Math teacher Justin Mathes said his name has absolutely nothing to do with his favorite subject, one that he now teaches in his first year at Webster Groves High School.
Of the connection between his name and occupation, Mathes said, “It’s one of those things where if I make the joke on the first day, no one laughs, but if I wait to let it process in your heads, everybody thinks it’s hilarious.”
Mathes grew up in Jefferson City before being accepted into Saint Louis University, where he majored in math. He student taught for Patti Perkins here at the high school fresh out of college, and the next year he had the job.
Mathes also played on the SLU basketball team’s practice squad, but “didn’t do anything interesting,” he said, referring to the Billikens’ recent trips to the NCAA tournament. Now Mathes is the head coach of the high school’s JV men’s basketball team.
Teaching math seems to be the dream calling for Mathes, who is from a family of educators.
With math as a strong point, there are few professions that involve working with people.
Mathes thinks of himself as a people person and finds teaching a bridge between interacting with people and working with his favorite subject.
In college, Mathes studied math abroad in Australia for six months. He conducted a research proposal on why Australian high school students were outperforming American high school students despite America spending more money on its educational system than Australia. Australia may also be where Mathes got some inspiration for dare devilish hobbies in his free time. It was then Mathes went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, seeing sharks among other creatures.
Mathes considers himself to be somewhat of an extreme sports junkie, having been bungee jumping, surfing, cliff diving, sand boarding and scatter diving. Mathes said he is now running out of extreme sports, but surely there’s something out there for him to do still.
About any one thing he wants to do most of all that he has never done before, Mathes said, “I wanna win a state championship.”
Other things Mathes does outside of school include activity of all kinds. “If at all possible, I’m at Busch Stadium,” he said, his favoring of the Cardinals over the Royals (being from Jefferson City) evident. Mathes still plays rec basketball and slow pitch softball, and is an avid deer hunter and fisher. Mathes likes his students to stay up and as active as himself. Remembering what being a bored student was like, listening to a one-hour lecture or sitting and reading passages from the book day after day, Mathes remarked technology was a good way to keep students active, whether it’s texting in the answer to a problem or playing a math game online.
Mathes also tries to get the students moving around the classroom, comparing answers and interacting with each to better reach his kinesthetic learners.
“I think that’s something I definitely keep in mind, that it wasn’t that long ago that I was on the other side of the desk,” said Mathes. “They say that your attention span is your age in minutes. We talked about that in (teacher) training, and it’s something that’s kind of stuck with me.”
When students are doing the same thing for 57 minutes, Mathes pointed out, there’s a chance they are not getting much out of that.
“That being said, the million dollar question involving education is how to teach in a way where you’re keeping your kids listening,” Mathes said.
For Mathes, that’s where his technology and moving around ideas come in. Mathes gives some credit for this to Coach Perkins, whom he student taught under before taking his own classroom, and Coach Jay Blossom, who Mathes said has always been by his side. These two stand out as the most prominent instructors he looks up to.
Mathes advised younger teachers, “I would say… it’s a roller coaster ride, and at Webster you’re gonna see everything. Just try to be prepared for anything, and appreciate the administration, and all the hard work they put in.”
Student teaching gave Mathes time to fall in love with everything about Webster. “There’s a very strong sense of tradition, and I guess being young, it’s good to appreciate old school styles.”
“I’m from a mid-sized town, and I think I’ve always had that instant feel of community,” Mathes said. “In going to the big city, you don’t always feel that, but at Webster you can really maintain that.”
Mathes put his desire for Webster over other districts in perspective best with one statement though. “You think you might fit in at a different school when you’re interviewing and stuff, but I knew I fit in at Webster, so it was from the beginning the number one place I wanted to work.”
About what he likes most about teaching, Mathes said developing relationships with his students is most enjoyable.