David McCord, Math teacher extraordinaire, is retiring after 27 years of teaching at Hopkins. His tenure has included being the head of the Math Department from 1997-2006, then again from 2010-2014, and being the assistant coach of the Girls Varsity Soccer Team from 1995-2012, as well as coaching the Boys JV Lacrosse Team in 1995 and 1996.
McCord first came to Hopkins in the 1994-1995 school year after being “very ungrounded for a large portion of my life.” In fact, McCord “was getting ready to quit teaching... when I got this phone call from the Director of Academics at Hopkins.” After tenuously moving to New Haven on a one-year lease, McCord was unsure about his future at Hopkins until one September morning in Assembly: “these eight girls...came out and sang ‘Danny Boy’ and it was so beautiful I fell in love with Hopkins.” Then, the teaching took over.
McCord derives “so much joy” from teaching at Hopkins, though he did not start out as the all-star of the Math Department that he is today. “I think I was a good teacher for the first half of my time here but I think I get better every year now." He continues, "That happened because of a terrible year where my classes were just horrible. All of them. I felt like quitting but instead I went to the woodshed and kind of retooled. I just felt like going on instinct wasn’t good enough anymore.” His central philosophy changed from simply trying to convey information about math to students in a productive way to “making the classroom as much of a community as possible... and allowing the students to do most of the exploratory work,” though, as McCord admits with a small laugh, “some-
times I still talk too much.”
McCord’s fellow faculty members speak highly about him in both a personal and professional capacity. Science teacher Octavio Sotelo, a close, personal friend of McCord’s, believes that his students’ love for him is multifaceted: “He is an enthusiastic, energetic and knowledgeable teacher; sensitive and thoughtful about the different learning styles of his students, and flexible and supportive when they struggle. His great sense of humor and playfulness is an important feature of his personality inside and outside of class. I learned first-hand from one of his students that when he learned that it was her birthday during class, he did an interpretive dance to wish her a happy birthday!”
As a colleague, Sotelo reports that McCord is always friendly and approaches conversations “with an open mind and I willing to listen to others’ point of view.” Beyond teaching math, McCord’s interests include “science, music, literature and poetry, [watching] movies, and cooking and baking.” Sotelo also emphasizes that “the eggnog that [McCord] makes for the winter holiday season is delicious, and he shares it with many of his colleagues at Hopkins.” According to Sotelo, all one has to do is walk by McCord’s classroom to get a sense of his effect on his students: “He keeps his doors open, and you can hear his loud voice during a class discussion and sometimes his sincere and spontaneous laughter...McCord’s enthusiasm, energy and uncompromised commitment to good and fun teaching have been apparent.”
English teacher Benjamin Johnson describes McCord as a mountain climber and Hopkins as a “mountain he enjoys climbing.” Johnson recalls two anecdotes that he feels sum up McCord. The first is about McCord at the age of his students: “One Saturday night when David was a boy, he set all of the clocks in his house back one hour so the next day he and his family would miss church - which they did.” The second is a story of Johnson and McCord at a coffee shop. McCord “shot a balled up paper napkin at a trash can and hit a barista in the head. That was several years ago; I think he still feels bad about it!”
Fellow Math teacher Jill Wiesner emphasizes the way McCord “encourages those around him to engage thoughtfully.” Whether it be asking his fellow faculty members to do a summer reading of Dante with him, or creating a new unit based on one seminar on a new teaching technique McCord “exudes a love of learning that pervades all he does.” Wiesner notes that for McCord’s students, “the bell is just a suggestion - often his students remain seated wanting more,” and even attend class when it isn’t required. McCord’s attitude towards his job helps encourage a sense of pride in what he and his colleagues do: “He never loses sight of our educational goals, or the hopefulness that infuses the work we do with young people.”
Not just McCord’s teaching style, but also his general outlook towards his students, was appreciated by none more than Kyle Shin ’20. Shin feels that “calling Mr. McCord the best teacher ever does not do him justice because he meant so much more to me. He was someone I looked up to because I want to put as much care, joy, and heart as he did into every aspect of his life, especially his teaching. I am blessed that I had him for Calculus, as a coach on the Math Team, and someone I could talk to anytime on The Hill. Hopkins will miss him dearly.” Shin finished by adding “they better name the Math Award after him.”
Monish Kumar ’21, a member of the “Mathcounts” team that McCord coaches, describes how McCord helped evolve his understanding of complex concepts. “During Mathcounts, [Mr. McCord] made math that seemed impossible at first easy to understand, fun, and engaging.”
While McCord has taught some of the most advanced courses and students at Hopkins, he is defined by his care for and belief in students at all levels, as represented by Hannah Szabo ’21. Szabo was “ready to drop down to a less accelerated math class the next semester. But Mr. McCord wrote in my comments that he saw ‘glimpses’ of me having the potential to really thrive in math.” The genuine belief that McCord has in all his students, combined with his energetic teaching, allowed Szabo to turn her year around. In retrospect, Szabo believes that McCord sees math problems as “poetry - he collects them, and, when the time is right, presents them to his students, encouraging multiple perspectives and insisting there is no one way to look at them. Mr. McCord has shown me the beauty of math, and given me the confidence to continue exploring the subject.”
Abigail Fossati ’21 loves that she had no idea what to expect every day when she walked into McCord’s class- room. She remembers from her seventh grade year that McCord’s “love for math was readily apparent and translated to a lively, dynamic classroom. Class was unpredictable, which helped make it so wonderful. The main constant was Mr. McCord’s support and encouragement: though he pushed his students, he matched their effort with a commitment to their understanding and an eagerness to see them succeed.” In fact, in Fossati’s freshman year, she “changed math levels in order to have him again.” She counts herself “lucky to have had Mr. McCord twice.”
Though McCord is leaving Hopkins, he hasn’t yet finished his work as a teacher. McCord plans to not only go into private tutoring but he would also like to “sell myself as a consultant and work with math departments. The one thing no teacher has is time, and we all have ways we’d like to change, Geometry, for instance, but we never have the time... I’d like to be that facilitator for departments that have things they’d like to do but don’t have the time or the focus to do them.” McCord also hopes to further round out his academic interests and explore the world by taking history classes and biking around the Baltic Sea or across the country. It is hard to nail down David McCord’s impact on Hopkins. He has taught and coached for nearly three decades, and in that time, helped further a culture of being energetic in teaching, learning, and life. He is continually reported as an inspiration for not only how to approach math, but how to attack every day with energy and passion. Johnson sums up McCord’s tenure at Hopkins best because, despite being renowned as a fantastic math teacher, “McCord’s impact on Hopkins, has been, ironically, incalculable.”