“Unthankfulness is theft” – Martin Luther
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the debt that I owe to others in my life. Since I prefer to limit my blogging to my teaching career and the profession of teaching, it occurs to me that, even if no one else reads this, I need to thank the people who have influenced me and contributed to my own career as an educator. Some of the people that I will discuss in the following series of posts will be my own teachers. Others will be colleagues who supported and influenced me during these years as a teacher.
Ben Marafino was my math teacher in the seventh and eighth grade at Crocker Middle School in Hillsborough, California. I decided to write this today because I’ve just watched my high school homeroom class taking the California Standards tests for mathematics, and it was a painful sight. Many of them HATE math. Most of them see no real use for it. None of them had the benefit of learning Algebra from Mr. Marafino.
The person I most often quote in the daily instruction of Chemistry is Mr. Marafino. I joke with my students that when the time comes that I am parked in the sun room of a convalescent home and no longer recognize my wife and daughter, I will still recall that “Division is defined to be multiplication by the reciprocal of the denominator.” From Ben Marafino I learned the mechanics of mathematics that would pay dividends all the way through college and beyond. He fully expected that he would be able to stop any one of us in the hallway at any time and request that we recite the general solution to the quadratic equation. I am stunned by how much my own students have forgotten from math they learned only in the past several years, when I am able to call on the well taught lessons of forty years past.
Mr. Marafino also taught science at Crocker. In science, he always emphasized the “hands on” approach. On a fishing trip one time, I caught a shark. Mr. Marafino was delighted to have it for a dissection. We reacted acid with oyster shells, producing carbon dioxide and a horrible stench. It was in the lab room at Crocker that I first thought I might want to “be a scientist.” I remember once that he explained to us that the school had been buying acids already diluted with water. He explained that it really wasn’t very difficult to instead buy concentrated acids and prepare the correct concentrations from them, and that it was much cheaper to do so. I thought it was so cool that Mr. Marafino knew how to do that.
All these years later I can still picture him walking down the hallway toward our class, with a smile on his face and a bundle of “pop quizzes” in his hand. His smile was never larger than when he was about to surprise us with an unannounced quiz. Unfortunately for generations of students, he didn’t make his career in the classroom.
At the end of my senior in high school I stopped by Crocker while running an errand on the San Francisco peninsula for my father’s business. I saw Mr. Marafino, and he informed me that he was leaving teaching and going to, I believe, Pharmacy school. Looking back after so many years, it was apparent the students at our school had been the benefactors of some very fine teaching, but at a cost. The San Francisco Bay Area was even then an expensive place to live. It must have been doubly so on a teacher’s salary. For someone as bright as Ben Marafino, the intellectual challenges and financial rewards of career advancement probably necessitated the move.
A few years ago, I looked him up on Google, with the intention of sharing my gratitude with him. I put it off, for many poor reasons. Now, a quick Google search turned up Mr. Marafino’s obituary. He died unexpectedly, and far too young, on New Year’s Eve of 2011. No where in his obituary does it mention the six years that he spent teaching at Crocker Middle School. It is my hope that he knew that those years in the classroom were not wasted babysitting a bunch of spoiled rich kids. I regret that I threw away the chance to make certain that he knew his efforts were not wasted.
Though his teaching career was not long, it did have an impact. And it continues to have an impact every time I tell students struggling to divide with fractions “As Mr. Marafino taught me, division is defined to be….”
It turns out that he also greatly enjoyed singing, and was quite good. Take the time to enjoy this YouTube clip: