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AP Calculus, Computer Science Teacher Pushes His Students to Success

Special teachers deserve special recognition. That’s what NMSI’s Teacher of the Month provides. And even though school is out for the summer, we know teachers are getting in their professional development and already are thinking about the next school year.

When we spoke to Renaissance High School Vice Principal Roy Harris, it was clear that Mr. Zachary Sweet is doing something right.
"I went so far as to thank his mother for sending him to us,” Harris said. “If she has another one, I said, ‘Send him to us!’ I told him I was going to put him on a copy machine."
Mr. Sweet shared a few of his secrets to classroom success with us. We hope you’re as energized as we were after you hear his story.

Zachary Sweet
AP Calculus, Computer Science Principles
Renaissance High School
Detroit, MI.
What He Said 

How did you become a teacher?
I started college as a pre-med student but loved the math classes more than I loved the science classes. The math classes were addicting, and I just kept wanting to learn more and more and know what came next. Around the same time, I started coaching a swim team. Seeing the kids learn how to grow to believe in themselves inspired me to want to teach. So I put the two passions together and became a math teacher.

What's your teaching philosophy?
Love and embrace mistakes. I love mistakes and risk taking. It means you're learning. Effort and willingness to make mistakes can make anybody successful in math.

What gets you up in the morning?
I’m really motivated to be a better person today than I was yesterday. My students make me love coming to work every day. They push me. They make me want to be my best self and motivate me to get up in the morning.

What keeps you up at night?
The lack of access. Not every kid has an equal chance of mastering high school content at the highest level.

In 2017, only 30 black students in the whole state of Michigan took a Computer Science exam. This year at Renaissance alone, we had 32 black students take an AP Computer Science exam and one Latino student. That's great and wonderful, but there are no systems in place that guarantee that students have that opportunity.

What steps have you taken to expand access and achievement across gender, racial and ethnic student populations?
One step was applying for a grant from Code.org to attend training and implement AP Computer Science class. I hand-recruited students and got 35 to sign up. We’re now one of the only schools in Detroit offering AP Computer Science Principles.

What's your definition of success?
Continuous improvement. It's not necessarily reaching a goal or a milestone. Success never stops. It means never being satisfied unless you're continuously improving.

What do you want your students to gain from their time in your classroom?
I want them to learn Calculus and Computer Science, be able to graduate high school and be able to compete with the best of the best. Not the best in Detroit, not the best in Michigan, but with kids across the country. No exceptions.

How would you encourage other teachers?
Constantly reach out for help. Never be afraid to admit when you're wrong or make a mistake. The only reason I had success in my classroom is because of other people's help.

What They Said

Roy Harris, Renaissance High School Vice Principal
“I’ve been in education for 20 years and I have a man crush on Zachary. He has a way of making the difficult and complex simple and understandable.”
Kendyl Claxton, student
“Mr. Sweet is one of the few teachers that pushed me to exceed when I wanted to stop trying. He urged me to do my best because he knew what I was capable of. We haven’t always seen eye to eye but I greatly appreciate him. The AP test was a breeze because of Mr. Sweet.”
Leo Cromartie, student
“Mr. Sweet is a teacher that every student wishes to have. I have never met a person that cares so much about getting a student to reach their full potential. Every time I walk into class I feel that I will be pushed and I will succeed. He explains everything in detail and ensures that everyone knows what is going on. I hope I get a teacher like Mr. Sweet in college.”

Leo Cromartie (L) and Mr. Sweet (R)

Mr. Sweet and a handful of his AP Calculus students geared up for the
AP Exam this spring in matching T-shirts.

Know a great teacher in one of our programs who deserves recognition? Email marketing@nms.org to tell us why you think they’d be a great NMSI Teacher of the Month.