Faculty Profile, Douglas McEachern Upper School Mathematics Teacher
December 09, 2021
Tell us about your path to Léman.
I'm from the suburbs of Philadelphia. I went to undergrad for mechanical engineering at Notre Dame. I worked a bunch of different jobs after college including an engineering job working for the government. I was living in the D.C. area, and I had two friends who were here in New York City teaching at a Catholic school and they knew that teaching was something I was interested in. One of them mentioned to me that his school was hiring math teachers and he thought of me because I have an engineering degree and like math. I interviewed at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, and they hired me. I moved to New York and started teaching. I studied at Hunter College part-time and get a master's in math education and got certified and taught pretty much every high school math class.
I created both AP calculus courses for the school and, in addition to teaching, I was the Director of Programming for the school and the Math Department Chair. I wanted to focus just on teaching, so I started to look around and found the listing for a math teacher at Léman. I was interested in IB schools because I thought it would be an interesting challenge and I liked the idea of not having to teach the New York State Regents and AP.
What do you like about teaching math?
A lot of people have this idea that there's always a right answer and I really agree with that, but I think it's interesting that we can always explain where an answer comes from. I like to play games with patterns and make predictions. I know we talk about discovery activities in different ways, but with math, it could be something like, “let's try this with this series of numbers or let's draw this thing and count these things. What patterns do you notice? Let's make some guesses at what it might be.” In math, you have to try some things you don't know whether they are right or wrong and be okay with that. We can often learn interesting things from wrong answers. But if we think about why it's not right or why someone would try that as a guess, we have to say, “let's think about what they're thinking. What's good about that? And now let's talk about how we need to refine that.”
What do you bring from your background as an engineer into your teaching?
Engineering is about organized problem-solving. The idea that if something doesn't go wrong, we can go through a checklist: "what did we miss in the original problem statement? and go through and check all that. Ok, let's check something rudimentary. Did we copy everything correctly? Did I see a three there and for some reason write a five because I'm tired and I just forget which number I started writing? Also, I bring an appreciation for that when we're using a calculated predictor or anything like a real-world example is kind of knowing that there may not be a perfect answer, but we can get something that works and gets the job done intentionally.
How do you incorporate technology into the classroom and why do you think that’s important?
At a practical level, smart boards and interactive whiteboards are great for just the fact that we can record our collective work on the board and be able to go back and review something. If a student misses a day, they don't have to rely on going to somebody else for notes. Even in class, when I walk around the room, I see students with a laptop open with Powerschool up and the notes from a previous example. We couldn't do that with the chalkboard. The big thing I like about working with technology in math or using tech in math class is being able to manipulate stuff in real-time. I can open a spreadsheet and do something over and over changing just one factor and see the patterns fall into place in front of me. In the IB Applications course, the expectation is that you always have a calculator handy. It’s a course that’s designed for students who are not looking to pursue a math-heavy career.
What attracted you to working at an IB school?
I like that the IB is broad-ranging and covers a lot of areas. We always have technology and formula books available for exams so students aren’t burdened with memorization and mechanical skills but rather they are thinking about what these things mean and how we can actually apply them.
What do you hope to instill in your students in your class?
I want them to know that everyone can do math and do it well. That’s what I like about the standards-based grading system. You don’t have to look at something and just know the answer. It’s okay to struggle and make mistakes. That’s part of learning. At my last school, a lot of students were afraid to speak up in class or write something down that was wrong. I want to let my students know that I’ve made a lot more mistakes than they have. That’s the only way you can learn new things. You have to be willing to make mistakes.
What are your impressions of Léman so far?
There is a real community here among both the students and the faculty. It’s a learning community. Everyone here belongs and even though I’ve only been here a few months, I already feel like I belong and I’m welcome. The students are a genuinely good group of kids. They seem to be psyched about learning. I came from a Catholic school, so a lot of time was spent on discipline, and sometimes it felt like that was more important than academics. I don’t get the sense that that is the case here. We have high expectations, and we expect students to be responsible and prepared, but we’re focused on academics over everything else.