these kids a head start.”

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