by Alyssa Chen and Emma Zhang, Features Reporter, Features Editor
photo contributed by Ryan Normandin
Some know him from peeks into the glass fishbowl room in the 3000s; others know him from vlogs posted by the 603whateverthisis Instagram account run by a group of his precalculus students. Ryan Normandin, a beloved math and science teacher, has become widely known for his rigorous yet supportive teaching style and equally accepting personality. He always aspired to go into education, although he said his biggest decision was not whether to teach, but rather which grades to teach.
“When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, and then when I was in middle school, I wanted to be a middle school teacher, and in high school, I wanted to be a high school teacher,” he said. “I didn’t want to do college teaching because it’s much more impersonal, and there’s a lot of other stuff that comes along with being in academia. High school felt like the right spot to be able to really build relationships with students and do content that was interesting.”
Senior Mark Chudnovsky, a teaching assistant for Normandin’s honors precalculus class, said that his vast knowledge of a variety of subjects coupled with his patience has helped create an approachable atmosphere for learning.
“Before physics, he was actually a political science major, so you can talk to him about anything, [like] school policy, mathematics, physics or multivariable calculus,” Chudnovsky said. “He’s not judgmental. We have kids who don’t even know him come by during D block and ask him questions. He’s so willing to help anybody and creates a nice environment that fosters learning.”
In addition to honors precalculus, Normandin teaches freshman physics, several physics electives and math for the DaVinci Program.
Junior Dylan Yee, a student in Normandin’s honors precalculus class, said that Normandin tries to genuinely get to know his students.
“It feels a lot more personal when learning [the material],” he said. “Because I look forward to the class a lot more, it means that I look forward to math a lot more.”
Normandin’s encouragement and belief in his students’ success have proven to be invaluable, said junior Ainsley Eckhoff, a student in his honors precalculus class.
“At the beginning of this year, I failed the first test, and I was devastated. I'[d] never failed a math test before, and I came to him crying … he said, ‘You know what? Ainsley, I can see you’re a hard worker. I’ll get you there. We are going to work on it together,’” she said. “That mindset set me up for the rest of the year. He’s very involved with all of his students, and he really believes in them; even when they don’t feel ready for a test, he always has full confidence in them.”
Math department head Alex Kraus said that Normandin’s enthusiasm for STEM has shone through both inside and outside of the classroom.
“The times where it is most evident are usually when I get to watch him work with students, whether that’s because I’m in his classroom doing an observation or I’m happening to walk by the glass fishbowl room when he’s got a bunch of kids in there and is really active in some intense conversation,” he said.
Sophomore Neena Tarafdar, also in Normandin’s honors precalculus class, said that his unique teaching style has reignited her interest in math.
“As a kid, I was relatively not interested in math because I was sent to programs such as Russian Math and Kumon Math. All of the math they do is often very robotic and very repetitive,” she said. “I have Normandin this year, and I love the types of problems he offers. They’re not repetitive, and at the same time, they’re interesting, and they make you think about a new aspect that you might not have thought about before in math.”
Normandin said that all of his students are capable of achieving much more than they might believe, as long as they’re given enough support.
“If you believe in them, and you give them the tools that they need to succeed, and you are willing to really stick with it through the hard times in the beginning of the year, they’ll come out of it really proud of the work they’ve done and really having grown and learned a lot.”
Support can come in the form of providing a space where students feel comfortable asking questions, and Normandin said that this is a priority for him.
“The stuff we’re doing is tough, and if you’re not asking questions when you don’t understand something, you’re going to have a hard time,” he said. “I want people to be able to learn. I want a place where people feel like they can collaborate and they can work together on problems.”
Eckhoff said that the welcoming and uplifting atmosphere Normandin builds in his classroom has fostered bonding where there might otherwise be competition.
“[The class is] really encouraging and different compared to my other honors classes. Those seem to be very competitive and cutthroat, but everyone really gets along in our math class,” she said. “[There’s an] inspiring atmosphere, and there are a lot of smart kids who encourage me to do better, and everyone’s always very helpful.”
As a testament to Normandin’s close relationship with his students, several of his classes threw birthday parties for him in March. Eckhoff said that the genuine relationships she’s made this year have made the class memorable.
“I’d tell [Normandin’s future students] that the first two months are going to be really rough, and maybe even the whole year, but to stick it out because 603 is a great place for learning,” she said. “I’ve never learned so much and felt so welcomed by a class.”