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Teacher who coaches hopes to learn from Indian educators

“I was never very good at math,” Nathan Arvey says with a trace of irony. Now a math teacher Owen High School in Buncombe County, he says he took important lessons from overcoming such barriers. “I had to work hard on it in high school, and when I got to college it was even more of a struggle. But I was good enough that if I worked at math, I could get by.”

Arvey is doing more than getting by. Not only has he taught math to diverse levels of math classes since 2011, he has also simultaneously served as an assistant football coach at Owen and at T.C. Roberson High School where he initially taught.

A western North Carolina native, Arvey was born in Blowing Rock and raised in Franklin, where he attended Franklin High School and played for the football team. On occasion, he and fellow players would visit elementary school students to do outreach and encourage physical fitness, and Avery discovered that he liked the dynamic around education.

“It sparked the idea in my mind that I could one day do this sort of thing, working with kids,” he says, and the prospect of both teaching and coaching seemed especially enticing.

When he started college at UNC-Asheville in 2007, Arvey’s initial intention was to pursue a degree in chemistry. But the freshman chemistry class was full, so he fatefully opted for a calculus course, and then another one his second semester. Consequently, “I ended up just loving math,” Arvey says, and he went on to major in it and earn his teaching certification.

Ever since, Arvey has done double duty in academics and sports. “It’s pretty rare, and definitely a tough pairing,” he says. “I have to turn on a different switch when I’m in the classroom, and one when I’m on the field. It’s two totally different spaces I live in.”

The two pursuits have one major thing in common, though: significant time commitments. During football season, his workdays are particularly long. He arrives at school around 7 a.m., focusing on his math classes until 3:30 p.m., when he is off to practice with the team, often as late as 7 p.m. And game nights can stretch on until 11 p.m. or even later for away matches.

The fact that Avery works so hard at his combined jobs is not lost on his students, some of which have special needs or are otherwise challenged by math. He remembers his own struggles with the subject. “Knowing how much I had to work, I know how much other people are going to need to, too,” he says. “I think that I saw those connections in mathematics later than someone who was gifted or had been exposed to more math earlier than I had been. So that’s always fresh on my mind, and it’s nice to know where the gaps are and help the students bridge them.

Arvey says he’s eager to see how Indian teachers connect with their students and handle their workloads. “I would like to walk away from this trip with some things that I can use in my room, some new resources. I’ve also never been out of the country — I just got my first passport the other day — so it will all be a totally new experience for me.”

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is an Asheville-based writer and the senior editor at WNC magazine. He has authored two books, including, with co-author Kent Priestley, North Carolina Curiosities. He has contributed to Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, U.S. News & World Report and Popular Communications, among other publications.