Circles, calculus, and comics: Garcia says goodbye

Circles, calculus, and comics: Garcia says goodbye

Zachary Kurtz, Staff Writer

“Even though math was never and probably won’t be my life’s passion, Garcia made math so applicable and so interesting to me in so many ways, and I really appreciate that about him,” Roey Nornberg (12) said.
At the end of the academic school year, Math teacher Charles Garcia will be leaving the school. Garcia has worked at the school for seven years and is leaving to pursue a different style of teaching at the Avenues School in Manhattan, he said.
As opposed to some teachers who prefer to stay teaching in one place for many years, Garcia said that he just wanted to try something a little different for a little while. “I usually don’t like change, but this was an opportunity for me that I really couldn’t pass up,” he said.
At Avenues, Garcia will be teaching the Advanced Calculus and Math Research classes. “The classes are student centered and are similar to English and History classes where you guys have those big harkness tables, and the whole room will be covered in whiteboards, and the students will be at the boards while I will be facilitating discussions about problems,” Garcia said.
Math teacher Chris Jones said he was very excited when Garcia decided to come teach at the school. “Mr. Garcia is passionate about teaching, he is passionate about mathematics, and he is an expert in mathematics, and that’s a really wonderful and powerful combination,” he said.
“Mr. Garcia is inspirational. He eats, drinks, breathes, lives math and teaching,” Math teacher Charles Worrall said. “He loves students, he loves math and he constantly is seeking out new mathematics and new ways to think about what he’s teaching, and new things to teach, and he’s looking to share things all the time with everybody around him.”
Sometimes there were three or four instances a day where Garcia would say, “‘Hey Charles, have you thought about this! Here’s something really cool!’” Worrall said. “I’ve been teaching a long time and have been thinking about math teaching for a long time and many of the things he would say ‘Hey have you thought about this?’ I would say ‘No, actually, I never have,’ and that doesn’t happen very often.”
Over his seven years at the school, Garcia has taught many students across all grade levels and a spectrum of different classes, including Geometry and Problem Solving, Algebra 2 and Trigonometry Honors, Pre-Calculus BC Honors (PCBCH) and AB (PCAB), and Senior Math Electives. He has inspired a lot of students to challenge themselves, to go as far as they can in their mathematical studies, Jones said.
Like many students, Diana Shaari (12) has gravitated towards Garcia’s teaching style, which she found very accessible, since he was always very clear and constantly made great connections that allowed her to feel more comfortable in his class, she said. “I remember when I sat down on my second test of the year in 10th grade and I was very nervous, and he put a very funny meme on the cover of our test that was an inside joke our class had come up with, and I just remember hysterically laughing before the test,” Shaari said. “As Horace Mann students take school very seriously, there has always been a lot of stress around test taking, and I think that experience epitomizes Mr. Garcia as he challenges us academically but I can also just laugh before a test and know I’ll be fine.”
Garcia’s student Marli Katz (12) said that she teamed up with Garcia’s partner, Test Center Coordinator Jesse Shaw, who also works at the school, to temporarily take Garcia’s favorite mug, a Wonder Woman mug, which she then encased in green JELL-O just like in the Pilot episode of The Office. Katz also baked a cake for Garcia’s birthday and filled it with chocolate sprinkles, miniature plastic babies, and a spider, topping the cake with a single miniature plastic baby as a joke, she said.
Garcia’s skill set goes beyond making sure that his students stay calm while still learning material, and he has always tried to make math interesting, even the more boring topics, Alexandra Yao (9) said.
When Maya Nornberg (10) switched from regular math her freshman year to honors during her sophomore year, Garcia went out of his way to explain to her that honors is not that big of a difference and to reassure her that she would adjust well, she said. “He would really go into it and reteach everything they learned in honors that they didn’t teach in regular,” she said. “He really, really went out of his way to make me feel like I belonged, and he did that the whole year.”
Garcia was also the teacher who Benjamin Hu ‘19 named as his ‘Distinguished Teacher’ when Hu was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in 2019. “He was so excited about math all of the time, and it was very prevalent,” Hu said. “I would go to his office all the time just to ask a question about the content, but he would get so excited and we would go off on tangents and talk about other cool concepts and stuff.”
At the time, Garcia was at a loss for words when Hu chose him as his Distinguished Teacher, he said in an interview for an article in The Record about Hu’s accomplishment. “I know that Ben has had a lot of important influences and amazing teachers, so it meant the world to me when he picked me,” Garcia said. “It’s one of the best memories I’ll have as a teacher.”
Another one of Garcia’s skills is creating new material and then sharing that material, Jones said. “That’s a great thing to have in your department that made him extra valuable, and I think that’s going to make him unbelievably valuable,” Jones said. “It’s one of the reasons he’s been hired by Avenues, because they know he has this superpower for building new material and creating interesting connections between the ideas.”
Garcia said that he removed parts of the Algebra 2 and Trigonometry Honors curriculum that he found less useful to his students and expanded on certain ideas and topics such as Analytic Geometry and the Theory of Polynomial Equations. “I wanted to make a course that no matter what they took after me and after anyone who teaches it, whether it’s PCBCH, PCAB, Honors Physics, AP Physics, Regular Physics, Econ, whatever, that there’s nothing that they couldn’t handle from that point on,” Garcia said.
There are many fun memories that surround Garcia, including his circle drawing competition against Worrall. “One of my strongest memories from my time at Horace Mann was beating Mr. Worrall in a circle drawing competition. Mr. Worrall doesn’t know how many books the posters from that competition are in but he will be finding them for years,” Garcia said.
Worrall said that he doesn’t know how the competition started, but he learned how to draw diagrams well, especially circles, and so he had an ongoing joke with his Geometry Honors students that his circles are almost perfect. However, one year a student who was in Honors Algebra 2 said that Garcia drew incredible circles, and Worrall pretended to be insulted. So, presumably, the student went to class and told Garcia, and that is how the competition began. “We were rivals in circle drawing, and at some point we did have a competition and a few kids were in the room and they judged his circles better than mine and I was very angry while laughing on the inside,” Worrall said.
Garcia is passionate about movies and comic books, both of which he incorporates into his teaching. Garcia said that, when he was a kid, there were only a couple superheroes that they could watch such as the “really cheesy” Batman, a “really horrible” Spiderman, and the Superman movies, but the one big show for his generation was the Wonder Woman T.V. show, and kids his age loved it. “So every other movie had been made, and everyone got to see just how excited I was when the Wonder Woman movie came out three years ago,” Garcia said. “They all got to see it, they all were there when my friend who worked on the movie flew me out to Los Angeles for the premiere and when I finally got to sit next to the Wonder Woman who was from my T.V. show and Gal Gadot who was standing right behind me.”
“I would give them [my students] silly little quotes from superhero movies to motivate them, I’d ask the kids what are their superpowers. It’s just a really nice thing,” Garcia said. “Some people have their art, some people have their knitting, some people have their really high echelon book collection and films that they watch, I like good old fashion fun, watching people break things and throw things at people and if there’s some emotion in it, I feel it.”
From the fun interactions with his colleagues and his students, to the amazing curriculums he has developed, to his infectious personality, Garcia will be missed, Jones said. “He loves to teach, and he’s inspirational, and he pushes you and he gets you to see things you would never have seen before.”