Senior School mathematics teacher Linda Rajotte was recently honored by Stanford University for her ability and influence as a teacher. Brandon Ewonus ’10, who is now studying mathematics at Stanford, wrote a glowing letter acknowledging her support. Her official recognition “for exceptional teaching” reflects her success in the classroom.
How does it feel to be formally recognized by Stanford for your work?
I am deeply touched by this formal recognition from Stanford University and feel humbled by Brandon’s words of praise. This is a wonderful honour.
Brandon Ewonus wrote that you helped him “realize the inherent beauty of math.” What do you see as beautiful about math?
I see everything beautiful about mathematics. I love the concept of proof – it is quite beautiful to prove a trigonometric identity in a unique and elegant way. I love the excitement of problem solving and the connections that allow different ideas to make sense. I find the logarithmic spiral inspiring and love the fact that it is found in so many different forms in nature. I love the simplicity of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus and how it permeates so many problems for my students.
Brandon was a very gifted math student. How did you continue to challenge him?
Yes, Brandon was a very gifted mathematics student indeed. I taught Brandon AP Calculus BC in his Grade 10 year; he easily obtained a score of 5 on his AP Examination and placed first in the class. He did this in such a lovely way because he lived and breathed mathematics. It was entirely natural for him to be doing it, making connections and extending ideas in a creative way. I don’t think it was me who continued to challenge Brandon – it was Brandon himself who desired the challenges and found them with the support of all of the mathematics teachers in our department.
Mr. Smith worked with him in Math Club and Brandon received first place in the BC Colleges High School Mathematics contest, gold standard on the Hypatia contest, a gold medal on the Fermat contest, two gold medals on the Euclid contest, and an invitation to write the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), in addition to his gold medal on the Canadian Open and his invitation to write the Canadian Olympiad Contest. Mrs Skinner provided inspiration for Brandon in his Grade 9 year encouraging him to write original papers on ideas such as the imaginary number i and I know she continued to encourage Brandon in all of his years with us with both mathematics and music.
I definitely supported Brandon when he was chosen to participate in the highly selective summer institute for gifted mathematics students at SUMaC at Stanford University after Grade 10. He came back to me in Grade 11 simply glowing about the four weeks he spent at Stanford in the summer doing serious mathematical pursuits.
How did you get into mathematics and teaching?
In my Grade 8 year, I was in an experimental mathematics program in my school and after that experience I found that everything made sense in my studies. I had always found mathematics easy and enjoyable, but now I was making connections. When I studied mathematics at UBC, I found some of the concepts about groups, rings and fields in my second year honours level course were those I had learned in Grade 8! While I was in secondary school and at university, I discovered that I could easily help others make sense of the mathematics they were learning – teaching was natural for me.
I started teaching in Haida Gwaii in 1973 and have not looked back. I feel very fortunate to have found a career that allows me to combine my enjoyment for helping my students and my love of my subject matter in a creative way. I feel I have learned as much from my students over the years as they have learned from me – so, I am very blessed.
What are some of your favourite units/class activities?
I am not sure if I have a favourite activity; however I do quite a bit of walking back and forth in my class as a “particle” – my calculus students will get this joke. I like to bring humour into my classroom and I enjoy the energy the students give to me and to the other students in the class.
What do you think someone needs to be a good math teacher?
Perhaps the most important quality in any good teacher (mathematics or otherwise) is the ability to relate to their students and have empathy for their unique situations. To be effective, a teacher also needs to have humility, a sense of humour and a willingness to learn from their students. There is a quote I love: “You need to touch the hearts of your students before you touch their minds”. I believe this is true and feel that a good teacher needs to care a great deal about those he or she is teaching before they can teach them anything.
It is of course very important that the mathematics teacher (or any teacher for that matter) has a very firm grasp of their discipline and a love for their subject that can energize their students. Right now, I am involved in a book study with some other teachers about brain research. John Medina in Brain Rules says that teachers with an ability to understand the interior motivations of someone else and to construct a predictable theory of how their mind works based on that knowledge possess the single most important ingredient for becoming effective communicators of information – thus good teachers.