What's Your Claim to Fame?
Can you match the success of Beulah I. Shoesmith? Note, the I. for her middle name is for "Isosceles." I am not kidding! As I will try to show, we need more math teachers like her.
First, like the many politicians, athletes, war veterans, etc. who get schools named after them, Beulah perhaps is the only mathematics teacher who has had a school named/dedicated after her. It is the Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School (1330 E. 50th Street) in Chicago, IL.
Second, known as the best math teacher in all of Chicago, Beulah was a spinster who taught mathematics for 35 years at Hyde Park High School in the 1920s1950s (and I think about 20 years at other schools). Many of her students went on to great success in the fields of math, physics, medicine and law. For example, two of the eight recipients of the 1996 Medal of Science were her former pupils. Also, Paul Samuelson, the famous mathematical economist and text author, was Beulah's pupil...and he credits her with helping him stay in mathematics and succeed.
In an article by Frances Rummell in the National ParentTeacher (June 1958), Beulah was labeled as the "FlunkProof Teacher":
What is her philosophy? "Independent Creative Thinking." Her students have no fear of reaching out into the unknown. They are free from the "rule and rote" method. Some of her techniques are: Introduce ideas with problems, encourage competetion, provide differential assignments, collect thinking problems from many sources, always introduce the next day's work before the class is dismissed. Miss Shoesmith also detests busy work, play in mathematics, and giving only what mathematics the student will use. She thinks they should go far beyond. There is joy in climbing a mountain that it was thought could not be climbed.
Or consider these comments by Herb Hyman, another of her former mathematics students in the 1940s:
Beulah Shoesmith put the fear of God in you the first day you ever got into class....Beulah Shoesmith always kept a stern countenance but we had an honors math class... first period, 8:00 in the morning and it was traditional when you graduated high school to go to the prom and after that and go and stay on the beach and watch the sun come up in the morning, which at that time of year, June would have been fairly early. So we got home and there wasn’t a single kid in our honors math class who didn’t show up that day for 8:00 honors math. You wouldn’t want to miss a day of that. It was so full of learning, so full of special stuff. That was typical of our math learning with her. I didn’t always have her. I didn’t her until I was in my junior year but it was wonderful....one of her favorite sayings was that if you ever missed a problem, either homework or on a test, you had to come in after school and work on it until you fully understood. No student of hers went without understanding everything. I can hear her to this day, "I’ll be here 9th, 10th, 11th, and after." And she was....and she said it in just that kind of stern tone and we came....
Beulah I. Shoesmith, originally of German extraction....She had had a masters degree in math at the University of Chicago and very proud of it and perhaps would have gone on to a doctorate if she would have had the funds to do it. She died with $2 million dollars that she had made by playing the stock market. And $2 million dollars I’m talking about in 1940 something. Fabulous. She played bridge and she played the stock market. She was brilliant in math. She thought us things. I don’t know if you have ever heard of casting off nines but this is a way of proving what you’ve done in math. Its proof is extremely difficult but it is so handy. I still use it. I don’t subtract. You do an addition in the lower line from the upper line and add the number in between. It’s a method that’s much more easy and more accurate and then you can use casting off nines to test your answer if it’s right. If you have something that adds up to nine you know you’ve hit a transition, but you switch two numbers, trans something. Whatever it is. But any rate.
Good advice and kind thoughts. Beulah Isosceles Shoesmith, I wish I had known you!
Source: Herb Hyman,
