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Teaching Everything but AB Calculus by Sam Gucwa

We were the second-best, the “almost good enough.” This is not how I would normally describe an AB calculus class, but at a private school where a C landed you in the counselor’s office, it was a social death sentence to not get into the BC class. I had missed the cut off by one percentage point. All of my friends easily placed into BC with the infamous Mr. L; they had been turning in homework assignments since August. I could only wonder just how far behind them I would fall by May.

It’s true: I took myself too seriously in high school.

I was no good at math, but a 32-bar jazz solo to sightread? Sure, no problem! It was seemingly a miracle that on our first day of class, Mr. Crosby—a middle aged baseball coach in a silver necktie and matching hair—proudly announced that homework would be optional, and that we would only spend 33 of our 43-minute classes lecturing. The other 10 would be dedicated to free conversation.


A group of people are in a meeting. They appear to be in a conference room at work. A woman is standing and shaking hands across the table with a man who is sitting down.
fauxels | Pexels

“My friends can never find out that this is how we spend our time.” I thought. If they ever asked, I would tell them that Mr. Crosby worked us hard, but I was so advanced that the class felt easy. In truth, Mr. Crosby did make everything feel easy. He drove home the idea that a student should be taught why, and not just how calculus works. In Mr. Crosby’s mind, if he could not explain a concept in 33 minutes, then he needed to teach it better. For the first time, I did not feel lost during lecture. I ended up completing all the optional homework simply because it felt good to solve problems!

Then, there were the mystery ten minutes. Usually, given free time, a class at my high school would devolve into a silent homework frenzy. Mr. Crosby, however, had an energy that made kids want to chat. Discussions usually engaged the whole class and became very specific in a topic. Mr. Crosby’s favorite topics included baseball stats, best movies of all time, favorite bands, and ten things every Benet student needs to experience. On one occasion, Mr. Crosby claimed, “you can go to a party, drink too much, lose your friends, and meet a guy, but as long as you call your parents for a ride home, you can stay safe. It only takes one good decision!”


baseball stadium at night
Photo by Pixabay from Unsplash

 I raised my hand. “Does that mean we should aim for a one-in-five good decision rate for a successful life?” Mr. Crosby laughed. 

“Maybe aim higher than that!”

An administrator at Benet would probably balk at Mr. Crosby’s classroom, but I learned more in those 43 minutes than anywhere else. Mr. Crosby reminded us all to be teenagers and enjoy the ways we spend our time. Big words and reaching top-of-the-class mean nothing if you do not understand and enjoy the subject you are working with. Learning that changed the way I felt about mathematics. At the end of the year, Mr. Crosby asked us to go around the room and talk about our college goals. I said something that in August would have been the unthinkable.

“I’d like to get two degrees in Jazz Music and Math.” 

He thoughtfully shook his finger at me and said, “You know, I have a book you might enjoy. It’s college-level work, but if anyone can get through it, you can.” 

The book, Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofsteader sits on my desk in my dorm room. Mr. Crosby was right­­––it is hard to read, but thanks to him I love the challenge.

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