Orlando Science Teacher Wins Yale Educator Award

Abdulkerim Akyalcin, an Orlando Science Schools math teacher, was awarded the prestigious Yale Educator Award for his exceptional work in education. Akyalcin has been teaching math at the school since 2011 and became the Mathematics Department Head in 2013. In this role, he has taught and led professional development seminars for faculty, designed curriculum and conducted summer-school sessions in competition math and SAT preparation. 

Akyalcin is also known for his work as a competition math coach, Mu Alpha Theta sponsor and an AP calculus exam reader. When asked what inspired him to pursue a career in teaching, Akyalcin explained that he was always good at math and loved solving challenging problems that promoted critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  

He also has a competitive nature and fell in love with math competitions while in middle school. He wanted to continue to do what he loves and share his passion with younger generations. He was rewarded for his efforts in 2015 when he was honored with the Raytheon Company’s “Math Heroes” award, which is given to only 25 teachers across the country. 

“I received that award for preparing my students for various math competitions that excite and motivate them to pursue careers that include mathematics. Throughout the years I have trained many talented students for various math competitions. I and my students have shared similar passions towards competition mathematics,” Akyalcin says. “Over the years each of my students became a better problem solver and wanted to major in stem related areas. Competing in math competitions helped them gain confidence and led them to pursue majors at top universities like Yale, MIT and Harvard. Many of my students are now attending or have already graduated from those institutions.” 

His impact has come full circle as Akyalcin shares that he was recommended for the Yale Educator Award by one of his former students who is now studying at Yale University. “I was honored and proud. The best part of my job is seeing my students achieve great things. As a teacher, receiving an award like this reminds you that we are doing a crucial job for society and our commitment to our job is recognized,” he says.  

Akyalcin continues to use several strategies to engage his students in the classroom. He teaches college-level math courses, such as AP Calculus AB and BC, at a very academically focused school with many talented and gifted students. Many of his students are already motivated to do their best, but Akyalcin believes that enthusiasm is contagious. By being excited and engaged with the topic he is teaching, he can inspire his students to join him. 

For aspiring teachers, Akyalcin has this message: “I will share the same advice that I give to my students; do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life. I always tell my students that the cool thing about being a teacher is that you never say you go to work, teachers say they go to school.” 

Despite the many challenges he has faced as a teacher, such as balancing his job responsibilities with parenting, Akyalcin remains dedicated to his students and continues to inspire them to excel in the field of mathematics. 

“It takes a lot of time and work to create curriculum, teach, be engaged with classrooms, produce questions for assessments, spend time grading these assessments and then having to spend hours writing individual student plans and replying to emails,” Akyalcin says. “Teachers are looking to be provided with enough time so that they can focus on teaching and promoting the importance of education and learning.” 

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Written by Alexis George

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