Rosa McCullagh: Trailblazer, inspiring math teacher, colleague retires


Maria Shaughnessy

Math teacher Rosa McCullagh is widely considered a model for having high expectations but also being available to help students as needed.

Ella Beiser, Editor-In-Chief

In the hallway outside math teacher Rosa McCullagh’s classroom it’s easy to hear laughter and conversation. Ms. McCullagh is discussing how to combine statistics with calculus during an independent study class with senior Nikita Kumar. The class is over, but they are so engrossed in their work and conversation, they haven’t even noticed yet.  

A dedicated teacher and a resource for students and colleagues alike, Ms. McCullagh is retiring at the end of the 2019-20 school year after 25 years at U-High. 

“She is an example and a model for having high expectations and expecting rigor, but also always willing to give individual help,” math teacher Julia Maguire said. “Always willing to support a kid or a student any way that she can. And I think it helps others around her sort of improve their own craft.”

Ms. McCullagh re-started her career as a teacher at age 40 after having taught for two years in London and then having raised her children. Despite this, according to Ms. McCullagh, she has taught every course in the high school math curriculum.

“When I came to the Lab School I realized I didn’t have a whole number of years to get through everything,” Ms. McCullagh said. “Anytime I was asked to teach a new course I taught it because I saw it as an opportunity, an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to grow an opportunity to see how it wove together.”

At the start of this school year, the only class Ms. McCullagh had not taught was AP Calculus BC.
“I was very grateful to Mr. Khan for giving me the opportunity and encouraging me to teach BC calculus, which was something I hadn’t done — always wanted to do,” Ms. McCullagh said. “And he said, ‘Go for it.’ And I’m really grateful that he did. I’ve had a wonderful year with the students in that class and I’m glad I did that before I retired.”

According to Ms. McCullagh, one of the things that initially interested her about Lab was the entire community’s interest in learning and academic endeavor.

“Getting to work with students is my favorite. Absolutely. Without a doubt, my favorite thing,” Ms. McCullagh said. “Their curiosity, their commitment to learning, they come in, they want to learn, they want to be part of the endeavor that I want to be part of. And I feel very fortunate to have been part of that with the students, and we were all sort of in it together, learning.”

During her time at U-High, Ms. McCullagh also organized and started the AP Statistics course. Ms. McCullagh has a background in statistics and enlisted the help of Ms. Maguire in teaching the AP Statistics course. 

“From a statistics standpoint, I’m personally feeling like I’m losing my partner,” Ms. Maguire said. “She and I had a very long conversation about how she might be leaving this space and teaching, but that at least for a little bit, I’m still going to need her to be my partner even in retirement.”

After taking two courses and an independent study with Ms. McCullagh, senior Nikita Kumar knows U-High will not be the same without Ms. McCullagh.

I’m personally feeling like I’m losing my partner

— Julia Maguire

“It’s kind of bittersweet, like this year is both of our last years,” Nikita said. “So, I’ll never know Lab without Ms. McCullagh, but it’s sad that friends won’t get to have her and have that same great experience and I had.”

According to Nikita, Ms. McCullagh fosters an environment that encourages academic growth.

“She pushes people to do their best. She sees potential in like every student. And she believes that every student can produce high-quality work,” Nikita said. “They sort of live up to that standard cover because of her. So I feel like she just encourages students to do better than they think they could.”

While Ms. McCullagh expects high quality work, according to Nikita, she is always available to assist with that work after class.

“She’s always always always available, at lunch or after school to anyone who needs help, always,” Nikita said. “It’s kind of incredible. She always makes time for students. Whether that is to talk or if they need help. She is really there for everybody.”

Just as Ms. McCullagh is always available to help a student, according to Ms. Maguire, she is also always available to her colleagues. 

“As a colleague, collaborating with her makes you a better teacher,” Ms. Maguire said. “She’s very reflective on her work. She always puts everything into a course. And is really thoughtful about not only the actual math in the course, but how kids are receiving it and how they’re working through the stuff.”

As a colleague, collaborating with her makes you a better teacher

— Julia Maguire

Ms. McCullagh is not only a helpful colleague, she is also a close friend to many faculty.

“When you have somebody that you’ve worked so closely with, and has been there for basically the same amount of time as you have, there are things that you know they’ll understand that not everybody else does,” Ms. Canright said. “And there are some running jokes that aren’t going to make as much sense anymore because she won’t be there to be a part of them.”

Just as Ms. Canright sees Ms. McCullagh as a part of U-High, Ms. McCullagh feels like Lab has become a part of her.  

“I’m a different person than I was when I started out because I know the place in a very different way,” Ms. McCullagh said. “When you go to a new place, you can take a step back and see what it is. But once you become part of the institution, you can’t do that anymore. So I don’t think I can see it with the same eyes as I would have seen it when I started out because when I started out, I was a stranger, and now I’m part of it.”