John F. Mahoney
BS Mathematics, 1969
MA Mathematics, 1972
High School Mathematics Teacher,
Academic High School
As I was growing up, my favorite classes were in mathematics. So, when I enrolled at Bucknell University in 1965 I decided, somewhat automatically, to major in mathematics. To the likely chagrin of my professors, I devoted more time and energy to anti-war activities than to studying. After graduating, I enrolled in graduate school at Temple University. I was awarded a teaching assistantship and taught one or two courses to freshmen each semester. Many of my students were Vietnam War veterans and women returning to college after raising families. Thus, I was often one of the youngest people in the classroom. At this time I truly became enchanted with teaching mathematics. My students were often extremely anxious about math when they entered my classes; but, all I had to do to turn their views around was to teach humanely. My teaching was anchored in my students' own experiences, which I found to work very well. After completing the course work for my PhD and facing the daunting prospect of learning a second foreign language, I decided to quit graduate school and start teaching high school mathematics.
Because of my contact with Quakers in the peace movement, I accepted a job teaching at Moorestown Friends School in Moorestown, NJ for $7,200 a year. Teaching 9 - 12th graders was harder than teaching college freshmen (but more rewarding). The students were inquisitive, asking questions and wanting to know why certain mathematical statements were true. I remember one student asking me why sine was the y-coordinate and cosine the x-coordinate on a unit circle. Right then I realized that I had just accepted this fact, without understanding it. Teaching high school made me think deeply about the mathematics that I had learned far too quickly. I introduced AP Calculus to the school and really learned the subject well as I was teaching it.
I followed my wife's career south and taught at another Friends school before landing at Sidwell Friends School (SFS) in Washington, DC where I taught for 24 years. A math colleague and I bought the school's first computer in 1979. At SFS, I taught every course from Algebra 1 to multivariable calculus and linear algebra. My students were often quite bright and fun to teach; I learned a lot from them. In 1986, I became an AP Calculus reader, an experience that was the key to my professional development. At the AP readings high school teachers and college professors work closely together in a spirit of mutual respect. Some of my closest friends are professors that I met through the AP reading. I later became a table leader, a question leader, and for two years I was one of the exam leaders. Now, I am an AP Statistics reader.
I developed a love of writing about mathematics. Over the last ten years, I've written over 40 articles for National Council of Teachers of Mathematics publications, for Texas Instruments publications and websites, and for the College Board. I give AP workshops for the College Board and speak frequently at national math conferences. For the last two years, I've been writing math activities for Texas Instruments which accompany episodes of the CBS-TV series NUMB3RS. Also, I'm on the staff of the Park City Mathematics Institute's Secondary School Teachers Program. I've been an MAA member for 15 years and have served on two MAA working groups.
Seven years ago, I decided to teach in public school. Since then, I've been teaching at Benjamin Banneker Academic HS in Washington, DC. The school, on Euclid Street, is named for the African American mathematician who was befriended by Quakers in the 18th century. The Washington Post has noted the "predatory crime of the surrounding neighborhood," but also stated "it may be the highest performing public school in the country with such a demographic profile." 95% of the students at Banneker are African American. As in my other schools, Banneker is full of bright, teachable students who, to my despair, also chew gum. I introduced AP Statistics to the school and FIRST robotics. One of my students was named an Intel Finalist and (minor) planet #20324 was named johnmahoney because of my mentoring of him. In 2005, I was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.