UW–Madison alum named 2023 Teacher of Distinction

UW–Madison alumna Zhuxin Fang Karoliussen was named a 2023 Teacher of Distinction and is a finalist for a Golden Apple Award. The Greater Green Bay Chamber’s Golden Apple Awards program annually recognizes high-quality educators in the Green Bay area.

Karoliussen is a math teacher at Leonardo da Vinci School for Gifted Learners in Green Bay, and graduated from UW–Madison in 2019 with a master’s degree through the School of Education’s MS Educational Psychology: Professional Educators (MSPE) program. She had previously earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UW–Green Bay.

Karoliussen took some time to share her thoughts with the School of Education’s communications team.

Zhuxin Fang Karoliussen

What does it mean to you to be recognized in this way as a finalist for a Golden Apple Award? Being named a Teacher of Distinction is a great honor. I am humbled to join many exemplary educators who were also named this honor. Over the years, I have learned so much from my teacher education, mentors, colleagues, and students.

I do my best to meet the needs of learners in my classroom. I spend time getting to know all of my students, especially what types of learners they are. My goal is to have all my students’ learning needs met and that they feel supported in my classroom.

Even though I teach math, the subject did not come easy to me growing up as a student. Therefore, I always make sure that my students understand the “why” behind my lessons. I strive to explain mathematical concepts in a way that is easy to understand for learners in my classroom.

When did you first know you wanted to become an educator? My grandmother and my aunt are both educators. I grew up being inspired by them but I was not sure if I wanted to pursue the same career. When I started college at UWGB, I explored different career interests. During my freshman year, I tutored a fellow student in math. He shared with me that I helped him understand math a lot better and I should consider becoming a teacher. It was not until then did I realize I could be a good teacher. After that, I started looking into how to become a teacher and the rest is history.

How did you end up in the online MSPE program at UW–Madison? What drew you to the program? Attending UWMadison has always been my calling. The education programs at UWMadison are world renowned. I firmly believed that I would receive a high quality of instruction and become a more effective educator by attending UWMadison. While researching master’s programs, MSPE drew me to it because it is specifically designed for practicing educators and it provides flexibility for me to take courses while working full-time.

How did the MSPE program prepare you and help you become the educator you are today? When I applied for the MSPE program, the goal I wished to achieve for graduate study and mastery in teaching was researching, selecting, and applying resources to differentiate my lessons to engage all learners, especially differentiation for gifted students. During my study in the MSPE program, I was able to further research/investigate related topics and apply what I learned in my teaching practice. The skills I learned carried even further after I graduated from the program and are now part of my daily practice.

If someone out there is considering enrolling in the MSPE program, would you tell them it’s worth it? Why or why not? I would highly recommend my fellow educators enroll in the MSPE program. Being in the program means you will work with world-class professors from various fields of education and highly motivated classmates who are also in the teaching field. You will also have the opportunity to demonstrate your growth and become an expert in the areas of your interest. Therefore, I believe that this program will make everyone a higher quality and more valuable educator and a leader.

Is there such a thing as a typical day for you at Leonardo da Vinci School for Gifted Learners? If so, what is it like? The instruction at my school is driven to meet the needs of academically gifted learners. Students at my school are clustered based on their math levels, not grade levels. It is very common for students to take a math class that is either on their grade level or beyond. I am responsible for providing high-level math instruction to most upper elementary and middle level students at my school. The students in my classroom receive math instruction that is beyond their grade levels. I adapt my lessons to keep up with the pace and rigor of the math curriculum. On a typical day, I teach math classes ranging from middle school to high school levels with no repeating sections. It is a challenging task but I enjoy it. 

What do you enjoy most about your work at Leonardo da Vinci School? Working at a school for academically gifted students provides me with unique opportunities to teach multi-age students in the same classroom. I enjoy planning lessons and seeing my students of different grade levels work together to learn math. I also enjoy teaching fast-paced and completely different math classes throughout my day. This makes my day fun and never boring.

Is there anything I haven’t asked about that’s important to you and that you want people to know about you and/or your role as an educator? I grew up in a city near Shanghai, China. After graduating high school, I came to Wisconsin to study abroad at UWGB. During my 13 years of studying and teaching in the U.S., I developed a deep appreciation for and understanding of both Chinese and American cultures as well as a number of other cultures I have encountered. Working with diverse learners in the classroom makes me realize it matters more than ever that all of our students get a fair chance to thrive. It matters when diverse students can find representation through their teachers. I hope that my representation will help students see that there are many possibilities for them in the future.

A fun fact about me is I taught both math and Chinese language at my school for eight years prior to this school year. I served two years as the president of the Wisconsin Association of Chinese Language Teachers (WACLT) and a board member of the Wisconsin Association for Language Teachers (WAFLT). I may not teach Chinese again anytime soon, but the subject will always have a special place in my heart. 

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