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Making Math Fun, in “What’s Cool at School”

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — For some, just the thought of math equals breaking out in a cold sweat. But for the lucky students in longtime teacher Gary Mayer’s math classes at Spring Valley High School… their experience is less fret, more fun.

Sophomore Michelle Fung told me, “Before, math wasn’t my best subject, and it wasn’t my favorite subject either, but because of him I really enjoy the class now!”

Mr. Mayers has been teaching for 54 years!

One consistent element is humor, which is never far from the daily lesson.

Fung added, “He would always make jokes. One day it was cold, and he said, if you’re cold you should stand in the corner because it’s 90 degrees.”

Sometimes that small dose of geometry or pre-calculus humor is just what a kid needs to loosen up, feel at ease, and focus.

One former student, Cody Clark, now a teacher himself at Spring Valley, uses what he learned as Mr. Mayer’s student, in his own classes: “I’m not afraid to be myself in front of the students, not afraid to be personable for the students, and I think that has a lot to do with him.”

Five and a half decades of experience, loved by those he teaches, and a proven track record of high achievement from his students made me wonder about some possible reasons for his success.

One theme that many mentioned was his selflessness, and always putting students first.

Colleague and fellow teacher, Amy DeVaul, mentioned that, “He’s always available to help them… he’ll do whatever he can to help a kid.”

On that point Fung added, “If I didn’t understand, I could go after school, and even when he’s eating lunch by himself – he’ll give up his time to help me understand.”

Mr. Mayers told me a lot of the acclaim he has received is simply about the way he feels about teaching, and his students. “It’s love of students. The fact that I get an awful lot of enjoyment about taking somebody who didn’t see something, and getting that A Ha moment to understand something.”

DeVaul added, “There’s some people that are just born genuine teachers and he’s one of them.”

I was curious about his advice for the new teacher, maybe fresh out of college, a bit green, navigating a new career:

“Have variety, don’t do the same things, do different things, and sit in a room  of experienced teachers as much as you can.” Mayers advised.

Gary Mayers was rightly recognized as the 2011 Presidential Award Winner for Mathematics.

He truly appreciated the honor, “I was one of the oldest teachers to ever get that – I got it at age 65, and to me, it reminded me of a lifetime achievement award.”

After over half a century of helping kids understand a notoriously difficult subject, making them smile, and lifting them up with his positive energy… I wondered about retirement… and asked him, “How long do you want to teach for?”

His humorous retort: “About another 15 minutes today….” ... Read More