Friday, September 21, 2012

Mr. Badoian

Most people who live in Canton, Massachusetts know of Mr. Badoian. Just the name invokes a sort of "hail to a legend" spirit in my town, and in most circles that involve high school math.

Mr. Badoian is 84 years old and has taught math for 58 years (if my math is correct). He was my math teacher when I was in high school. And if you go to the end of the math hallway at Canton High School today -- which appropriately now bears his name -- you'll still find him in his classroom. No joke; I found him there last week (at 3:30, mind you, and school gets out at around 2). 

I'll never forget our homework assignment on the first night of freshman year math. It's possibly the same assignment this year's class had to complete -- we had to memorize our perfect squares from 1-50 (you know, 1x1, 2x2, all the way up to 50x50). I can't remember if Mr. Badoian quizzed us on those squares the day after or not. I would guess that he didn't formally quiz us. Instead, I bet he just called on a student as the need for a perfect square arose. Because after only one class, Mr. Badoian had already established such respect that most of us, even as puny little freshmen, would rather have been right in that scenario than get an "A" on any quiz. 

Mr. Badoian's testing techniques were unique -- he never announced tests. His philosophy was that we should prepare every night as if a test awaited us the next day; why would we postpone real understanding until the night before an announced exam? So we knew there was a test when we walked into his room and white papers, blank-side-up, lay on our desks. (It was a favorite before-class joke (when Mr. Badoian wasn't yet in the room, of course) to put a blank piece of paper on the first desk you saw when you entered the room. Of course, I fell for it every time. Gosh we were nerds, and I loved it.)

Mr. Badoian also graded like no one else. A "zero" was a perfect score; that meant you had no points taken off. It took me years to earn my first zero, and I sometimes wonder if by that point, Mr. Badoian just felt like he needed to humor me. Nah, he was far too honorable for that, but surely the test was a relatively easy one. I was always the slowest one in the class. (Yes, Michael Bower, admittedly slower than you.) But I worked hard in that class, and I will forever be proud to be able to say that Mr. Badoian was my teacher. 

Less than a year ago, when I decided to leave my job at a big law firm, I found myself self-reflecting, and I wrote Mr. Badoian a letter thanking him for all he'd taught me. For teaching me the real meaning of attacking a problem and working through it; the real meaning of hard work and preparation. 

I have already written about the walk I took last week (I still can't believe that was only last week), the day before my surgery. Like all of my stories, I couldn't cover everything in that one, and I left out what happened at the end of my walk (and, even on this second time around, I'm going to need to leave out something else that one day, I'm sure I'll share).

We live right near the high school and at the end of my walk, as I passed the school with only 20 minutes to spare before I needed to pick the kids up from school, I found myself oddly drawn in. I haven't visited CHS after school since I left teaching years ago. But something came over me. And I needed to find Mr. Badoian. 

As I mentioned above, I found him, seated at his desk reviewing the work of an eager (and appropriately terrified) student at his shoulder. I had no idea why I was there, and neither did he. I told him that I just wanted to say hi, but then I started to cry, and that seemed very odd, so I also ended up telling him about my impending surgery. He hugged me, and his hearing aid buzzed through the long embrace. He said "I'll pray for you, because that's what I do." I had no idea Mr. Badoian was a praying man. But I liked it, because every mortal listens to and follows the orders of Mr. Badoian. So hopefully God does too.

I decided to write about Mr. Badoian today because I'm still puzzled by my compulsion of last week. Why, on the day before my surgery, did I need to see Mr. Badoian, of all people? 

I wrote the preceding part of the entry before dawn this morning, and since then, I have reflected on this question.

(I have also completed the echocardiogram, and that shit huuuuuur-rrrrt. Turns out an "Echo" is an ultrasound of your heart, and ultrasounds only work if the rad tech pushes down with the gooey wand. Also turns out my heart is basically under my left boob. With a raw set of boobs, that 20 minutes may have taken years off my life even though cancer itself will not. Luckily, that appointment was followed by a lovely one with the nurse (or maybe she was a P.A.) at Dr. Chun's office who removed my last two drains. Two deep breaths, and those suckers were out. I need to wait 24 hours to shower and the countdown has begun!)

Anyways, I have thought a lot about this Mr. Badoian puzzle today, and Brian and I talked about it as we enjoyed the benefits of the HOV lane this morning (despite that I should be wired to complain about Boston traffic, I just love whoever came up with the idea of an HOV lane). So here's where I landed.

I think that there are a lot of people who like a good fight, a good challenge, a good chance to prove I can do that, even though it may not be so obvious at the time. Those people do all sorts of things -- they practice law, practice sports, practice medicine. They climb mountains, scuba dive, take a Zumba class, or walk for charity. They start their own businesses, do crossword puzzles, learn to play an instrument. They teach, they coach, they write, and they do math problems. They take up running when they are born with no legs, and they learn to play baseball when they are born with no arms. Some of the very funniest stand up on stage and make us laugh. Some of the very brightest try to find life-saving discoveries. And some of the very bravest, and the most unselfish, join the military.

Of course, no one chooses misfortune, just as I sure as heck didn't choose to get cancer. But nonetheless, those fights are shoved in our laps and we're forced to react. We're forced to take the problem, dissect it, and hand over our answer.

I think this is why I wanted to see Mr. Badoian that day. I think it's exactly why on that walk the day before my surgery, I thought about my Dad and his quest to get me to feel mad that I got cancer. Because even though this is most certainly not the fight I wanted, it's the fight I was given. And even though solving math problems in high school may not be as hard as beating cancer, those math problems helped shape the fighter in me.

Lately lots of people have said things to me that make me think they question their inner fighter. They say things along the lines of, I wouldn't have the strength you have. Please know that you would. Because at some point in your life, I bet you've been blessed to know a Mr. Badoian; someone who pushed you to do things you never thought you could, someone who, day-in-and-day-out, pursues excellence for your greater good. Those people give us a powerful resiliency and a sheer stubbornness that come in really handy, whether you're taking an unannounced math test or lying on your stitched-up side, gritting your teeth through an Echo nine days after a double mastectomy. 


  1. Beautiful, T. I wish I had had a teacher like Mr. Badoian! I love him and his buzzing hearing aid for giving you a big hug, praying for you and helping in you prepare for your fight so long ago (not THAT long ago ;)...).

  2. Ummmmmm, I think we need to take a poll of who was slower in that class Tara!

    Beautiful entry. Thinking of you and routing you on through all of this! There is no doubt in my mind that you will come out on top.

  3. You captured Mr. Badoian perfectly. I think of him when I need inspiration. And you're right, it's not just when I'm teaching someone math, it's when I want to teach myself to be better, stronger... more. Ugh, those blank pieces of paper!!

    1. PS, this is Elaine. My profile was saying unknown. Let it be known!! :)

  4. Tara,
    Love your story about Mr. Badoian! I never had him for a teacher while at the high school, but my husband did and I love spotting him at CHS when I'm there. He is truly and icon! So , so happy to hear your good news and that you are feeling better. Your inner strength is amazing and I agree, you find it when it's needed! Thank you for sharing this blog with everyone.

  5. I like mr. B. They don't make many like him any more. I wanted to check in to see how things were going. Keep up the fighting spirit.

  6. Christine Joyce FicheraSeptember 22, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Great tribute to Mr. B, Tara! He truly did teach us how to attack any life problem that comes our way and to always strive to be/do better. At 84, he is the epitome of a life-long learner.

    Love your blog and am inspired by you, your honesty, and your fighting spirit. Keep it up!

  7. WOW...anyone who had taught for 58 years and is STILL doing it, certainly has a lot to teach ALL of us about resiliency. So glad he was in your life to give you that 9th grade and now, so many years later...and so completely out of the realm of math. That's teaching at its best! Wish I knew him.
    You are doing amazingly well...physically, emotionally and spiritually. Virtual hugs to you (all)!

  8. Hi!
    So I read this post a loongg time ago, but I just wanted to share a video with you and thought this would be the best place. My brother (who is now a senior at CHS) just shared a video that the school worked on called a 'lipdub.' It made me nostalgic, and I felt like you'd appreciate it! :D

  9. You brought tears to my eyes as I read this. Now, it is my hope that all those whose lives he touched will return the prayers.

  10. Love this. Special human being.

  11. I'm so happy you reposted this. Crying, again. But now for a different reason. Love him and love you.

  12. Beautifully written, Tara. I hope your cancer is in remission. It is time for us to direct our prayers to Mr. Badoian. His cancer is incurable. He’s 90. I pray for peace and happiness for him. Write him letters. Remind him that he is loved.