Jeremy Schwartz: Faramir in the Classroom

by Cynthia Liu '16

edited by Haena-Young Lee '16 and Annie Zhao '18, courtesy of Silver Quest

I first heard rumors that the Analysis I teacher would no longer be Mr. Stein in the summer of 2013. I recall asking my friend, now a graduating senior, who it would be. She glanced at me incredulously: “It’s Stein. Who else could be teaching it?” I nodded. Confident that my friend was correct, I walked into my first Analysis I class and was surprised to see a young bearded man sitting on a table at the front. Swinging his legs casually, he called to the incoming sophomores, “Find your name on the seating chart on the Promethean, and sit there!” The students scurried to their assigned tables, and thus began the first Blair Magnet Analysis I class taught by Mr. Schwartz. Having graduated from high school in the 21st century, Mr. Schwartz connected well with the students. “A core influence on my perspective was knowing that high school students are people,” he says, and students see it in all of his classes. He fills his lectures with enthusiasm, occasionally cracking jokes or including references to games or the Lord of the Rings in his problems and examples. His assessments feature interesting themes, ranging from “My reaction to Magnet Arts Night” to “Waffle House” to “boring,” and include short blurbs regarding the theme above each question. Even while answering my interview questions, he had emailed “peanut-gallery comments to Harrison all day” during the day of a Robotics competition. One conversation posted on BlairBash highlights Mr. Schwartz’s reputation among the students: In Mrs. Sloe's room during Cell Phys, Peter brought his Wii so we could play Super Smash Bros Brawl, and Schwartz walks in

Mrs. Sloe: Do you need me for something?

Mr. Schwartz: Nah, I just came here to play with these guys.

Of course, Mr. Schwartz does more than entertain his students during class and with his tests. In fact, he has a short and interesting history of working at Blair before becoming a teacher. During the 2012-2013 school year, he worked as an intern in Diana Norris’s Honors Geometry class. He was also temporarily recruited as a substitute when Mr. Schafer’s first son was born, and later when Mr. Walstein was hospitalized. Even when he was a substitute, students commented that he manifestly was an expert in his field and taught the material well. Thus, when Mr. Walstein later stopped teaching, the Magnet did not hesitate to take Mr. Schwartz in.

Because he had more experience teaching college students as a TA at the University of Maryland than teaching high school students coming into 2013, tests in his first year of teaching were also characterized by difficulty. Students generally would not finish a Schwartz test within the provided time without rushing and making careless errors in their haste. Rarely was there a test for which there was no way to earn back points, whether by answering additional questions or by removing or decreasing the weight of problems that students did badly on. The panic over grades was aptly summarized by one alumnus’s 2014 MAN performance, in which he begged: “Give me an A!” However, after he revised the tests for the second year, the difficulty became markedly more reasonable. This came as a comfort to both students and to Mr. Schwartz himself, who no longer has to worry about adjusting grades or writing additional questions.

While students might have been surprised at the difficulty of tests, Mr. Schwartz was surprised at the difficulty of our own Magnet classes. Although the high school from which he graduated, William G. Enloe HS (in Raleigh, NC), contained advanced classes such as Physics HL, it was “not quite at the level of Math Phys,” he explains. However, he was more surprised by the general public’s lack of knowledge of what actually goes on in high school. “Now that I have a peer group who aren't connected to our schools … it's clear how little many people actually know beyond their own personal experience,” he observes. Knowing how much he enjoys teaching and working with students, that ignorance must be all the more frustrating.

Of course, he finds many more things to celebrate than to lament while working in Blair. Although he went to a Magnet school, a “Magnet” school in his county simply meant a school which provided all sorts of classes – such as AP, IB, and more advanced courses – for students who wanted to take a class that was unavailable at their home high school. As a result, “there was no unifying atmosphere, no community among the ‘Magnets,’” Mr. Schwartz describes. “The atmosphere [of the Blair Magnet] is something more unique than I think you all realize… The degree to which teachers collaborate both on classes and extracurriculars is way beyond even what my education program…promoted.” And more than the atmosphere itself are the students who form an integral (pun intended) part of that atmosphere.

One reason why he enjoys spending time with Blair Magnet students so much is that we collectively remind him of himself as a high school student. “As cliché as it is, you guys give me the opportunity to pay forward some of the opportunities I had, and I have a lot of fun doing it,” he says. These opportunities range from band trips to board games and puzzle competitions to taking a wagonload of AP tests. His happiness is augmented by his view of teaching. “I see my role as helping the student I was,” he says, and then revises slightly, “More like ‘the one I was 2.0,’ as you guys surpass the student I was all the time, but that's all the better.”

Regardless of our abilities relative to his in high school, we can still learn very much (as the nicknames “Math God” and “Jesus” testify). One piece of advice Mr. Schwartz gives about learning math is, quite simply, that math is hard and vast. “The overwhelming majority of people who keep at it hit that one class where they think they've met their match.” Have no fear, he continues, “It happened to your teachers and professors, and they'll help you.” No one should proceed through math – and life – unaided and isolated.

And no one, according to Mr. Schwartz, should proceed through life staring into an abyss of gloom. “Smile whether you feel like it or not – it can't hurt,” he suggests. “Balance on the curb (unless it’s on a busy street!), and ride your supermarket cart.” There is a lot of fun in living, if one simply looks for it. So maybe one day, many years after you’ve graduated from high school and college, when you’re shopping for groceries for your family and grumbling about work, you might see a bearded man riding his supermarket cart through the aisles. And you will remember Mr. Schwartz, and you will remember to smile.