Wrestling with Calculus
By Artem Osherov
Stop by the G.O. store one day. While mountains of Tech apparel can easily be found, anyone with a keen eye will notice the rows of pictures among the merchandise in the store. Familiar names like Hulk Hogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) owner Vince McMahon are among the stars seen alongside the beaming face of Mathematics teacher and G.O. store manager Kenneth Raftery.
Teaching AP Calculus keeps Raftery on his toes. However, even he admits that it is good to have varied interests.
“Back in 1984, my brother used to watch WWE, and he’d call me over to watch with him,” says Raftery. “I wasn’t very interested at first. That changed when singer Cyndi Lauper became a part of the show. Lauper was among the most popular singers in the world at the time and her involvement in wrestling got me hooked.”
As the years passed, Raftery became close friends with Lauper’s main WWE ally and her main WWE foe: Wendi Richter and the Fabulous Moolah, respectively. His rapport with Moolah led to a friendship with Moolah’s buddy, WWE Hall of Famer Mae Young.
“I consider Mae a national treasure. She was wrestling a match on the night the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. And she still appears at wrestling events to this day. The fans adore her.”
This past July, WWE celebrated the 1,000th episode of their Monday Night Raw show in St. Louis, Missouri. Many stars from the past were invited to attend, and Young invited Raftery to attend the event as her guest. The trip is memorable highlight of Raftery’s seasonal break from school.
When he’s not teaching, Raftery proudly leads a chapter of Toastmasters International. Toastmasters International is an organization that people join in order to help them improve their public speaking skills. Raftery joined in 1994, the year before he started teaching, and he credits the organization with helping his career.
“I was painfully shy in high school, and under certain circumstances I am shy to this day as well. However, when I am up in front of an audience giving a speech or teaching a lesson, I can be very forceful and confident. I know exactly what I want to say and how to say it,” explains Raftery.
When asked what past speeches he considers his favorites, he mentions a series of speeches that he did about the lesser-known islands that dot New York City’s waters, as well as a humorous speech that he wrote about a disastrous trip that he took to New Orleans. Students who attend class on the last day of the year can look forward to a performance of “Scenes from Orleans.”
“The occasional life experience was a nice break from the Math,” says Vladyslav Patserin ’13. “But as I remember, he always managed to incorporate the Math into his speeches. It’s something you have to experience in order to appreciate.”
“I’d like for students to remember me, not just the Math I taught them. It’s good for them to see another side too,” says Raftery of his relationship with his students. “At least three former students told me that they joined Toastmasters after hearing my speeches on the last day. So that will certainly help them in the future, as will the AP exam credit that they will hopefully earn from the class.”
“Mr. Raftery teaches ‘Intro to New York,’ ‘AP Mae Young,’ as well as Calculus – all while entertaining, teaching, and mentoring his students,” says Mohammad Alam ’10, one of Raftery’s former students. “It’s actually pretty scary how I still remember the locations of North and South Brother Islands and the antiderivative of arcsine, but I can’t remember how to divide decimals using pen and paper.”
Have a conversation with a teacher, and you may find more to him or her than meets the eye. The next time you’re in the G.O. store, just have a look behind the counter. Unlike your gym uniform, the memories you’ll see don’t have a price. Take a page from Raftery’s book and indulge all of your interests and live life to the fullest.