SPONSORED: For more than 20 years, BP has been recognizing Alaska's exceptional teachers — like Lexie Razor — through the BP Teachers of Excellence program. Since 1995, the company has honored more than 750 educators for their dedication to teaching and inspiring students. Nominations for this year's awards are open until Feb. 1; the program is also accepting submissions for the new Educational Allies Award, which celebrates the unsung heroes in Alaska's schools, including principals, teaching assistants and other staff members.
If there's one thing Lexie Razor enjoys as much as solving a puzzle, it's helping someone else crack a challenge of their own.
"I like seeing light bulbs come on," she said. "It makes everything worth it."
Razor spends her days helping "light bulbs" come on for the students in her math classes at Juneau-Douglas High School, and like most teachers, her workday doesn't end when the last bell of the day rings. Besides grading and preparing for the next day, there are coaching commitments, special events and games to attend.
"I'm probably overextended," Razor admitted. But she enjoys being active in the school and the community — with good reason. This JDHS teacher is also an alumnus. In fact, long before she was recognized as one of BP's Teachers of Excellence, she was president of the 1994 JDHS graduating class.
Razor didn't ever think she'd want to teach at her old high school. But after working at a high school with colleagues who were school alumni, she saw how much fun it could be to go home again in a different role — and since she came back to JDHS five years ago, she's relished experiencing her alma mater in a new way.
"It's been a great experience working where I went to school," Razor said. "I have great memories of homecoming and activities and sports and everything that was about the school. I want my students to have those great experiences that I also had."
Razor wasn't one of those kids who grew up knowing that she wanted to be a teacher. It wasn't until her junior year of college that she put the pieces together: She liked kids — specifically teenagers, an age group she'd already been working with as a coach. And she liked math.
"Math was always easy for me," Razor said. "I like figuring out puzzles. Once I started teaching it, I just fell in love with it." She thought — still thinks, actually — she'd like to be a principal someday, but said she's not ready to leave the classroom just yet.
"I enjoy what I do," Razor said. "I laugh a lot every day."
Razor describes her classroom as "controlled chaos," at least half-jokingly.
"It is definitely lively and interactive," she said. "It's engaging. I strive to make it a safe learning environment, where kids feel safe and comfortable with each other and me. I think kids appreciate it."
She also tries to use learning tools that will engage her students and help prepare them for the real world.
"I've always used technology, as far back as 20 years ago when I started teaching," Razor said. Back then it was graphing calculators and desktop computer programs; today it might be mobile apps or games like Minecraft, which she has used for several years as a teaching tool to engage students on subjects like geometry and biology.
Tech tools aren't just a way to make learning fun, Razor explained; they also help students develop skills they'll need after graduation. It's especially critical for her students who come from homes where they don't have access to computers and other technology. Even if those students don't end up going on to higher education, she said, they need to have a healthy level of digital literacy. Connecting students with future careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is a common thread shared between Razor and BP, which has donated nearly $70 million to STEM programs over the past five years. As part of Razor's BP Teachers of Excellence award, she received a $500 grant to help support programs and technology at her school.
"The more kids see that technology and use that technology, the better they are with it," Razor said. "If they get a job where they have to learn a new computer program, they're willing to work at it."
Razor also maintains a website with resources that students can access anytime, whether they missed a class because they were home sick or they just want some extra practice on a new concept. (She shares math accomplishments, resources and JDHS school spirit shout-outs on Twitter, too.)
"I've made videos of all my notes so that kids can go back and watch them if they have questions. It has links to practice problems, it has the notes, any documents they have," she said. Even if students have practiced a concept in class, looking at it on the website can be helpful: "Sometimes they're able to see something differently."
Part of working with digital tools, Razor added, is helping students learn when they're a benefit and when they're a distraction.
"I try and use them whenever they're needed or whenever it'll enhance a lesson," she said. "What's hard is sometimes finding a balance — sometimes good old pencil and paper is better."
Razor knows she isn't just teaching algebra and statistics — and she's open with her students about it. When students complain that they're unlikely to need to know calculus or advanced geometry in their day-to-day lives, she said, she gives it to them straight:
"No, you probably will not use all this math in your life. But you're going to use these problem-solving skills."
That honesty is part of what helps her connect with students and make them feel enthusiastic about being at school.
"To me, the math is important, but it's also about building relationships with kids," she said. "Once kids get to know me, they know I will answer any question they have, and I will be patient with them. They just have to be willing to ask."
Razor said she also does "little things" to try to make math fun for her students.
"I bring humor into the classroom, and I make math achievable," she said. "I do a lot of activities. Half the time, I think kids just start to have more fun because they know that I will help them. It makes it more fun when they're able to achieve things."
And then, of course, there's the fun Razor helps students have outside the classroom.
When spirit days roll around, Razor dresses up along with her students. She's the faculty adviser for Crimson Club, a booster group that supports school spirit and traditions. And she's the head coach for the softball team that she played on as a JDHS student athlete.
Between work, activities and family life, Razor has a full plate. But, she says, when you love a place, you should take an active role in making it even better.
"This is the community that I grew up in," Razor said. "This is the community that I'm raising my two sons in. I want this community to grow and improve. I think I need to step up and do things."
This story is sponsored by BP, celebrating the teachers who bring a world of possibilities into the classroom.
This article was produced by the creative services department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with BP. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.