Meet Mr. Menon, a New Addition to the Payton Math Department

By Aaron Faier, Editor-in-Chief

In addition to being a math teacher, Mr. Menon is an assistant basketball coach.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The Paw Print: What drew you to teaching?

Mr. Menon: The opportunity to interact with so many different people and to also show that there’s value in leaving high school with a strong number sense mathematically. Also drawing me into teaching is the idea that no day and no year will ever be the same. There’s zero monotony.

The Paw Print: Why do you teach math and statistics specifically?

Mr. Menon: It [statistics] gives us an opportunity to turn numbers into English, allows us to talk about context, and then allows us to actually synthesize calculations with the real world around us in a tangible way. It exists in all different mathematical fields. I think at the age that we’re at, the time for us to be able to see that practical sense is now, and there’s a lot of value in that.

The Paw Print: What impact do you hope to have at Payton? What do you hope your students will be able to achieve by the end of the school year?

Mr. Menon: I hope they will be able to appropriately tackle their struggles. So, if something is difficult, being able to go through the exercise of being proactive or appreciating the challenge, conquering imperfection, I think is a great skill. I hope to be able to introduce something unfamiliar and for students to be able to recognize it. And if they can’t the first time around, to persist and be able to figure it out, is what I really hope, because I think that’s a real lifelong skill we need to develop, is working with the unfamiliar.

The Paw Print:  What do you think are the best ways that students can use what they learn in your class?

Mr. Menon: Should I talk about content? Or should I talk about not content? Let’s not talk about content. That’s boring, right? So I would say, non-mathematically speaking, I hope they understand that mistakes are a part of the learning process and that it shouldn’t deter confidence if they make a mistake. Being able to learn from mistakes is the true success of it all.

The Paw Print: What do you think is the most important challenge students will face when they leave high school? 

Mr. Menon: I think there are values that we have instilled throughout, from our families and from school, and to be able to put ourselves in a new environment, to really be able to address those values [and] validate them. There’s an opportunity where we grew up in an environment where you have all these values, but there’s a skill in terms of leaving home or leaving school and questioning them. And I feel like the opportunity to question them allows us to grow as people and see what’s B.S. and what’s not. But I think that’s how we grow as people in general.

The Paw Print: How do you prepare students for this challenge?

Mr. Menon: I think by cultivating a space for kids to be comfortable with questioning things within the confines of the class, but also trying to get to the answer. If they’re able to come to a method and find a solution, and if it’s not necessarily right, to navigate through identifying where an error may have been made, or to validate an initial thinking process that was correct; to just have a healthy mindset of, “In the end, we’re gonna figure it out.” 

The Paw Print: How will you work to improve equity in the classroom? 

Mr. Menon: I think it’s on me to develop relationships. Creating a space where a student feels free to say what’s on their mind, whether it’s for the whole class, whether it’s pulling me aside. I think that it’s my job to create that space within the classroom, but also that comfort level needs to be reached of, “It’s okay to be transparent every now and again.” But also giving them a voice and opportunity to express themselves is huge for everyone, not just the students that tend to participate more but also being able to identify everybody.

The Paw Print: Now onto some icebreaker questions. If you were going to teach other subjects, which would you teach?

Mr. Menon: It’s been a long time, but I did study abroad in France, I was one class away from a minor. I always had fun taking language courses, so I could see some fun in doing language. Also, I was coming from the IB world, and Theory of Knowledge was a course that I was trained to potentially teach. And eventually, that would have been a really fun class to teach. 

The Paw Print: If you weren’t teaching right now, what would you be doing?

Mr. Menon: Now that I’m approaching 40, I would love to be retired in my 40s and enjoy retired life, especially after a pandemic. I would say some sort of basketball coaching, but it would have to be ensured that I’m retired, so there’s no day job, and the basketball coaching is not a day job. So, I’m trying to create a movement, that FIRE [Financial Independence, Retire Early] movement. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s on my generation to start that trend. My parents worked until they were 80, they don’t know what to do with their free time right now. They’re bored out of their minds. And they’re retiring in a pandemic-that’s like, lose, lose, lose. I’m going to learn from them. Each generation, we’re supposed to push the needle, so my needle push would be retirement.

The Paw Print: Favorite food?

Mr. Menon: Love pizza. My Indian traditional dal is the best in the city. No, in Chicagoland. The aunties like it, for sure.

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