2016年美国“数学大联盟杯赛”决赛和夏令营部分教授简介 - David Marain

David Marain, math supervisor, Ramapo Regional High School, New Jersey.

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这是“读者文摘” (Reader’s Digest, 1992)介绍David Marain的一篇文章。

From Reader’s Digest 1992

The Real Test written by Suzanne Chazin

I had no notion of what lay in store for me the first time I stepped into David Marain’s advanced-math class at Tenafly High School in New Jersey. It was a warm September day in 1977. Someone had opened one of the windows, but I was in a cold sweat. Math terrified me.

At precisely 8 a.m., a young rail of man with black horn-rimmed glasses, a wild floral shirt and dark, receding hair bounded into the room, a black vinyl calculator case strapped on his hip.

“My name’s Mr. Ma-rain, emphasis on the second syllable,” he said brightly. “Not, as I’ve sometimes been called, Mr. Moron, emphasis on the first.” The class giggled.

I had heard from other students that Mr. Marain was just shy of a Ph. D. in mathematics. It didn’t surprise me. He seemed to possess the wit and self-confidence of someone who, without trying, always ran ten steps ahead of the pack. As he bantered with the brightest kids, I sank deeper in despair.

Though Tenafly High brimmed with the precocious children of doctors and lawyers, I was not one of them. At 16, I had no special talents, yet inside I was burning with desires and frustrations. Already I had vowed that by age 30, I would become a novelist, song writer and world traveler. Math never figured in my future. I was in Mr. Marain’s class for another reason.

Advanced math was a prerequisite for calculus and the national Advanced Placement calculus test. Passing the AP exam could earn a student up to a year of college math credits, a big help in keeping down tuition costs. To my parents, this was an incredible bargain. I didn’t want to disappoint them.

Mr. Marain scribbled a theorem on the blackboard and asked us to prove it. Carefully, I copied the line of x’s, y’s and numbers into my notebook. But after a few steps, I was stumped.

Mr. Marain scooted around the room, looking over students’ shoulders. I tried to cover the mostly blank sheet of paper with the billowy sleeve of my peasant blouse. Once Mr. Marain realized I wasn’t a math whiz, I was certain he’d encourage me to drop out.

Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I could see him hovering next to me. This is it, I told myself. But, instead, he bent down and scratched an equation on the page.

“Try this,” he said gently. I did, and from there the theorem seemed to prove itself. “Very good,” he said, beaming from behind his glasses, as though I’d arrived at the answer on my own.

I was baffled. This was, after all, an honors class. Why was he taking the trouble to give so much attention to an average student like me?

Later I began to hear stories about how Mr. Marain quietly helped kids deal with all sorts of pressures. He intervened on behalf of students when a grade failed to meet a demanding parent’s expectations. If someone couldn’t afford a calculator (an expensive item in those days), Mr. Marain loaned his.

He seemed kinder than any teacher I’d ever known, never belittling a student for falling behind in class and never scoffing at a question, no batter how obvious or irrelevant. Most surprising of all, Mr. Marain seemed to make no distinction between the class whiz kids and those who barely scraped by. We were all praised and prodded in equal measure.

Once when the end-of-class bell rang, I walked up to Mr. Marain’s desk to ask for help. He smiled expectantly as I approached, but when I opened my book, a shadow of disappointment crossed his face. “I thought you were coming to join the math team,” he said.

“Me?” I asked, taken aback. Tenafly High School’s math club regularly ranked among the top five in statewide competitions. I belonged on it about as much as I belonged on the varsity football squad.

“Why not?” he dared. “You can do it.”

I looked at him in disbelief. How could he know the choking fear I felt? Nightly I would struggle with problems, only to discover others had solved them during lunch. But if Mr. Marain could consider me for the math team, perhaps I had a chance after all.

Nevertheless, it was clear I was one of the slowest in class. On our first major exam, I got a C-minus. That afternoon, I went to see Mr. Marain. “I don’t belong with the other students,” I said, near tears.

I hoped he might find a way to minimize the importance of the grade. Instead, he leaned on his gray meal desk and fixed me in his gaze. “What do you want out of this class?” he asked.

“I don’t want to fail,” I mumbled.

“You won’t fail,” he promised. “And I won’t let you walk away, as long as you are willing to do your very best.” He suggested coming in after school for reviews.
For the first time in my life, I was being asked to probe the limits of my potential. Mr. Marain was demanding excellence from me.

Over the coming months, our after-school reviews took on the regularity of athletic training. “I know math is a struggle for you,” Mr. Marain said once when I put down the chalk in disgust, unable to solve a problem. “But struggling against obstacles makes us stronger.”

I tuned him out. What could he know about struggling and frustration?

My junior year I took a PSAT, sort of a practice Scholastic Aptitude Test, and fared poorly. I was convinced then I’d never be accepted to college or get a decent job.
“Will you feel better if I tell you I had a hard time with tests too?” Mr. Marain asked when I told him the news. “I struggled every inch of the way,” he said. “I had to. And so will you.”

With Mr. Marain’s help, I got a B in advanced math. But I knew that next year’s calculus would be and even greater struggle.

My fears were well-founded. First semester I got a C-plus.

“Hang in there,” Mr. Marain said. “A grade doesn’t tell the whole story.”

It always surprised me that, for a man whose life was numbers, he never accorded them absolute power. Once I got an exam back with a score of 85. On one problem I had the right answer, but Mr. Marain hadn’t given me credit.

“You got the answer through luck, not skill,” he said when I complained. “But getting lucky works only once, and I don’t want you to count on luck in life. I want you to rely on your skills.”

My skills were put to the test one Saturday morning in May 1979 when I took the Advanced Placement calculus exam. Weeks later, the results came in. On a scale of one to five, I’d received a four, high enough to get a year of college math credits and save my parents thousands of dollars in tuition.

I thanked Mr. Marain, even wrote a letter to the Board of Education about him. But I knew I would never crack another math book. And if I didn’t, what reason would I have to think of him again

Yet I did think of him. In my 20s, I became a magazine writer. Life seemed full of limitless opportunities. Life seemed full of limitless opportunities. Then I turned 30, and suddenly I realized I had yet to write the novel or publish the song I had promised myself I would. I couldn’t stanch a nagging feeling that I’d stalled somewhere along the way.

It had been a long time since someone had demanded the best of me, and I yearned for that again. So I went back to Tenafly to find Mr. Marain, hoping he could help.

I recognized him instantly as he bounded out of the faculty office. His cool hair was now gray, his glasses stylishly sleek. Gone were the loud flowered shirts, but otherwise he looked exactly the same.

We talked for a long while, about former times, old friends, struggles and disappointments, mine and, surprisingly, his too.

“I was once in a position similar to the one you’re in now,” he said.

His father had been a pharmacist who lost his store during the Depression, and the family had been poor. A fat little boy with glasses, he was accepted by other kids only because he could help them with their homework.

The only way he could go the college was on scholarship, so his parents pushed him to excel. He felt overwhelmed at times. “Everyone assumed I was brilliant,” he said, “but inside I felt like a fake. I only looked smart because I worked so hard and so much was expected of me.”

He graduated as valedictorian of his high-school class and went to Rutgers University on a scholarship to study chemistry. He got a summer job as a lab assistant, but he was too clumsy to work with the delicate glassware, and the chemicals made him ill.

No matter how hard he struggled, Mr. Marain confided, he realized he would never be a chemist.

Sinking into despair, he dropped out of college the following year, disappointing his parents. He returned later, though, switched to math and set out in the hope of completing a Ph.D.

Later he suffered another setback. His scholarship money began to run out, and he had to accept a teaching job.

In school I never understood why Mr. Marain had such compassion for the underdog. And what could he know about struggling to overcome obstacles, I had asked back then. Now I realized he had been speaking from experience.

But with all his setbacks and disappointments, didn’t he feel that he had failed? “I suppose you might think that,” he said. “For a while I had regrets. But is changing direction really failure?” I thought he was now attempting to cushion my own disappointments.

“When you encounter an obstacle in life, what do you do?” he asked, once again the teacher.

“I try to overcome it,” I said.

“What if you can’t? What if it’s like an equation that can’t be solved?”

I knew he was developing a chain of reasoning as logical as any math theorem. But where was he headed?

“If you can’t overcome it,” he said, “you must strike out in a new direction with everything you’ve got.”

“You see,” he added, “we all have failures and regrets. The question is what we do with them. No one can always be the best,” he said. “But if you do your best, give everything you’ve got, you’ll either overcome your obstacles or find a new, possibly better direction.

“That’s where real success comes from, working hard at something with all your heart and soul.”

Then, realizing he was late for a meeting, he rose and embraced me warmly. “Keep reaching for the things you want,” he said. “Let time take care of the rest.”

A few days later, an envelope arrived. Inside was a poem Mr. Marain had written years ago, called “Ode to a Calculus Class.” I remembered him handing it out at the end of senior year. Now I reread the final lines with new-found appreciation:

But the real test of whether
it was worth the pain
will come in a decade or two,
if a few return and say:
“You know, I’ve learned a lot since then,
but I still remember you.”

Here, I thought with a smile, was a David Marain test I would not fail.