Student Essay Contest

Mary O’ Halloran: “Dear Teacher”

2013 AWM Essay Contest: High School Level Honorable Mention

By: Angelique Scheuermann, Lakewood High School, Long Beach, CA

In Ms. O’ Halloran’s math classes, you are classified as one of two students: you are either a “dear student,” who follows her directions accordingly and respects her authority, or a “VFP,” a “very foolish person,” who talks ubiquitously out of turn and dozes off mentally in class. If classified as a “VFP,” you need not worry, for these statuses are quite flexible, and you may be back in her good graces as soon as the next day. Ms. O’ Halloran tolerates absolutely no nonsense from her students, but her charming Irish accent and her sharp wit creates a lighthearted and enjoyable classroom atmosphere in universally difficult classes: Precalculus and AP Calculus AB. Lakewood High School has been fortunate enough to have such an invaluable teacher as Ms. O’ Halloran, who enthusiastically teaches any and all students who enter her classroom.
Mary O’ Halloran was born and raised in the village of Ballyheigue in County Kerry in southwest Ireland. As the eldest girl in a family of five children, Ms. O’ Halloran “had a taste for being in charge,” and every student who has had Ms. O’ Halloran as a teacher is well aware of this. Mathematics was always one of Ms. O’ Halloran’s interests; in my interview of her, she articulated that in her youth, she “did her math homework first, and would do the rest of the painful stuff after that.” At the all-girls Catholic boarding school that she attended, Ms. O’ Halloran met Sister Peter, her calculus teacher, who taught her to “think outside of the box” and to think more critically, a goal that Ms. O’ Halloran now has for her students. With her innate love for math, she always knew that teaching was the career that she would pursue.
At University College Dublin, Ms. O’ Halloran attained a bachelor’s degree with a major in chemistry, surprisingly, and a minor in math. “I would have majored in math, but I didn’t think I was good enough. In order to major in math, you had math, math physics, and my physics wasn’t strong enough,” she explained in the interview. After college, she went on to teach all levels of math, chemistry, and biology at an all-girls high school in Ireland. The education system in Ireland was vastly different from that of the United States: the only method for determining how a student did in a class was state exams at the end of the year which lasted six hours each; everything in class was just “learning to learn.” After nine years of teaching in Ireland and with a job waiting for her in the United States, Ms. O’ Halloran immigrated to Southern California.
In 1986, Ms. O’ Halloran began teaching the American students at St. Paul High School in Santa Fe, California. From that point on, she decided to cease teaching science and to focus solely on teaching mathematics. In 1990, Ms. O’ Halloran broke through her earlier collegiate hesitations about pursuing mathematics and earned her master’s degree in mathematics at California State University, Fullerton. Within that time frame, she also began her next teaching job at David Starr Jordan High School in Long Beach, CA, where she absolutely loved teaching all levels of mathematics for thirteen years. More recently, she has taught and been co-chair of the math department at Lakewood High School in Lakewood, CA.
To have Ms. O’ Halloran as a teacher is an absolute pleasure. I am honored to be a student in her AP Calculus AB class this year. Every morning I look forward to calculus class because of Ms. O’ Halloran’s witty remarks and pleasant personality. Her natural gift for teaching and her emanating passion for math transcends the minds of even the most mathematically-contemptuous students. Because of Ms. O’ Halloran, my love of math has grown exponentially, and I have decided to pursue mathematics as a minor in college.
As co-chair of the Lakewood High School math department and a teacher with National Board Certification, Ms. O’ Halloran has no need to prove that she is an accomplished and ambitious woman in her mathematics career. She perpetually enjoys having “a bit of a challenge.” Although earning the National Board Certification was a laborious process, she told me in the interview that she found it “energizing” and was open to the change that came with it. But even with her numerous accomplishments, Ms. O’ Halloran has not lost sight of her initial love of teaching high school students. She loves the daily interaction she has with students my age and derives enjoyment from teaching them novel ways to think about mathematics, rather than having them simply regurgitate formulas. All she desires of her students is that they improve their skills, better their attitudes about mathematics, and “enjoy their years” in high school.
For students who cringe at the utterance of the word “mathematics,” Ms. O’ Halloran is able to make math for them tolerable, and maybe even fun. Ask almost any one of her calculus students about his or her opinion of Ms. O’ Halloran, and he or she will reply with something along the lines of, “she is amazing.” Any future Lakewood High School student will be extremely lucky if he or she begins his or her eye-opening journey through mathematics with the two words Ms. O’ Halloran uses to greet each class: “dear students.”
About the Student:
I am a senior at Lakewood High School in the Merit Scholars program, the most rigorous academic program at LHS. I have served as the president of the California Scholarship Federation Club for the past two years, as treasurer last year and vice-president this year for Key Club, and as the Senior Representative for the Merit Scholars Club this year. Mathematics has always been a passion of mine. I also love Chemistry and Biology, and plan to major in Biochemistry and minor in math in college next year. Running and exercising are my other hobbies, and I completed a triathlon and a 10k run in 2012. I currently tutor two students in algebra II and chemistry.