What’s the Hypotenuse of a Love Triangle?

“I need three volunteers. You’re going to be Carly. You’re going to be Bo. And you’re going to be Lawrence.”

days of our lives love triangle
How is Lawrence even in the running? His Aunt Vivian buried Carly alive. Besides, look at Bo’s luscious 90’s mullet. Just what a girl wants to run her fingers through. And he’s got a boat (just ignore that it’s named after his ex).

It was my first day in Mr. Stein’s sophomore Geometry class. And I had just been given a giant name tag that said Lawrence. What was going on here? I thought this was a Math class. And I hated Math. I mean, I was pretty sure it was a Math class. There was a poster of Einstein on the wall. There were a bunch of numbers written on the board that looked suspiciously like Swahili to me. And the guy at the front of the room sure looked like a Math teacher: sweater vest, glasses, pencil behind his ear. But this couldn’t be Math class, because I was enjoying myself. What kind of voodoo was this guy using? I’ll tell you what kind: the current love triangle onDays of Our Lives,” the hottest show among everyone at my all-girls high school.

“Now Bo, you use inductive reasoning to win over Carly’s heart. And Lawrence, you use deductive reasoning. Let’s see who comes out on top.”

Aside from maybe wanting to throw the battle just a little, because OF COURSE Carly belonged with Bo…duh…, I was into this. I had just come off of a semester with a different Math teacher whose idea of entertainment was personifying triangles: “You just go right up to that triangle and say, ‘Excuse me, but are you Isosceles or Obtuse?'” Meanwhile, my friends and I sat in the back, rolling our eyes. “I don’t know, but I’m totally asking Scalene Triangle to the sophomore dance. He’s such a rebel with all those sides of different lengths.”

Mr. Stein was different. I knew it from that very first class. And for the first time ever and never since, Math was in the running with English and Art for my favorite subject in school. But regardless of where it placed, Mr. Stein himself very firmly secured the gold medal for “favorite teacher.”

It wasn’t that he didn’t have stiff competition. I had very few “bad” teachers in high school, and quite a number of extremely excellent ones. But those English and Art teachers whom I adored had an easier go of it. Since I loved the subjects they were teaching, they didn’t really need to bring as much to the table for me to have gotten anything out of the experience. Mind you, they always brought some mad game; but I would have liked their classes regardless. They could have conducted every period as if they were moderating the S.A.T.’s, but I still would have had Sir Gawain and Green Knight, self portraits, The Handmaid’s Tale, and stipple drawings to keep me entertained. Math was a whole other story. Not only did I not enjoy it, I didn’t always understand it. It took an artist of a different kind to make me do both.

Sweater vest. Check. Glasses. Check. Pencil behind the ear. Check. Board full of Swahili. Check. Yup. We got ourselves a Math teacher here, folks.
Sweater vest. Check. Glasses. Check. Pencil behind the ear. Check. Board full of Swahili. Check. Yup. We got ourselves a Math teacher here, folks.

It sometimes boggles my mind how much I remember from Mr. Stein’s classes versus how much I remember from any other Math class I ever took. With the exception of very vivid recallings of first grade popcorn math, placing kernels from margarine tubs onto red felt squares, I don’t know that I remember any specific Math lessons from grade school or college. I do remember that my Statistics professor wore Birkenstocks sandals every single day, even when it snowed. And I had a seventh grade Math teacher with the very unfortunate name of Mrs. Dickman, who quit halfway through the year because my class tormented her and ate an alarming number of Nutty Bars during her class. But I don’t just remember that Mr. Stein dressed up as a human golf ball every Halloween or teamed up with one of our Art teachers during the Mission Week non-talent show to butcher sing a rousing duet, such as “I Got You Babe” or “A Whole New World.” I remember experiences from his classes.

He wrote on every possible chalkboard surface. This meant that we began class facing the front of the room, but he would inevitably tell us to “make a 180,” and we would all turn our desks around to the back board filled with equations. He had protractors at the ready underneath every single desk, every single day…just in case we needed them for emergency measurements. We did a Coke versus Pepsi challenge in Statistics. We dropped things out of the school windows to measure speed and velocity. And then there was the crowning moment for every student who was in Mr. Stein’s Geometry class: we made bridges out of cardboard, straws, and straight pins. Bridge testing day was practically a national holiday at my high school. We would all hand over our bridges to Mr. Stein, who would carefully hang weights from them until they collapsed. The strongest one was declared the winner. I still remember that my bridge would have supported a small kitten. I felt pretty good about that. However, my dad, who worked for a construction company that built a lot bridges and who may have helped me a little too much with the project, felt a small sting of defeat. Especially since Jen Hoef’s bridge beat out mine. “Someone beat yours?” my dad questioned in disbelief. “What does Jen Hoef’s dad do?” I didn’t know, but I have a feeling the only acceptable answer would have been, Jen Hoef’s dad is God Almighty…or Paul McCartney. 

But I can write you a depressing poem about your heartbreak.

And it wasn’t enough for Mr. Stein to make us all want to learn by creating interesting lesson plans. He was also a master at figuring out what our hangups were. One morning before school, I popped into his classroom to ask if he could help me with my homework. I was taking Trigonometry with St. Josepha at the time. And while I had a little soft spot for Sr. Jo, she certainly wasn’t watching “Days of Our Lives” to help make the subject matter more relatable to her students. (Granted, I don’t think Mr. Stein was an avid watcher of “Days” either. But the difference was he took the time to learn about what mattered to us, so he could use that to make Math matter to us as well.) A particular problem was really stumping me, and Mr. Stein finally looked at me and said, “Kelly, you’re complicating things. Don’t think about it so much. This isn’t an English essay question. There’s only one answer.” Boom. Every struggle I had ever had in Math, he had just summed up in four sentences. I was the kind of person who was always interpreting things, finding different words for “nice,” or trying new ways to represent a shoe on canvas. Naturally, I was also the kind of person who would think, Well, can’t 2+2 also mean this…? No. It’s 4. Just write 4 and skip the five paragraph essay. 

For all of these reasons, Mr. Stein remains one of the single biggest influential people in my life. I wanted to become a teacher because of him. It was easy to admire those who did well what I already loved myself; but it was transcendental to watch someone make me love that which I never thought I would (and yes, I am aware that “transcendental” has spiritual, literary, AND mathematical meaning. #intentionallynailedit) I wanted to do that for others. And it was no coincidence that one of the very first lesson plans I created as a high school English teacher compared the ancient Greek gods and goddesses to characters from, you guessed it, “Days of Our Lives.” (It’s so obvious that Sami and Eric Brady are the modern-day twin siblings, Artemis and Apollo. For reals.)

This weekend, Mr. Stein is receiving the first ever “St. Joseph the Worker Award” from my high school. As a surprise to him, the school asked some of his former students, me included, to share memories of what he meant to us. I had a hard time with it, because I felt there was so much to say. Thankfully, everything I couldn’t say in that video, I was able to say here. But I almost hesitated in publishing this for our Thursday “Remember the Time” link up, fearing that somehow he might see this, and it ruin Saturday’s surprise. But then I knew better. There is no way Mr. Stein will happen upon my blog. Chances are, no matter what time of day it is, he is in his classroom at this very moment…teaching, tutoring, devising a new lesson, grading papers, prepping for tomorrow, hanging bridges from his ceiling, checking that there is a protractor under every desk…or watching a quick episode of whatever television drama it is that high school girls watch these days so he can teach inductive and deductive reasoning.

Whichever reasoning you use, it is a proven fact that Mr. Stein takes the Pi. (Whoa. Math jokes are dumb.)

I spoofed on Mr. Stein for our Senior Skits. The sad thing is, I think I legitimately owned that sweater vest, and for once he's not even wearing one.
I spoofed on Mr. Stein for our Senior Skits. The sad thing is, I think I legitimately owned that sweater vest, and for once he’s not even wearing one.

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33 thoughts on “What’s the Hypotenuse of a Love Triangle?

  1. OK, OK, I love this in every way … but here is the important part. I was SO IN LOVE with Lawrence during my DOOL days and WROTE HIM a fan letter and he wrote me back!! I thought I’d DIE. I was obsessed with Carly and Lawrence as a couple way more then when she was with Bo. But back to your post … great job!! 🙂


    1. Sooooo…I’m not sure we can be friends anymore. But seriously, you got a letter back???? Um, that’s totally rad. I still watch Days. A couple years ago, Carly came back, but she had (brace yourself) killed Lawrence because he had become an abusive husband. Then his ghost kept coming back to haunt her. It was spectacular.


      1. I know and I get it … but I was SO INFATUATED with Lawrence! It was out of my hands. Wow – is everything you just said true? About Carly coming back? I could’ve done w/o that bit of info. I’ll keep imagining them as they were when I was in college 🙂


        1. Okay. I can let it slide. I can see how those bedroom eyes of his could have cast some serious voodoo on a young, impressionable girl. Sorry to burst your bubble about the whole killing thing.Carly isn’t on anymore. She came back just long enough to find her long lost daughter she had with a man she met at a medical conference…and who of course happened to start living in Salem. Come to think of it, that little affair is probably what put ol’ Larry over the edge. So technically, it wasn’t his fault for turning into a butthead. There, are you happy?


  2. This is very well written and I love it! Unbeknownst perhaps, Mr. Stein is employing techniques highly practiced in the Waldorf education systems. I sent my last boy there for junior and high school and he loved it! So nice that you had a teacher like this who made a lifelong impression upon you. Thanks for sharing – I’m happy I stumbled upon y’alls blog.


  3. Wow, what an amazing tribute, and an amazing teacher! I could have done with a Mr. Stein in my life. My math grades fluctuated insanely depending on who my teacher was. I nearly failed two years with one teacher, did okay in other years, but never learned to love anything about math. Sounds like Mr. Stein’s award is well-deserved!


  4. FANTASTIC piece! Love that he is getting an award, and that you are still connected. Time goes by, and it’s so easy to loose touch. But not so easy to find these remarkable people, in our lives! Wonderful post.


    1. Thank you so much. I have kept in touch with him and his wife, who I also adore. It has been awhile though since I have seen them. It will be nice to catch up on Saturday. I too love that he is getting this award, and one so aptly named for the type of teacher he is.


  5. St Joe teachers rocked it then and rock it now!! I was at St. Joe before Bud Stein as a student but had the great honor of working with him as a teacher. He is an class act in every way and his amazing wife has also worked at St Joe for many years!! This is beautiful Kelly, I’m sure your English teachers are very proud of you too!!


    1. Thanks, Diane. And you are so right! I adore Sarah!!! She started working there the year after I graduated, and I was so bummed. She was a much friendlier face in the guidance department than her predecessor. I would have loved seeing her smiling face whenever I needed to get college brochures or scholarship applications!


  6. I love that he looks a little bit like Mr. Holland from Dr. Holland’s Opus ;D I also loved loved LOVED this! I never had a math teacher who really inspired me and tricked me into loving numbers, and I suspect that that’s why to this day I can only count to 100. I think purple comes after 100.


    1. He kind of does look like Mr. Holland! Never thought of that, but I love that movie. I think I actually still own a VHS copy of it somewhere. And sorry, purple doesn’t come after 100…but it should.


  7. This is so great that it’s bumming me out about the post I’m writing, which is nowhere near as good. But that’s OK, because this IS an English essay question and there IS more than one answer.


    1. Damn straight!!! That’s the beauty of English…and probably why I always gravitated toward it. I’m actually a very indecisive person, so English gives me a little more latitude for that. Math, not so much. And Mr. Stein made writing something good pretty easy. I’m looking forward to your post. You always have something good to say!


  8. Oh, I love this. Beautiful 🙂 I was lucky to have a good match teacher in high school for geometry, trig, and calc. I remember doing artwork as part of both geometry and trig projects.


  9. The math jokes are what made this. I had a math student teacher for my first year of algebra in high school, and he was using the overhead projector, and accidentally drew on the screen instead of the little overhead machine.

    I kind of blame him for all my subsequent math woes.


    1. How could you have any faith in him as an educational leader after that? Speaking of overhead projectors, my husband just brought an old one home for my kids to play with, and I realized they have never seen one. Smartboards took over THAT quickly. Kind of makes me sad.


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