Math Teacher Sue Seamans Retires


Submitted a year ago
Created by
Ruth Sylvester

My goal is to have them understand why things work the way they do, says Sue Seamans, a Lebanon High School math teacher who is retiring this June after more than four decades of teaching – all at Lebanon. She got into teaching math because she herself always enjoyed math and found the concepts easy, but she worked with enough of her contemporaries growing up to know that many people struggled with those concepts.

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“I enjoyed solving problems,” Sue says, and one of the problems she has solved again and again over the years is making the math landscape clear to others. “You think of different ways to explain things,” she says. “You think of different ways to approach a problem.”

Sue grew up in Grafton, graduating from Mascoma High School in 1970. She worked hard in school. In the summer after her junior year, she attended St. Paul’s Advanced Studies program, where she met a Wellesley College student who was interning. The contact sparked an interest in Wellesley, which gave her the best scholarship of the colleges she applied to. “I’d have liked to go to Dartmouth,” says Sue, “but it was not coed then.” Dartmouth was, however, a member of the 12 college exchange, and she figured she could take her junior year as an exchange student, which she in fact did. It was the year the college went coed. Sue was too busy studying and working to involve herself much in dorm life. She met most of her friends through her campus job at the library. She would meet her father, the head custodian at Dartmouth Hall, each day for lunch, which he would bring from home. She engaged in one illegal activity: She had a hotplate in her room on which she prepared her dinners, to save money.

Sue earned her teaching certification from Wellesley and applied for jobs, but nothing came her way. She was living at home the summer after graduation, wondering where next to apply for work. Maybe banking, she thought. Then the phone rang. It was Lebanon High School. A math teacher had resigned suddenly – would she take the job? It was a week before school, August 1974, and having no money she had no car for independent transport. But of course she said yes.

“Everybody was very friendly, but there was no written curriculum – the textbook was it,” recalls Sue. “Now we have mentor programs” and other systems to help teachers new to the profession or to Lebanon.

Sue survived and thrived, and grew and changed with the department, as educational theories blew one way and then another. In 1987 she taught a pilot integrated course that blended science and math. Co-taught with a science teacher from a different discipline (biology, chemistry, physics) each year, the class was a double-period, multi-year commitment. It was an exciting way to make clear to students applications of math concepts that otherwise often seem pretty useless. The difficulty of scheduling contributed to the eventual death of the experiment.

Sue’s life was changed by the course, however. One Monday morning she knew the science teacher would be leading the class first; she planned to touch up her lesson plan during that time. But in walked a sub, ready for her to carry the class! It was a difficult day. The sub, a young man named Terry Reynolds who’d grown up in White River, worked in the school fairly often. After four years of active service in the Army, he’d taken a VA aptitude tests that pointed him towards teaching. He told a friend, “There’s a young woman I’m really not getting along with,” and the friend said, “Invite her for coffee, and talk to her outside of school.” Before long the initial clashes in their connection faded to nothing, and eventually they married. Terry became a tutor at the school, providing specialized academic, practical, and emotional help to small groups of students. “I work with the kids academically,” he explains, “but I also make sure they eat, and have their coat.” He is also retiring this spring.

Terry prods Sue to recount some of her non-math activities. “Did you tell about being a firefighter?” he asks. Before she met Terry, Sue and three of her female friends joined the fire department. She had joined the Grange when she was in high school, for the sociability with a cross-section of her neighbors, and her father was very active in the fire department, which he had helped found. Her mother was the dispatcher, in the days before beepers when the messages were handled by phone. “We [women] drove the trucks, pulled hose, ran pumps – everything but going into burning buildings,” recalls Sue. “Then we decided that we really needed an ambulance. The police chief had a station wagon that was used. They’d lay people into the back and drive them to the hospital. We got an old ambulance donated – it was a World War II vehicle – and a bunch of us took a first aid course. Soon we realized that was not enough, and we became EMTs. I did that for quite a few years until I met Terry,” she says with a smile.

A special point of pride for Sue is the Lebanon NumeRaiders Senior Math Team, which she has coached to great success for 43 years. The teams have accumulated two cases full of trophies – and that’s still not enough space: Other trophies and plaques have flooded into other available space. She leaves on a high note: This year she had teams which came in first and third in the Twin State Math League for the year, and the team that she took to the New Hampshire State Meet came in second in their division, the best they've ever placed at the State Meet.

Sue has seen changes over the years. Most recently she finds the evolving use of technology can be a problem as well as a benefit. For example, students are not supposed to use their phones in the classroom; theoretically the teacher confiscates the phone and turns it in to the office. In practice, teachers typically just tell the student to put the phone away. “They cannot remove themselves from the constant contact,” says Sue, adding that sometimes it’s parents who are interrupting by phone or text. Software allows parents to see their children’s grades, and to post notes to teachers, which is helpful to all, but which can put intense pressure on teachers to get grades and comments onto the system fast. Teaching has changed because of tools like graphing calculators, which can provide an auxiliary avenue of insight into a problem. On a darker plane, students can use the internet to find answers to problems and avoid mastering the material, a pointless, but not unknown procedure.

Sue acknowledges that her beloved field of study can be difficult. “Even in calculus class” – where the students are electively pursuing math studies – “some just get it and others struggle,” she says. “But if we don’t teach them, they can’t go on” in fields like physics or engineering. “I tell them, ‘You need this if you want to go farther than this class.’” In her decades of teaching, she has given many students the tools to venture much farther.

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