Sarah Manchester '90: Not Your Stereotypical Mathematician

by Viveca Sinha for Silver Quest

“There’s a stereotype about mathematicians, sort of with their head down, and not really knowing how to communicate well,” Sarah Manchester says. “A lot of my professors in college fulfilled that stereotype, and I wanted to see if I could prove it wrong.”

Manchester also continued studying French extensively for the duration of her undergraduate years at Hopkins. After earning her degree, she moved to France for a year for a more immersive experience with the French language. She registered to be an au pair and was placed with a family who lived in the Paris suburbs. While in France, she spent a significant portion of her time taking classes in French literature and history and exploring Paris.

When she returned to the United States, she pursued a Master’s degree in mathematics education at the University of Maryland, where she particularly enjoyed her coursework and student teaching experiences. Then, in 1996, she took a math teaching scholarship and started her job at Takoma Park.

After 25 years, Manchester still really enjoys being a teacher. “There are certain moments that are so satisfying. For example, when a student has struggled with a concept, then I ask them a question or give them the right hint, and all of a sudden, I can see their ‘light bulb’ go on,” she says. “I'm always happy when a student learns a certain strategy, or proof, or makes a mathematical connection and says something like ‘Wow’ or ‘Hey, that's cool!’ I also love when students come up with a way to solve a problem that didn't occur to me. I learn from them!”

Manchester also described her lifelong connection with Blair. She still bumps into several of her high school classmates around the local community and also remains in touch with a number of them. She encourages everyone to stay connected with the community after graduation through reunions and the alumni association. “The mindset and experiences as a Blair Magnet student stick with you,” Manchester says.

Manchester’s favorite game is the game show Wheel of Fortune. She loved watching the show since she was a kid and got the chance to audition in 2014. “I figured, ‘Why not?’ and brought a big stack of math quizzes to grade at the audition.” Everyone at the audition loved her, and she was brought on as a competitor later that year. She ended up being one of the only three people to ever win $1 million on the show!

After graduating from Blair in 1990, Manchester went on to study math at Johns Hopkins University. “The math department at Johns Hopkins was an odd group of people, many of whom weren’t always the best at communicating,” she describes. This environment taught Manchester how to self-study math from a textbook because she needed to teach herself much of the material. Manchester’s experience inspired her to become an educator and to do better than her own teachers.

Manchester (Class of ‘90) has been an eighth grade Geometry teacher at Takoma Park Middle School since 1996. For her, being an educator is an opportunity to challenge that infamous reputation of mathematicians.

Manchester always knew she wanted to do something involving math. “It would be hard to think of doing a job that didn’t involve it in some way,” she explains. She believes her adventures on Blair’s math team were foundational to her building that goal. In fact, she loved Blair’s math team so much that she went on to coach the Takoma Park Middle School math team in her second year working there. Now, she has guided this club for 24 years.