Don Newman: 51 years of teaching math

For Upper School Math Department Chair Don Newman, the most rewarding part of the day is working with a group of students who are eager to learn.

“I introduce them to ideas of mathematics, and then we explore and learn together,” he said. “Rarely a day goes by that I don’t learn new insights and approaches from the students I teach.”

Newman has been teaching — and learning — for more than 50 years, and he is finishing his 30th year at USJ. For decades, he has taught his students important concepts to prepare them for the work they would face after high school.

“I take every opportunity, beginning in the 10th grade, to give students advice on how to prepare for college and life,” he said. “I encourage a goal-oriented outlook on life, including school. I want them to be productive citizens and have respect for others, regardless of their station in life.”

As a general rule at USJ, students know from an early age that a challenge awaits them in Upper School when they enter Newman’s class. He said they tend to be well prepped — primarily due to word of mouth.

“Students generally come to me with the knowledge and expectation that they will be expected to be attentive, motivated, and have good, organized study habits,” he said.

Through the years, Newman has seen many changes at USJ. The biggest have been improved and expanded facilities; expanded course offerings, including AP courses; and a highly motivated student population, he said.

While he said he’s been fortunate to have always had a steady number of eager, intelligent, and inquisitive students, he’s noticed an increased demand on their time.

“When I first began to teach, the typical student would be engaged in one sport for one season or one other activity, with the rest of their time available to pursue their academic schedule,” he said. “The typical student took four academic classes a day — or five with special permission to pursue a more challenging academic schedule. This allowed students to do more in-depth studies in the courses in which they were enrolled.”

Now, he said, students’ time is much more structured, leaving little opportunities to pursue independent investigations.

What has not changed, however, is the consistency of mathematics, Newman added.

“The mathematics developed by Archimedes, Reimann, Newton, and others is just as viable today as yesterday and equally viable in the future. Consequently, pure mathematics and the teaching thereof don’t necessarily change with the passage of time. Even though more new mathematics is developed every decade than had been known for all previous recorded time, the new information stands on the basic tenants as its foundation.”

Technology has provided more ways to more quickly examine results and perform comparative studies, Newman said. But the process of collecting data, formulating hypotheses, and justifying them in accordance with established principles of logic remains the same.

That’s one of the many things students learn in his classroom. 

“USJ has afforded me the atmosphere in which I get to share with interested students the discoveries I have made in mathematics,” he said. “USJ attracts students who want to be challenged and given the opportunity to excel academically.”

The academic atmosphere at USJ is palpable, and the school’s main focus is to provide students with the best possible college-prep education, he said. Classes are taught on a college level with as much responsibility for the learning process placed on the students as reasonable. Students consistently report back that they are well prepared for college and the demands of professional schools.

In addition to eager and inquisitive students, Newman said he has been fortunate to be supported by USJ’s administrators and Board of Trustees throughout his career.

“These are some of the reasons that USJ is such a good place to teach.”