Sisterhood of the Traveling Math Teachers

From becoming best friends at Vanderbilt to working in the Marin Academy math department, Molly and Rachel have experienced it all side by side.

After a deep ten minute discussion with a student about transferring into a higher level class, Rachel promptly switches her focus to the other students awaiting her attention in tutorial. The same upbeat energy with which she charges math equations is apparent in the engagement of her students. As I subsequently entered Molly’s class, I felt a similar vibe to Rachel’s room—each student impassioned by their math work as they all joined together to solve the challenge.

Molly Tanner and Rachel Kernodle meet me in room 208 in the center of the BBLC ten minutes after the start of lunch. Both teachers stroll happily into the room with their lunch in hand, seeming genuinely excited at the chance to be interviewed together. As I sit across from both teachers, I am fascinated by the optimism and spirit with which they respond to my questions. Both teachers jokingly converse about whether they should answer each others’ questions, demonstrating their friendly familiarity.

Their personalities are reflected in their aspect; Molly wears a navy scarf which juxtaposes against Rachel’s floral ensemble. Molly—confident, sweet, and straight to the point, and Rachel—funny, coy, and cheerful.

Though Molly was born in New York City, she was raised in Tennessee, just like Rachel. Nashville is their home. In middle school, Rachel and Molly grew up ten minutes away from each other and yet did not meet until after middle school. Rachel imagines middle-school-Molly as “having a lot of friends and probably liked by everyone in her grade.” Molly, on the other hand, humbly describes herself as “a happy nerd.”

The two math teachers grew up in extremely different social circles until they reached college— Rachel was a crucial part of her high school marching band and Molly was a dedicated competitive Irish dancer. In the spring of their sophomore year, Molly and Rachel slowly developed a relationship when they landed in the same advanced math class. “We honestly just knew of each other because of how few girls were in the advanced class; there were only five of us left after everyone dropped out because of the midterm,” Molly says. Molly recalls that “Rachel always sat in the back of the class, and I always sat in the front.” Both made eye contact after reminiscing about their college course together and laughed nostalgically at their carefree youthfulness. Rachel went on to become good friends with a girl named Courtney, who happened to be Molly’s roommate.“Courtney and I were in the same secondary education math courses, and there was such a small amount of people in our major that we got to know each other through it.” Rachel began to frequent their suite as college friends often do: “I invaded their dorm room all the time and that is honestly really the moment we got to know each other better.”

After graduation, Molly and Rachel were the among the few from their friend group that decided to stay in school and receives a Master’s degree. Despite neither of them remembering being particularly close at this time, they “actually have proof and have gone through old messages to prove that [they] went to go see Mamma Mia together at the movie theaters in 2008,” according to Rachel.

Rachel Kernodle (far left) and Molly Tanner (second from right) in the early days of their friendship.

Two years after finishing graduate school, Molly was ready to move on from teaching in Nashville and focus on finding a position at a charter school. “I called Courtney to tell her I was searching for a new job and coincidentally Rachel overheard our conversation and told me there was an open position at the school she was working at. Rachel and Courtney had been in D.C. living together at the time so she was in the room when Courtney answered my phone call.” The next summer, Molly packed her bags and set off to work at a new school in Washington D.C., alongside Rachel.

Years later, Molly and Rachel now work as colleagues at Marin Academy. Rachel was promoted to the position of math department head after a mere three years and Molly took on the position of applied math, advanced calculus, and algebra teacher after two years at MA. Both teachers encourage their students to maximize their academic capability and come to school every day excited to teach their upcoming class and attend their next meeting.

At lunch, they sit together in their group of friends and talk about their marvelous summer experiences they have gotten a chance to share. Since the year after Molly moved to Washington D.C., the teachers have gone on an annual summer trip together. Just last summer, Molly and Rachel decided to head to Japan to visit a friend whose husband had been stationed there for combat: “We decided we had to go because we both had never been and there was a free place to stay!” exclaimed Molly, as both teachers looked back on their supersonic train rides through Asia.

The strong and united friendship between the math teachers forces students at Marin Academy to connect with their teachers more comfortably and grow stronger relationships. Having the ability to observe the teaching side and friendly side of both Molly and Rachel gives a higher-quality perspective that many teachers choose to keep private. Tanner and Kernodle give their high school students an ally by displaying this relatable and nurturing relationship. Without Rachel Kernodle and Molly Tanner, Marin Academy would be a more dull, and lonely place.

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