By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
Editor’s note: This is the next in an occasional series of interviews with local educators — answers to essay questions, if you will, describing their personal experience as teachers in an unprecedented era.
Heather Trebbien’s relationship with St. Thomas Aquinas High School began over three decades ago. Having graduated in 1993 from the school in Fort Lauderdale, she took on the position of assistant girls volleyball coach there five years later as she worked on her master’s degree in mathematics education.
In the 24 years since, her relationship with the school has blossomed into a career as a math teacher and department chair who says, “I love what I do and am blessed to do it alongside the best educators in Broward County.”
And she’s still the assistant coach of the volleyball squad.
Having taught a wide variety of courses at all levels in the math department since 2006, Trebbien currently teaches Dual Enrollment and AP Calculus classes. From her first year teaching AP Calculus to her second, her students’ passing scores increased by 12.3 percent and their average score increased by 5.8 percent.
Trebbien still lives in Plantation, where she was born and raised. And her two children attend school at, where else? — St. Thomas Aquinas. The school was recently named a 2022 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, honoring it as one of the top schools in the country.
As a teacher, what has been your greatest challenge over the course of this school year?
I feel that my greatest strength and weakness is my dedication to my students and their learning. I spend a lot of time preparing for my classes and grading papers to ensure that each student gets thorough and quick feedback. My greatest challenge this year has been finding a balance between teaching, coaching and being a mom and wife. I am kind of a perfectionist and always strive for everything to be the best it can be, at all times!
What has given you your biggest sense of accomplishment?
My biggest sense of accomplishment comes from watching my own two children be as successful as they are, especially as St. Thomas students. It is extremely exciting to watch my children reap the benefits of that legacy and make their own mark. St. Thomas holds a very special place in my heart, and I spend each day trying to make sure that the tradition continues.
What makes you tick?
My sense of purpose comes from being able to help others. In the classroom, on the volleyball court, and in my daily personal life I am truly blessed to be in a position that I am able to give of myself and be a positive influence in my students’ lives. My hope, every day, is that they know that I care about them as individuals, more than just as students.
Who or what is your personal inspiration?
My personal inspiration comes from my fellow teachers. I am lucky enough to have a group of colleagues that are as dedicated to their profession and their students as I am. St. Thomas is a place that never sleeps, and it takes a lot of dedicated people to keep the wheels moving for the benefit of each and every student. I have surrounded myself with these amazing teachers and staff members, since they remind me and motivate me each day to keep pushing forward and encourage me to want to be better! I love what I do and am blessed to do it alongside the best educators in Broward County.
If you were in charge, what would you change about education in America?
Although I appreciate the technological advances we have today, I am a true believer in the use of physical textbooks as well as requiring students to write to express their understanding of content. Computers have made it too easy for students to ‘work things out in their heads,’ and I think this has led to a lack of retention.
What is the word that you feel best describes today’s student, and why?
I think the word that best describes today’s student is ‘pressured.’ There is pressure to be in advanced classes, pressure to get into the most prestigious colleges and pressure to always be on display. The world of social media has made it difficult for people to exist without comparing themselves to all of their friends. I think it is these comparisons that have contributed to the increase in anxiety and mental health concerns for young adults.
What kind of student were you?
I have always been a hard worker. I would always make sure that all of my assignments were complete before I would allow myself to do anything else. I didn’t like to have things hanging over my head. I am still this way. I have a hard time relaxing unless my head is clear!
PHOTO: Heather Trebbien has taught math at St. Thomas Aquinas for 16 years. Courtesy St. Thomas Aquinas High School