Faculty in Focus: Kristin Nugent, Middle School Mathematics Teacher

The Graded Gazette

You come from a family of teachers. Did the educators in your life influence your decision to go into teaching?

Despite coming from a family of educators and spending the majority of my teenage summers teaching swimming, I didn’t initially consider a career in education. I entered university as a biology major. I didn’t know exactly what I planned to do with a biology degree; I just knew I loved science. Because of my field hockey practice schedule in college, though, I ended up missing sign-ups for elective classes and had to sign up for what was essentially the only class still open—anthropology. 

It turned out that most of the students in my biology track knew exactly what they wanted to do, which was to go into medicine. Our professor spent his classes talking at us, trying to stuff information into our brains at lightning speed while we all scrambled to take notes as best we could. I absolutely hated it. Meanwhile, in my anthropology class, we focused much more on reading, discussing cases, and sharing thoughts and ideas. In the end, a course in which I had had no initial interest ended up becoming a favorite, and I decided to take more anthropology classes as a result.

I realized that my professors were directly responsible for my enjoyment of a subject. I saw how a passionate and creative educator could spark a passion in a student, and it was at that point that I decided to change my major to education. 


Your major at Bucknell was elementary education. When and why did you make the switch to middle school? 

My elementary degree actually focused on pre-K through grade 8 education, so we were given experiences in multiple grade levels and content areas. As a new teacher, I was placed in fifth grade, where I worked for ten years. I loved teaching all of the content, but as someone who had always liked and excelled in math and science as a kid, those became my favorite subjects to teach. At the time, the assistant superintendent and the math/science curriculum coordinator were pushing to have more female representation in the middle school science and math departments, and they saw me as a perfect fit, so I was recruited. And as a middle school teacher, I was able to coach sports as well!

Kristin teaching math at Graded


You began your teaching career in New Jersey. Tell us about your first international teaching experience and how you caught the travel bug.

When I was in college, I was talking with a student who was embarking on a semester abroad. To me, as someone who had never left my home country, it sounded very exciting! Unfortunately, the course requirements for my major were strict, and I joked that the only time I might be able to go abroad would be during my student teaching. My classmate said her roommate was student teaching overseas that very semester and put me in touch with her. That exchange encouraged me to apply to do the same.

I was accepted to do a three-month student teaching stint at the International School of Hamburg. The experience was extremely impactful for me, and I probably matured more during those three months than I had in my prior three years of college. After I returned to the US and completed my student teaching experience there, I began my hunt for jobs overseas. 


Over the past 20 years, you have lived in Chile, Vietnam, Bahrain, UAE, and Brazil. What have you learned from your time abroad? 

I’ve learned that people anywhere have many more similarities than they do differences. People all have a natural drive to help, and in each new country I have moved to, I have felt welcomed not only by my colleagues but also by the broader population. 

It quickly struck me how “normal” my daily life in each of these countries has been. People make assumptions and form stereotypes about regions of the world they’ve never visited, so when they hear about some of the places in which I’ve lived, they often respond with cries of “how exotic!” But people anywhere are just like people everywhere, so life in Bahrain is, in some ways, very similar to life in Chile and Vietnam!

Kristin and her family on vacation in Kenya.


You currently help coach the Middle School Girls' Soccer Team. How is coaching different from teaching? 

As a kid, I loved trying new things and participating in school activities. I played on my school’s field hockey and basketball teams, participated in a recreational soccer league on the weekends, and went swimming and diving at our club during the summer. I also loved music; I sang in the school choir and played the trumpet in the school band, jazz band, and orchestra. I even found time each spring to act and sing in the school musical! 

My personal experiences as a student are a big reason I love getting involved in activities outside the classroom, like coaching. Kids need to connect with their teachers, and they are much more willing to connect with me when they can relate to me outside of the classroom. Likewise, when I get to know a student beyond my math class, I tend to form a stronger bond with them. 

Coaching allows teachers and students to interact in a much more relaxed environment. The players and coaches are there for the joy of playing a game they love without the pressures of assignments and assessments. 

Kristin (third from left in the bottom row) with her high school basketball team.


What do you most enjoy about math, and what advice do you have for students struggling with the subject? 

What initially drew me to math were its patterns and predictability. I liked how learning a concept or principle unlocked so many math problems for me. 

Kids who struggle with math often haven’t had enough prior experience with the subject to see the connections across the subject. It takes time for the brain to feel comfortable with new material, so my advice to those students would be not to give up! Just like in sports, music, and any other area of study, you need to practice math to become proficient at it! Be okay with mistakes; they are critical in the learning process. Work collaboratively; it forces you to explain your reasoning clearly and to reflect on alternative approaches. And reach out to your teachers if you need help! We became teachers because we want to support you and see you succeed! 


What makes Graded unique? 

The Graded team did the best job of making us feel welcome and settled when we first arrived in Brazil. Human Resources, the Senior Leadership Team, and other teachers went above and beyond to help us through our first weeks and months here. Moving to a new country involves so many little details! Some are familiar (How do I get a cell phone plan?), and others are unique to each country (What papers do I need to get my identity card?), but not knowing the local language makes every little detail a big challenge. Having a team of people who are there to support you in every way is indispensable. 


How does your international lifestyle suit your family?

I love the Mark Twain quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” 

I’ve always loved traveling and exploring other cultures, but living in a foreign country requires a different mindset and changes you as a person. It forces you to become more adaptable and open-minded, and dealing with daily challenges that arise from language barriers makes you more resilient. 


How has your family adapted to life in São Paulo?

I think the best way to adapt is to continue pursuing the things you love. When you do that, you end up making social connections as well. My husband plays soccer and tennis, something he’s done in every place we’ve lived, and my son and I have found friends who share some of our hobbies as well. If you have good friends surrounding you, it’s much easier to handle the bumps in the road.

Kristin playing the trumpet.