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Keith Wiley is a good example of the difference one good teacher can make in the lives of children.

Wiley, a math teacher at Houghton Academy, helped a group of eighth-graders at his struggling, high-poverty school defeat five-time reigning champions City Honors in the Buffalo City Schools Middle School Math League competition in the spring of last year.

But Wiley does far more than that. As a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher responsible for educating roughly 100 kids every year, he rejects the notion that only certain kinds of students can succeed in math, or that advanced math should be reserved for high achievers.

Every year, Wiley teaches all of his eighth-grade students ninth-grade algebra. Last year, nearly half of them passed the ninth-grade Regents math exam.

He has taken hostile and troubled students on the verge of failing school and turned them into math superstars with patience, understanding and faith in their ability to excel. He hangs out in his classroom during lunch and after school to help those who lag behind.

A former banker, Wiley seized upon a chance to teach middle school math during a districtwide math teacher shortage in 2000, even though he initially lacked teaching certification and classroom experience. He has been performing miracles at Houghton ever since.

His charisma and after-hours efforts to make math engaging, fun and meaningful to students have turned hundreds of discouraged, math-hating children into students eager to learn more. If that means turning a difficult formula into a song or a joke, he’s ready. If it means explaining why any abstract math concept has practical applications in the real world, he’s ready.

And if his students do poorly or fall behind, Wiley’s first instinct is not to question where the student went wrong, but rather where he did.

Wiley is more than just a good math teacher. He is an extraordinary teacher.

He also is a reminder that no matter how complex and grave the problems plaguing Buffalo’s public schools, city children will always have the hope of a bright future as long as teachers like Wiley are there to care about them.

– Sandra Tan