Interview: Kerry Schultz, Saucon Valley High School

November 17, 2021 at 2:20 am Leave a comment

It sounds like the start of a math joke: Did you hear about the mathematical economist who became a teacher? The punch line is, “Her name is Kerry Schultz,” which, admittedly, isn’t very funny, but it’s absolutely true. Kerry used to work as an analyst for JPMorgan Chase but now teaches calculus and computer science at Saucon Valley High School in Hellertown, PA.

Seniors selected Kerry to be the faculty speaker at the 2021 SVHS commencement. During her speech, Kerry gave the graduates some sage advice. “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance,” she told them, drawing from Lee Ann Womack’s 2000 hit. She also referenced one of my favorite publications:

After a difficult last two years, I promised to avoid the pandemic topic, and I wanted to be sure to keep this on the lighter side. So I brought my favorite book, Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. I’m pretty sure this book is the reason I was chosen to speak tonight.

As it turns out, Kerry and I have more in common than just our love of math jokes. We both have twins. (In fact, she has twin 10-year-old daughters and a 9-year-old son. I’ve never been good with numbers, but I’m pretty sure that means that, at one point, she had three kids under age two in her house. My goodness!) Like my wife and me, Kerry and her husband both love math jokes, math memes, and all things numeric. The two of them used to play The Game of 24 on long car rides; my wife and I played Dollar Nim with our kids.

The comparison ends when it comes to exercise, though. I’m active, but Kerry runs at 4:30 a.m. most mornings, because she spends her afternoons taking kids to their various activities (soccer, baseball, football, swimming, cross country, and golf). She’s finished 10 marathons and hopes to run the Chicago Marathon in 2022. (I’ve also never been asked to speak at a graduation. Yet.) In her limited downtime, Kerry enjoys traveling or reading a good book on the beach.

I caught up with Kerry when a friend forwarded her picture from the Lehigh Valley Press. As it turns out, Kerry has a fascinating story about her path to education.

Can you tell us how you got to Saucon Valley?

I went to college with the hopes of becoming a math teacher, but others convinced me that I was “too smart” for that. So I graduated from Colgate University in 2000 with a degree in mathematical economics, and I went to work as an analyst at JPMorgan Chase in midtown Manhattan. Some might say it was glamorous, with lots of fancy meals and car service home every night — but I hated pretty much everything about it.

I was working in midtown on September 11, 2001, and my brother was working on the 90th floor of the South Tower. He was extremely lucky to escape the attack on the World Trade Center, but many of his co-workers did not. This was a pivotal day for me. I realized life was way too short to spend it doing something I hated. In the following weeks, I began looking for graduate programs in mathematics education. In 2002, I enrolled at Lehigh University, and in 2004, I began teaching middle school math in the Saucon Valley School District.

What is your current role?

I taught middle school math for five years while obtaining my principal certification from Lehigh. I then became a Coordinator of Academic Services and later an Instructional Coach for Math, all in Saucon Valley. In 2015, I requested a return to the classroom and was thrilled to be asked to teach high school math. I have been in the high school for five years now, teaching Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and AP Computer Science Principles. I absolutely love my job! 

And if you weren’t teaching math?

I’d love to be a professional athlete or work in an athletic setting — maybe a statistician for the NY Mets!

What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

The kids! It’s important to get to know each and every one of my students as best I can. Nothing is better than knowing I have made a difference in the life of a student. Sometimes it’s by helping them solve a difficult problem, sometimes by building their confidence, sometimes by showing up to their lacrosse game, and sometimes it’s simply by being there when they’ve had a rough day. The relationships I’ve built with students over the years are by far the most important thing to me.

What is your favorite math joke(s)?

My oldest favorite has to be, “What did 0 say to 8?” Now that I teach computer science, I really like, “There are 10 kinds of people: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.”

Which math joke(s) do your students like best?

The jokes that poke fun at mathematicians tend to be class favorites. “What do you call a beautiful woman on the arm of a math graduate student? A tattoo.” And, “What’s the difference between a large pizza and a mathematician? A pizza can feed a family of four.”    

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever said during class? Or maybe, what’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened in class?

This is definitely a case of “you had to be there,” but one year I had an Honors Calculus student convince me, with the help of her classmates, that after high school she was going into the family business of designing chairs. I was skeptical at first, but they were so believable and had so many details, they had me convinced for days. They told me that her family designed chairs for Nicki Minaj, and to this day I can’t hear that name without dying of laughter.   

What is your favorite area of mathematics? Is that also your favorite thing to teach?

I don’t have a personal favorite, but I definitely love teaching calculus. Calculus is a great challenge for many students, but most of them are willing and able to put forth the effort to succeed. I enjoy helping students work through the difficulties, and I’m just as excited as they are when it all starts to make sense. It is fantastic when you see the light bulb go on!

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About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

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