Joy Mack ’21 interviewed High School Math Teacher Mr. Daniel Schwartz, who has taught all levels of IB Mathematics over the course of his 11 years at TASIS.
When did you start at TASIS, and what do you teach?
I started at TASIS in 2010 and have taught Math in the High School since that time. I currently teach Core 2, Core 4, and Honors 1, which is for advanced ninth graders. I've also taught all levels of IB Math at one time or another. I've taught almost every class the Math Department offers.
What else do you do at the School?
I was hired as a dorm parent my first year and went on to become the head of two different dorms. I then was named a duty administrator (DA) a few years ago and still occupy that role. I also coached tennis and did service learning in my early days at TASIS.
Can you please describe your educational background and your career in education prior to TASIS?
I grew up in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and I got both my bachelor's and master's degrees through the University of Minnesota system. My first two years teaching were at my old high school in Albert Lea, which was exciting. It was nice to be able to call the other teachers by their first names for the first time.
I then taught at Mahtomedi High School for nine years before leaving Minnesota to teach at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, for three years. Myers Park was the biggest high school in North Carolina and was my first introduction to the IB, so it was a real eye opener for me. And then at that point, just looking for a change, I went to a job fair and ended up landing here at TASIS.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
I like to think that I try to build mechanics and vocabulary—it’s important to me. I want the students to be able to speak intelligently on the topics. And then the idea is that you provide enough building blocks where they can work out a variety of problems on their own. That's the hope. I try to run a fairly structured class—but in a fun, happy, positive environment.
I also like my students to work through problems the right way and to show their thought process. I don’t teach tricks or shortcuts, and I dislike the "can’t I just" attitude.
What do you like most about working at TASIS?
You know, TASIS for me is honestly a home, and I love it here. And whether it was TASIS or Lugano, or Switzerland or Europe, or a combination of all of it—it was something I was searching for for a long time. And I love working with the students here. I love the diversity of backgrounds.
When I first got here, I was lucky enough to become friends with Tom Angelitti. Tom really took me in and showed me Europe and the Italian culture and changed my life. I love that man. He opened my eyes to a new world and a new way of living that is very special for me.
I think by my second year, I was living here year-round. I was lucky enough to be involved with the Summer Programs—both TSP and CDE. So, it's not just that I love TASIS but that I love the life here. I am hopeful it will continue for many more years.
Clearly everything is different at TASIS this year because of the pandemic. How do you feel like the year is going so far?
Well, first of all, I'm really proud of the people who were able to get this going, especially Chris Nikoloff, Emily and KC McKee, Bill Eichner, and the other key figures who dealt with the most difficult challenges this summer and early fall. Getting the school year off the ground and having kids here is amazing.
But the reality for me is that, in 25 years of teaching, this is the toughest year I've had. It may be partly because my wife and I have a new baby, which makes things a little bit tough, but it’s more because of all the different minor challenges—like the plexiglass and having to wear masks all day. These things make it more difficult to interact with the students, which is hard for me. It's challenging for everyone.
As difficult as this first year of school has been, it’s also been very rewarding. There are a million other teachers who would love to trade places with me.
What drew you to teach math?
I was always good at math. My parents were teachers, and a lot of my high school friends’ parents were teachers. So, I was always kind of in that world. Teaching wasn't something that was foreign to me—I was always drawn to it. Being in a classroom and working with kids is easy for me, actually. However, I really didn't grow to appreciate math until I met [Math Department Chair] Jim Shields. Meeting Jim here allowed me to ask the whys—why something is the way it is or how something works. And he opened my eyes to a lot of theory and proofs in math that I just found fascinating.
So, my discussions with Jim were kind of eye-opening for me, and I really grew to love math over the last decade more than I ever had. I think in the beginning I loved teaching, and now he's gotten me to a point where I also love math.
When students ask you how learning certain math principles is going to help them in the future, what's your response?
Well, one thing that teaching allows you to do is to get summer work, and I've spent many summers working in the US. I worked at a civil engineering firm, I worked for 3M, I helped frame a house. There are a lot of uses of mathematics that, based on my own experiences, I can pass on to students when they ask that question.
Typically now, I try to guide those questions from “When am I going to use this?” to “How did they come up with it?” Or, “Why did they come up with this particular question or theory?” And that's what I like to look at: why does your calculator give you a particular answer—whether it's a negative for trigonometry or solutions to systems using matrices. How does your calculator work? How does it evaluate a logarithm? How does that work? Those are the questions I try to reframe. I can’t answer, “Where and when am I ever going to use this in real life?’ I would rather redirect that question to almost a reversal and go back to, “Why did they come up with this?” Or, “How did they come up with it?”
I know we've talked about humanities versus math in class before, and I wanted to know if you thought they were similar in the way that you can find deeper meanings when you look at certain things in math, just as some people do when they look at a text in literature?
This may seem ridiculous, but I believe that math, written out fully on a chalkboard, is a beautiful thing. And I think the only person who really appreciates that as much as me is Jim Shields. I cannot wait after a lesson, when my board is full, to bring Jim in so that we can just stand back and look at it. That's where I find beauty in mathematics. And that's why I'm blessed to be in this room.
With the one chalkboard left on campus?
With the one chalkboard, and if I'm known as the one teacher that uses chalk, so be it. But that's where I find beauty in math.
If you could teach any other subject or work in a different area of TASIS for one day, which would it be?
You know, I’ve thought about this. I do have a geology degree. I worked on a lot of farms growing up, and I've mowed a lot of lawns. So, if I could do anything, I would work for the grounds crew here. I would do it every day. There's nothing more enjoyable for me than cutting grass.
“I couldn't be happier that we've opened school, and we are a model for so many. Thousands of schools in the world right now wish they could be us.”
What is your favorite memory from being a teacher at TASIS?
I think for me, when I realized last spring that the students were not coming back, I genuinely missed them. And I realized how much I love teaching and love being around students—and I remember how empty that feeling was. Having them back is something I appreciate every day moving forward because I dread the thought that we might have to go to distance learning again.
You missed us?
I do, and it's not just me. Walking around campus, it was like, I would give anything to have the kids back. Every teacher wants a snow day here and there, and everybody wants a day off or whatever. And maybe some parts of the job are easier with distance learning, but it's not what a good teacher wants to do. We want the interaction with students—whether it's good or bad—and that's what makes the job fun. That's why we come back year after year.
That's another thing I love about teaching: there’s a continual renewal. The rhythm to each year may be kind of the same, but there’s always something different and something new to look forward to. I couldn't be happier that we've opened school, and we are a model for so many. Thousands of schools in the world right now wish they could be us.
I couldn't be happier for the steps that TASIS has taken. They have just done an amazing job getting this rolling, and we'll see if we can make it. I’m sure that you, as a student, feel the same way. You have to be so happy to be back here.
“In math class, Mr. Schwartz lights up the room with humor and vibrant, positive energy. I feel confident in learning the material because Mr. Schwartz is so supportive and always has time to answer my questions. He makes math fun, and you can genuinely tell he cares greatly about his students’ success and understands their needs.”
– Ella Abisi ’21
“Mr. Schwartz is a very understanding teacher, and he has a good sense of humor. The classroom is always filled with laughter, and it is an honor to be his student.”
– Elia Sato ’21