Saturday, January 12, 2013
Students, faculty remember much-beloved Blacksburg High teacher
Teresa Helms influenced numerous students at Blacksburg High during her career.
Her former students say she had a way of making them care at a time in their lives when they weren't expected to be passionate about anything.
She held all of them --- even the ones who admit they weren't good students - to high standards. And many of them say she is the reason that they have pursued graduate studies or careers in mathematics.
Teresa Helms, who went by Terry, spent 38 years teaching math at Blacksburg High School. She died Friday morning, according to her son Hunter Maddy. She was 61.
Helms had taught her classes on Thursday, school officials said.
Her death surprised those who knew her, and the news spread quickly through social media channels after students were informed Friday. Brenda Drake, spokeswoman for Montgomery County Public Schools, said additional counselors were on-site and will continue to be present on the high school's campus next week.
"The Blacksburg High community is really coming together and supporting each other during this difficult time," Drake said. "We want to make sure students and staff members have the support resources that they need."
A Montgomery County native, Helms graduated from Blacksburg High before receiving a degree in math and a master's in curriculum and instruction from Virginia Tech, according to Maddy. She was married for 18 years before divorcing and switching back to her maiden name, he said.
Maddy, 28, who was Helms' only child, said his mother never considered a career outside of teaching.
"I think she knew from the day she was born that she wanted to teach," Maddy said. "She did it for others, not for herself."
She started at Blacksburg High in 1974.
Blacksburg High Principal Brian Kitts said Friday that Helms, who had been teaching precalculus, calculus and Advanced Placement calculus, brought "spirit and light" to the school every day.
And through the years, students say she was demanding, unique and, most of all, effective.
"Ms. Helms taught us ways to remember difficult concepts but also ways to approach problems; getting excited and loud if the class was underwhelmed by something," former student Laurel MacMillan said. "She was not afraid to put real pressure on us to care about something other than our immediate dramas."
MacMillan said she took two years of Advanced Placement calculus from Helms and graduated from Blacksburg High in 2008. She headed to the University of Virginia and said she recently graduated with a degree in math.
"I didn't become a math major because I was a particularly gifted math student," MacMillan said. "I became a math major because of Ms. Helms and the way she taught me to look at problems."
Though Helms won several awards throughout her career, her former students agree that her legacy will be the impact she had on hundreds of high schoolers.
Twin brothers Tim and Matthew Becker also graduated from Blacksburg High in 2008. Both say Helms influenced their current paths of study.
Tim Becker is in his first year of a doctoral program at Rice University, studying applied mathematics. His brother, Matthew, is a first-year graduate student at the University of Maryland, also studying applied mathematics.
"Ms. Helms would do anything to make sure her students learned, including making up all sorts of funny sayings and rules to help remember tricky derivatives and integrals," Matthew Becker said. "I always had enjoyed math but she was the one that made me realize just how amazing it can be, and after only a few weeks in her class junior year I knew I wanted to be a math major."
Becker says he now teaches students of his own, basing his teaching style "entirely" on Helms.
Andrew Snyder-Beattie, a second-year graduate student studying biomathematics at North Carolina State University, forwarded an email that he sent to Helms in 2009 when he was a junior in college.
"My classmates are struggling to learn double integration and partial derivatives, while I'm simply recalling your 8th period class," he wrote to her. "All of your students love you, even if some don't realize it until they're out of high school. Every person you teach will go out into the world better equipped."
In The Bruin, the high school's student newspaper, a short article posted online Friday mentioned Helms' memorable teaching style.
"We will never forget 'MIIIIIINUS' ringing down the sixth grade hallway when she taught the quotient rule," the article stated. "Sabrina, the integral sign, will always be the most curvaceous in our eyes. And we swear we will never forget a +C again."
Several former students said they were saddened that so many will now pass through Blacksburg High without the opportunity to be taught by such a skilled educator.
"She was not only the best teacher at any level that I ever had, but the most loved and most respected as well," Becker said. "I, and we all, miss her already."
The visitation for Terry Helms will be today from 4 to 7 p.m. at McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg.
Funeral services will be Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Alleghany Church of Christ in Christiansburg.
Staff writer Mike Shaw contributed to this story.