Frank May hired me in 1969 to teach at Evanston Township
High School. Frank was my supervisor for the first part of my career, observed
my classes, advised me, taught me, encouraged me and was a role model for what
mathematics teachers could accomplish.

It would be hard to find two people more different than
Frank and I. Frank never raised his voice; I never lowered my voice. I
continually tried to find different ways to bring mathematics to students;
Frank stood at the board and lectured. Frank was careful and meticulous. No one
has ever described me in those terms. Frank May was a master teacher, and I was
lucky to have him as my mentor and advisor.

Frank taught me to pay attention to the details. In
particular, he taught me to write complete mathematical sentences using equal
signs, stating conclusions;. he took care to ensure students understood the
underlying reasons for procedures and notation. He taught me the importance of
using correct notation as well as language in the classroom. To this day, I
can’t bring myself to describe congruent shapes as being equal.

It often strikes me, how much I learned from someone with a
dramatically different personality and point of view. Part of it is that I
always respected his knowledge, and part of it is that I am uncontrollably
drawn to people who love mathematics.

His evaluation meetings after observing my class were more
like math lessons than like criticisms of what I had done. It was clear that he
had an abiding love for mathematics as well as a deep understanding of the
subject and how students learned it. His quiet, soft-spoken manner allowed his
beliefs and understandings to gradually sink into my brain without me actually
realizing the impact he was having on my teaching.

He had a deep understanding of how topics related to each other
and of why some things were difficult for students to understand. I often went
to him when I had a difficult topic to teach, and he always started by agreeing
with me that it was a difficult topic to teach and then uncovered two or three
insights that helped me understand why students had trouble. He never told me
what I should do, nor did he tell me what he always did. Instead, he made
careful observations about why students found the particular topic difficult
and sometimes made a suggestion or two as to what might be done to help them.
He then let me figure out how to overcome student difficulties after he shed
light on the nature of those difficulties. In short, he used exemplary teaching
techniques to teach me how to become a better teacher. He would always check
back to see if what I had done had worked better, and again he would offer an
insight or two that would help me fine tune my approach, but he never insisted
that I do it his way.

At some
point in my career I was asked to teach B.C. Calculus. It had been many years
since I studied calculus, and I was not sure I ever really understood series. I
touched base with Frank about one thing or another almost every day. He single
handedly taught me how to teach Calculus.

School bureaucracy being what it is, Evanston eliminated the
position of Department supervisor. Many of his fellow administrators retired or
moved to other institutions. Only one went back to full time teaching, Frank. He could have retired, but he wasn’t ready to
stop teaching. He could have taken a supervisory position at a different school.
Frank went back to the classroom and taught five classes a day for another ten
or so years. I think he looked at the situation and determined what would be
best for the students, for the school, and for him, and gracefully took a step
down and finished his career doing what he did best: teaching students
mathematics. Of course he did more than
that: he continued to mentor many of us even though it was no longer in his job
description. He was still the person I went to when I needed math help, and he
was still eager to talk math.

While he was a master teacher, he never boasted about his
accomplishments, but he came close once. I complemented him on the incredibly
high scores of his BC Calculus students one year. He told me that he had had
the same group for pre-calc two years in a row and so was able to prepare them
appropriately. I often wondered how successful students would have been if they
had him for four years, or if they had someone as good as him for four years.

The reason I am writing this now is that Frank May passed
away last week at the age of 89. There was no mention of his passing in the front
page of

*The New York Times*or*The Chicago Tribune*, because he was not a famous athlete, entertainer, or politician. All he did was positively influence thousands of students and hundreds of teachers. Rarely a week passes when I don’t reflect on one of Frank’s insights about how people learn. He is the primary reason I have reverence for the Parallel Postulate, the Distributive Property of Multiplication over Addition, and the Differential. I learned from Frank that one can exhibit enthusiasm in a quiet, dignified manner, that it is not necessary to jump up on tables and throw things across the room to share with students how exciting mathematics is. Let this be one small instance of tribute to a great man. Thank you, Frank, for all you have done for our profession, and therefore for countless people. I am forever grateful for all that you did for me.