Mr. Schneider

“It is—” There’s a slight pause as every student in the room settles into their respective seats at the sound of the teacher’s voice. The air hums with the quiet symphony of creaking chairs, crinkling paper, and clearing throats. Class is about to begin.

“SO GOOD!” The teacher booms as he strides through the door. He reaches the front of the classroom before adding, almost as an afterthought:

“—to see you all today.”

Statistics is not a very glamorous subject. It’s a discipline ruled by charts, tables, and equations, by carefully typing ten-digit numbers into a calculator over and over again, by running test after test until you have a list of p-values and t-values and standard errors and degrees of freedom that stretches for a mile. It is the mathematical equivalent of searching for the diamond in the rough: sifting through scores of meaningless data until you pare it down to a handful of numbers that can tell a story.

To do well in statistics requires the knowledge of dozens of formulas and a knack for logic. There is certainly no requirement that you be able to weave a story out of decimals and percentages. It’s not strictly necessary that you be able to see the humor in a word problem or savor that feeling of success when you finally crack a difficult problem.

But boy, does it help. Why? Because we’re human, and humans don’t run on calculations alone. We run on more important things, like curiosity and compassion and excitement. Teenagers, perhaps better than anyone, understand the value in the things we can feel and understand. It takes a certain type of person to tease life out of print on a page.

Therein lies this teacher’s gift. Every day, when he enters the room, he corrals some twenty-odd high schoolers into a conversation about math, one that is full of energy and excitement and, most importantly, figuring out how on earth these facts and figures fit into our lives.

He does it with a relentless wit and enthusiasm that spills over into every class he teaches. Talk to anybody in one of his classes — a diverse group of kids, because he teaches not only AP Statistics but also AP Calculus and Geometry — and they will remember a time when this teacher had everyone trying to stifle a chuckle as he told yet another story about his guinea pig, imaginary escapades with the police, or the legendary Chibby Maroo. They’ll remember a time when, in the middle of a particularly monotonous problem, he yelled, “Isn’t that EXCELLENT!” Or a time when — oh, bother — they forgot to do their homework last night in between work and practice. This teacher looked them in the eye and said, with both sympathy and that type of tough love you need in a teacher:

“You’re still a good person.”

This teacher understands that life is more than math, but that math has a place in life. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but I am so glad to learn under the guidance of a teacher who has figured it out. Because when you step into a classroom and are able to learn not only about the world, but about yourself — It is so good.

This teacher is Mr. Mark Schneider.