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Charles Cunningham

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The difference one teacher can make

By Katherine Brown ('13, '14M)

Professors who work at JMU’s Science and Math Learning Center are in a unique position to touch the lives of the students they teach in their classes, and also the students that they tutor and work alongside in the center. I am incredibly grateful to have been the student, tutee, and colleague of Mr. Charles Cunningham (aka “Mr. C”).

'Mr. C didn’t give me answers, he gave me confidence.'

Mr. C and the students

During the fall of 2009, I was a freshman taking Calculus I, adjusting to life as a college student. Math courses at JMU were certainly much harder than any I had experienced before and I was managing well until the infamous Delta-Epsilon Proofs hit me, as Mr. C would say, “like a slap in the face with a wet fish.” I felt overwhelmed and wanted guidance and reassurance. Fortunately, I found my way to the SMLC. Mr. C didn’t give me answers, he gave me confidence. He drew pictures and asked questions that led me to the solution, seemingly on my own. He understood math on such a high level, but was able to communicate ideas in a way that I could understand. He did all of this, while making me laugh and letting me know that it was ok to feel confused and seek help.

Photo of Charles Cunningham in the Science and Math Learning Center
Charles Cunningham (standing, left) supervises a tutoring workshop.

When I saw that Mr. C was teaching Calculus III during the fall of 2010, I signed up right away. I already knew that Mr. C was kind, funny and great at explaining difficult math concepts; but this was when I really saw how much he loved being a teacher. I remember when he attended a professional development workshop during the semester and returned to our class excited to implement what he had learned. Mr. C used many cooperative learning strategies and the collaboration with our classmates enriched our understanding of Calculus. When he would lecture, Mr. C injected humor (and occasionally song) to keep students engaged. He had created a classroom community where students felt comfortable and learned from each other, setting an example for myself and other young teachers.

Mr. C and the tutors

The following semester, I began working as a math tutor at the Science and Math Learning Center alongside Mr. C. During the three years that I worked with him, I saw him influence so many students, and I also got to know him as a person. Students would often come in feeling embarrassed or discouraged, and Mr. C treated them like old friends. He asked each person’s name and sought to build a relationship with them, just as he had with me. In addition to offering help in the center, Mr. C also created instructional YouTube videos so that students could have easy access to support on some of the most difficult math topics.

Photo of Charles Cunningham in the Science and Math Learning Center
Mr. C (seated, far left) was known for listening, offering advice, and sharing a good joke.

Mr. C provided great mentorship for student tutors, listening to our concerns and offering us advice. I often went in before my shift began, and Mr. C would share a joke or some sage wisdom or his thoughts on the previous night’s football game. On Mondays and Thursdays we would complete the crossword puzzles in The Breeze, and I was always in awe of him. It was amazing that someone could know so much.

'Charles Cunningham serves as an inspiration and reminder of the difference that one teacher can make.'

As I began to prepare for graduate school and life as a math teacher, Mr. C was a source of constant support and encouragement. He told me about his own journey through graduate school and other jobs he had before seeing the advertisement for Math Coordinator in the newspaper. He remarked on how the right thing seemed to have found him. I for one am glad that it did. Charles Cunningham serves as an inspiration and reminder of the difference that one teacher can make.

About the author
Katherine Brown graduated as class valedictorian in 2013 with an undergraduate degree in mathematics. She completed the Master of Arts in Teaching program at JMU in May 2014 and currently teaches high school math in Prince William County Virginia.

Read more about Chuck Cunningham's inspirational career in "The Breeze."

Learn more about the Science and Math Learning Center.

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Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 26, 2021

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