Virginia Commonwealth University

05/30/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/30/2024 08:27

VCU alum Avanti Yamamoto, who pivoted from medicine to math, is Virginia’s 2025 Teacher of the Year

By Sian Wilkerson

Growing up as the daughter of Indian immigrants, Avanti Yamamoto knew exactly what was expected of her. She would go to school, get good grades and become a doctor. But after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012, Yamamoto realized her path was heading in a different direction: She wanted to be a teacher.

"It's not a career that Indian people consider going into," said Yamamoto, now a precalculus teacher at Atlee High School in Hanover County. "[But] I always had a passion for math. So I graduated, worked in the hospital for a year and took my MCATs" - the Medical College Admission Test - "and realized it just wasn't what I wanted to do."

Yamamoto decided to follow her heart. She pivoted from a promising medical career to teach in the public school system, first in the city of Richmond and then in Hanover.

Now more than a decade into her dream job, she has continued to excel. In May, a committee assembled by the state Department of Education selected Yamamoto as the 2025 Virginia Teacher of the Year from a pool of eight regional honorees. She will now be Virginia's nominee for the 2025 National Teacher of the Year, who will be announced next spring.

"It's a huge honor, a tremendous honor" she said. "It's very motivating to keep going. [It tells me] maybe I'm doing something right."

Yamamoto initially attended Old Dominion University and turned her focus to math before transferring, but it was during her time at VCU that Yamamoto began to think about education as a career. As a junior, she took a class with Craig Larson, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in the College of Humanities and Sciences. It changed her life.

After class one day, Yamamoto approached Larson to discuss the grade she received on her final exam.

"I went to him because I did not do well on his final exam," Yamamoto said. "I wanted to look at it and see what I got wrong. It wasn't like I thought he gave me an unfair grade or something. I just wanted to see what I got wrong. So he sat down with me and he explained to me everything that I got wrong, and he told me, 'Most people wouldn't be able to understand their mistakes. You should be a math teacher.'

"I still don't know what he saw in me when he had that conversation with me," she continued. "But that's what he said. I will never forget."

Craig Larson, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, encouraged Avanti Yamamoto to pursue a teaching career. (Thomas Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Larson felt so strongly that he even took Yamamoto down the hallway to grab the form to change her math major's concentration to focus on education.

"I remember that Avanti loved math - and that she was a great communicator," Larson said. "There are lots of people that love math [who] aren't great communicators. But if you want to be a great teacher, you've got to care, figure out what students know and then [understand] how to pass along a little more knowledge."

After being named Virginia Teacher of the Year, Yamamoto reached out to her former professor to thank him for his impact. The two got to visit later in May when Yamamoto returned to VCU to take part in a seminar on the changing landscape of education.

"I listened to Avanti talk about what she does as a teacher to our faculty here, and her enthusiasm and expertise bubbles out. Her students are extremely lucky to have a teacher like her," Larson said. "To see what she's accomplished is really great. I get warm fuzzies every time I hear about the amazing things that our students have done. I'm really happy to see that Avanti got to fulfill her dream of teaching - and that she's so good at it."

Yamamoto knows the importance of having a great teacher, especially in math. Like many kids who think math isn't their best subject, she felt like her confidence waned early on. But at ODU, an amazing calculus teacher "really made me reinvigorate this passion for math," she said, prompting her to change her major to the subject.

Now, standing at the front of her own classroom, Yamamoto tries to instill in her students the same confidence she found during her own education.

"Most of my job is being a cheerleader," she said. "The content is the easy part. The most challenging part is just convincing [students] that they can do it and that they are capable."

Yamamoto's own cheerleading section - her husband, daughter and parents - has been in her corner. During the recent awards ceremony, the family met Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who handed Yamamoto her award and then posed for a photo holding her beaming daughter. And a family member has expressed interest in following Yamamoto's footsteps and becoming a teacher, which points to the impact she has outside the classroom, too.

"I have never heard my parents say so much that they are proud of me [before now]," Yamamoto said. "That's been pretty incredible. … When I hear that they're proud of me, it makes me really happy. It took a decade, but I think we're there."

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