Humans of the U: Kelly MacArthur

“It’s funny. I’m always nervous on the very first day, and only for the first five minutes because I don’t know the students. I’m always nervous that somehow one semester the class won’t want to buy into the culture that I want to create. I don’t know why I’m nervous. It’s never happened.

My teaching took a turn about five years ago. I went through a fairly traumatic experience. That helped me realize how important it is to have humane, kind classrooms. If we don’t intentionally build the kind of culture we want in a classroom, then we unintentionally build a culture. I’m really concerned about equity in mathematics, and I don’t know any better way to make it more equitable than to try to make it more humane for everyone.

Mathematics requires practice and a lot of discussion and debate about the ideas. It’s really no different than taking a philosophy class or a humanities class in that regard. This is what mathematicians do, but I think we’ve lost some of that humane humanistic viewpoint in the classroom.

I’m really excited to meet new students. I go out of my way to memorize all the students’ names. By the end of every semester, I think to myself, ‘I wonder if my next group of students is going to be as great as this group of students.’ I’m going to miss these students, and I’m not sure how to detach so that I can leave space to attach to the next set.

I know there’s a lot of emotional labor that’s going to go into the way I’m teaching, and that’s a very intentional choice. I would much rather do that emotional labor and get the results that I’m getting and help students feel successful in mathematics than to not.”

Kelly MacArthur, assistant chair and instructor lecturer, Department of Mathematics
Career Services Faculty Recognition Award recipient
Excellence in Education Award recipient

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at