Retiring Mathematics Teachers Reminisce

Article excerpt

Byline: SANDY STRICKLAND

They spent decades helping Sandalwood Senior High School students conquer their math bugaboo and understand the so-called new math.

Now these three veteran math educators are retiring after almost 100 combined years at the school.

"I felt that if I could introduce students to something that many are afraid of -- and math is something they are afraid of -- then I've achieved what I wanted to do," said Fung Jung, who came to Sandalwood in February 1972.

Jung, who retired in March, spent 33 years teaching geometry and algebra. Jackie Mitchell, who teaches algebra II and liberal arts math, calls herself an original Saint -- the school's mascot -- since she came when it opened in 1971. Beth Emch, who teaches trigonometry, analytic geometry and algebra II, came in 1977. Mitchell and Emch will retire Friday.

"They are three wonderful teachers," said paraprofessional Sara Mock. "Sandalwood is losing a lot of knowledge."

Principal Bill Gesdorf said it will be difficult to replace three teachers who could teach "pretty much any of the math courses that we offered." And because they had been Saints for decades, they knew the school's traditions and history, he said.

Mitchell said she will miss the fellowship the three have enjoyed and that having colleagues to communicate with has made the job easier. The Northside resident said her desire to teach crystallized in seventh grade when her math teacher finally got the entire class to understand word problems.

"The expression on her face was something unbelievable, and I thought, 'Ohhh, that's what I want to be,' " Mitchell said.

She's seen that same understanding on the faces of many of her students, even in more recent years when Mitchell said there's been less commitment to learning.

Mitchell graduated from Morris Brown College in Atlanta with additional study at Ohio University. She taught two years in Cleveland before coming to Sandalwood.

As for retirement, she said it's time to pass the baton to younger teachers, spend more time with family and enjoy being an almost five-year cancer survivor.

Emch, a Jacksonville native, recalled taking over her math class as a student during senior takeover day at Paxon High School.

"I enjoyed it, and the math teacher encouraged me to go into teaching," she said.

The Southside resident earned a master's degree in math from the University of Florida and taught at Bishop Kenny High School, Baldwin Middle-Senior High School and Paxon Middle School before coming to Sandalwood.

"I'm not as patient as I used to be, and the time has come to retire while I'm still in good health and can travel and get my yard back," Emch said. …