Retro RFH Mathematical Teaching Moments

RFH math teachers of the 1970s
Photo/RFH Yearbook

It all adds up. Good teachers plus intriguing personalities equals motivated, successful students. And, no matter how you put the equation together at RFH, there was no zero involved when it came to high school math teachers.

Math is a problem for some students and solving it was what most of these teachers did, each in his or her own unique teaching moment way.

Every RFH student had at least a couple of these teachers — sometimes three or maybe even four, as in a different one each year. Do the math.

Some were also coaches, so students got to know them outside of the classroom only or both in and out. And others, or at least one that we know of, were known to the community at large in, of all things, politics. Do the math on those countless hours spent between classroom, townie issues and the borough council meeting room.

OK, since many already know this, we’ll start with the political math teacher. That would be Nancy Kern, who was mayor of Fair Haven for a time — two four-year terms, to be exact. Anyone remember the years? Kern had also served on Fair Haven Borough Council for a number of years before getting elected as mayor. Here’s the scoop, though. She was the only female mayor in the borough’s 110-year history. Do that math. That’s a beating-the-odds ratio.

Kern was known to challenge students. She was also known for her motivating, or whatever students wanted to call them, sayings. And, of course, the Kern math teacher legacy ran down the hall and in the family with her husband, Bill, also an RFH math teacher. Would you call that two-timing students? Hmmm … Double-timing? Hey, no one ever said this editor was a math wiz.

Mr. Kern, or Bill, was a real riddler of an advanced math teacher. Many wouldn’t and didn’t survive his advanced math class. I didn’t even venture in the door, thank the writing and theater goddesses. But, those who were taught by Bill Kern certainly never forgot the experience. He loved to challenge students and toughen them up. And that he did. Some were scared to death of him. Others met his challenges with glee. Do that math.

There were others I, and many others, have been taught by before at RFH. So, let’s go right back to those classrooms …

Freshman year, for me, there was Arlene Albano. She had very long nails, wore a lot of those Huckapoo polyester shirts that were in back then; and she had a very deliberate teaching manner. I had her for Algebra. She was, as I recall, an excellent teacher. She really conveyed that math was just a fun manipulation of numbers, deliberate manner aside, taught students how to learn with ease. She had faith in all students. She took the stress out of the numbers game and made it easy. Albano was also the twirling coach and the girls loved her. She passed away not too long ago. RIP.

Geometry was, for me, an endless circle of hell or Bermuda RFH triangle. Whatever way you put it, honor student or not, I just couldn’t grasp geometry and kept spinning aimlessly, so I passed notes with my friend Bonnie in Mr. Barry’s class. OK, so I didn’t pay attention. No, we didn’t have electronics. We passed paper notes with inane messages that only we thought were funny scrolled on them.

Mr. Barry was a very smart, kind and soft-spoken guy with a military background. He was also a bit nervous, or unnerved by our inattention. The poor guy broke several pieces of chalk out of frustration while drawing geometric shapes and problems on the chalk board as we passed those notes, giggled and paid him no mind. “Elaine, Bonnie, pay attention!” He’d say it repeatedly, chalk on the floor, brow furrowed, face red with frustration.

One day, he confiscated our note. Uh, oh. Well, he was duly disappointed and confused. It made no sense. We were passing a note about Captain Crunch cereal and a crush … or something. Yeah, who knows what lurks in the kooky minds of RFH sophomores on a taunting mission rather than absorbing a teaching moment. Poor Mr. Barry. He separated us girls and put me in Mr. Bain’s class. Poor Mr. Bain.

Little did anyone realize that going to his class was a colossal mistake if the mission was to make the honor student pay better attention. That class had my clown best friends in it. Yeah. The teachers’ bad. Though, Mr. Bain had a bit of a different, roll-with-it, personality. Leisure-suited and smirking, he caught one prank and note among us and separated us onto opposite sides of the classroom. Nipped that math class problem in the protractor.

However, Mr. Bain’s problem with my miscreant friends wasn’t over, no matter where in the classroom they were. Still, he managed to get more attention from me and a good geometry grade for those college transcripts. The man was a good teacher with personality and a knack for handling class clowns with ease.

Bain was very popular. He was also a track and football coach. He passed away 89 in 2017. RIP. Sorry!

The last RFH math teacher I had was Vincent Esposito for trigonometry. Need I say more? Just when I thought I had conquered geometry and it was over …

I have few recollections of his class, except that I got out of it many times, which annoyed him greatly, to go to the music room or auditorium to rehearse something. He made a crack about “thespians” once, muttering that I’d never get into a good school. He was also demonstratively annoyed when I did. Now, is that nice? Do the math. Hey, he was a math guy. He didn’t get that math right, though. Sorry, Mr. Esposito.

We all have our thing. Math wasn’t mine. I respected it, though, enough to understand enough to make the grade I needed to.

There was some entertainment in that class, though. So, there was that. The burnout honors student in the desk behind mine, who shall remain nameless, was pretty bored, too. The highlight of the class for me was the repeated tap on my shoulder accompanied by “Hey, what page are we on?” I made up numbers as he flipped … through the textbook and I laughed. There was no page 365. Do the math. Flip, flip, flip.

According to my calculations, and those of many other RFH students, the percentage of great math class teaching moments was in the 90 to 100 range.

Your calculations and angle on best RFH math teaching moments? By which teacher?

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management