Deb Handfield was determined to become a math teacher after one of her high school instructors suggested that she couldn't.
"'Some girls struggle in math, so good luck to you all,'" Handfield recalled the male teacher telling the girls in the class. "That's when I knew I was going to be a teacher, but math was definitely the subject I was going to focus on."
Handfield, a teacher at Dr. Kevin M. Hurley Middle School in Seekonk, Massachusetts, is in her 15th year teaching sixth-grade math. She stresses to her students that the subject is for everyone.
"The negative experiences I had absolutely shaped the teacher that I am today and the path that I took," Handfield said, reflecting on Teacher Appreciation Week. "Knowing what they did and how they did it reminds me every day what not to do to my students. All students can be successful; it doesn't matter who you are."
The NHL and the NHL Players' Association is celebrating off-ice heroes like Handfield during Teacher Appreciation Week, May 6-10.
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Handfield said she uses a variety of styles and tools to teach, including the NHL and NHLPA Future Goals program and Hockey Scholars, a free digital course developed by EverFi that leverages hockey to teach science, technology and math (STEM) concepts to K-12 students.
"It's just a fun way to engage the kids," she said. "This year I did it a little bit differently and I let the kids go on and explore it on their own. Then, as they had questions, I would do a quick little mini-lesson and then let them go right back at it."
Powered by a $20 million investment by the NHL and NHL Players' Association, Future Goals has reached more than 2.2 million students across North America in classrooms like Handfield's.
"Future Goals teacher Deb Handfield is such a great role model," said Rob Knesaurek, NHL group vice president of youth development and industry growth. "She shows young girls that not only can they excel in math, but they can also teach it."
Rob Zepp, the NHLPA's manager of special projects, agreed.
"We feel privileged to recognize the importance of teachers in developing our youth," he said, "and we're proud that our partnership with the NHL on the Future Goals program provides teachers with a valuable tool to continue to make a difference in the lives of students."
Handfield took the lessons out of the classroom and applied them on the ice March 28, when she and her students participated in the first Boston Bruins STEM Day at Warrior Ice Arena, the Bruins' practice facility.
"That was amazing," Handfield said. "A lot of my students that did some of the [lessons] on the computer and were confused, once they did it in a hands-on way they were like, 'Oh my gosh, this is great, it makes so much sense now.' That experience alone was worth every bit of frustration, I think, for them doing the modules online."
Jon Chapman, EverFi's founder and president of global partnerships, said the company is "excited to partner with the Boston Bruins and teachers like Mrs. Handfield on the Future Goals program to give students the opportunity to lace up their skates and become active participants in their education."