Faculty News

Mathematics educator Carol Malloy to retire this summer

“Math is so boring that I wish we never had math because it is too hard. Whoever came up with math, I’m going to choke them so that they can’t breath [sic]. I don’t like anything that deals with math.”

Those words, handwritten by a middle-school student, sit framed on the desk of Carol Malloy (Ph.D. ’95). As she has pursued her distinguished career in mathematics education, those words have reminded her that this is how many students feel.

“All students have the ability to learn if given the opportunity,” says Malloy. “That student did not have the opportunity.”

Malloy has dedicated her career to improving opportunities to learn mathematics for all students─especially those who have been traditionally underserved─and to addressing the difficulties that many students have in learning mathematics.

She began as a high school mathematics teacher in Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin, then served as director of the School of Education’s Pre-College Program for middle and high school students. After completing her doctoral studies at the School of Education in 1994, she joined the faculty and has taught curriculum and foundations courses for graduate students, secondary mathematics methods courses in the Master of Arts in Teaching program, and mathematics for middle and elementary pre-service students.   

Her extensive scholarly record and professional activities have focused on equity in education and reform. She served on the writing team for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000), a resource that is used across the country to improve mathematics curricula, teaching and assessment. 

She has been active in state and national professional organizations that work for equitable opportunity and quality in mathematics education, including serving as president of the Benjamin Banneker Association from 1996-98. Last spring, she was invited to deliver the inaugural Iris Carl Equity Lecture for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.   

In reflecting across her many professional accomplishments, Malloy says, “I am a teacher. That’s what I’ve done almost all my life. I teach.”

Education has changed dramatically from the time she entered the field, Malloy observes. “Now we’re trying to teach so that the kids really understand mathematics. We’re not just teaching at them. We’re teaching with them, and their learning and understanding improve.”

Furthermore, she notes, “The issues related to opportunity have come to the surface and are being discussed, though we haven’t quite figured out how to make universal changes in opportunity and access. The mathematics education community is broader and more diverse now, which I think is extremely important.”  

One of her biggest challenges, Malloy recalls, was learning to “truly became a teacher.” During her sixth year of high school teaching, she found that, unlike her previous classes, the students were not connecting with her. “I had a lot of difficulty that year,” recalls Malloy. “After reflecting on my practice and interactions with these students, I realized that I had become a teacher who went in to school during the day and went home at night. I didn’t have a sense of the importance of connecting with my students’ communities.”  

The next year, she made a conscious decision to be a part of her students’ lives outside of the classroom. “I started going to see parents in their homes, writing notes to them and calling when their children did well and also when I needed help with different issues with students,” she says. “I engaged in extra-curricular activities with the students, played on the teachers’ basketball team and attended many after-school activities. It changed the whole way I taught. That was the year I became a real teacher. My students and I became a part of the same learning community.”

Malloy’s extraordinary effectiveness in connecting with her students has been recognized through multiple awards over the course of her career. This spring, she received UNC-Chapel Hill’s Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement, a University-wide award that is presented to one person annually to acknowledge extraordinary lifetime contributions to teaching, learning and mentoring beyond the classroom. In 1997, she received a Favorite Faculty Award from the senior class for her “leadership, dedication and innovation in the School of Education.” Her undergraduate alma mater, West Chester University in West Chester, Pa., honored her with a Distinguished Alumna Award in 2004.

Among the many rewards of a career that has been both “satisfying and happy,” the greatest rewards of all, Malloy says, have come from her students. “The biggest reward has been from people like Horace, the kid who was a menace to my life the first time he came into my tenth-grade algebra classroom,” she recalls. “He wanted my attention, I presume, and would do things in class that would destroy what I was trying to do. I decided that every day I would say something special to him.”

Eventually, Horace was convinced that she genuinely cared about him and believed he could be successful. “His behavior improved, and he began completing his homework,” she recalls. “He became a successful student and went on to graduate from high school and be accepted into college. Although Horace is now 47 years old, our close relationship continues to this day and I’m sure it will last my lifetime. That is rewarding.”

Teaching undergraduate students at the School of Education also has been very fulfilling. “The undergraduates are an inspiration to teach,” she says. “Sometimes they’re cynical at first as you begin showing them how they’re supposed to teach math. Then, when they try it themselves and find it works in their own classrooms, they are so excited!”   

Working with graduate students has been especially gratifying to Malloy. “The graduate students are very intense and work so hard toward their goals,” she says. “When I went to the American Educational Research Association conference last year, I did not have a paper to present. I went to see my then current and former doctoral students make presentations. It was like a transfer of energy from me to them.”  

In retirement, Malloy plans to remain involved with children who need support in mathematics learning, through volunteer work with a Boys and Girls Club or in a library. “It’s the kids who make it all worthwhile,” she says. “There’s nothing more important.”  

Glancing across a multitude of photos of current and former students that fill her office, Malloy reflects, “This is my life. I’m so fortunate to have had these relationships. I look at these kids and think to myself, ‘Oh, my goodness. They are a legacy that would make anyone extremely proud. They’re wonderful!’”   

What her colleagues say

“Through a lifetime of teaching, research and service, Carol has had a major impact on mathematics education for underserved students. My favorite research project of all time will be MIDDLE [the Mathematics IDentity Development and Learning project] because of the opportunity I had to observe Carol's former students as mathematics teachers and researchers. She was clearly an inspiration to them and left a legacy for the future.”

Judith Meece, Chair of Human Development and Psychological Studies and Professor of Educational Psychology

“Carol Malloy has been an inspiration to me since I have known her. She is the ultimate teacher─ always invested in her students' learning and lives, ever the mentor, both skilled and artful in conducting classes, and always─always─setting high standards for herself and her students. Her reputation as a mathematics scholar spreads across the United States, and her research findings have caught the eyes of other researchers and practitioners alike.

“Carol's advocacy for mathematics education, especially for diverse populations, is unsurpassed. She is well known as an avid national service provider for mathematics organizations, and she has unselfishly devoted ample time to local, university, and School of Education leadership for many causes.

“In addition to her professional accomplishments, Carol is a genuinely caring, sensitive, and thoughtful person. I'm so proud to have had the opportunity to stand beside Carol as a colleague and to know her as a friend.”

Jill Fitzgerald, Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Literacy

What her former students say

“When I first traveled from California to UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall of 2000, I was unsure what to expect. As a middle school teacher of mathematics with hopes of becoming a mathematics teacher educator, I was entering unfamiliar territory. What drew me to Carolina was an interest in social justice and mathematics education, a combination that few besides Dr. Malloy had addressed meaningfully in their scholarship. What kept me at Carolina for five years were Dr. Malloy’s mentoring and collegiality. She is someone who not only walks her talk but helps others to find their stride.

“The thought of Carol Malloy retiring at the end of this academic term brings a sense of increased responsibility to those of us whom she has mentored over the years. Who will represent the voice of those students left behind by present policies and practices in mathematics education? Who will further scholarship about equity and access in mathematics classrooms? And who will mentor the next generation of teachers and scholars in the profession?  I am pleased to say that, due to the preparation we received at Carolina guided by the vision of a generous mentor, I and my colleagues at institutions across the country have already started to do so.”

Mark Ellis (Ph.D. ’05), Assistant Professor, California State University, Fullerton

“As an undergraduate, I never imagined receiving my Ph.D., but one day I met Dr. Carol Malloy, who helped carry me through my educational journey. My years as a graduate student were filled with hurdles, trials, and tribulations. Many times I doubted my abilities or was so overwhelmed with life that I wanted to call it quits but Dr. Malloy helped me remain strong and courageous. She has a way of pushing and stretching you without your knowing until you look back and see how much you have grown.

“I am the first Ph.D. in my entire family. Often, my young nieces and nephews ask what they can do to be like their auntie. Dr. Malloy has truly left her fingerprint on my life. The seeds she has sown in me will spring forth for generations to come.”

Crystal Hill (Ph.D. ’08), Assistant Professor, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis