It’s All Academic

John Sardo Uses Math Education to Empower Himself and His Community

August 14, 2012

If Brooklyn resident/Poughkeepsie native John Sardo has his say, math will soon be viewed as less inscrutable and formulaic, and some of its best minds will come back from other fields to teach its fundamentals in the classroom. Sardo, who completed his undergrad studies at SUNY New Paltz and teaches middle school in West Harlem, recently enrolled at Touro to obtain his Master's in Mathematics Education. Apart from additional certification, you might ask why the 35-year-old would pursue further academia when he’d already developed a steady career track.

“I want to give as much effort as I possibly can to put myself in a better position,” he explains. “I can do that because I’ll have had the experience thinking academically, going through all of the course-work and gaining knowledge.”

His time at Touro also represents the continuation of a decades-long passion, which fomented early in his youth. “I wanted to get into public service,” remembers Sardo, who initially worked in data management in the publishing sector before realizing “then and now, there is a need for qualified math people.”

He’s aware that crunching numbers isn’t always considered sexy, but observes that we’re also lacking in quality math education because some of its finest talent makes their living in other areas. “I think the problem with math education is two things,” offers Sardo. “The first is that people just have trouble with the content to begin with. And the other part is that if you are good at the content, generally you’ll pursue another career like engineering, where you’re making far more money than you would in the public sector.”

Fittingly, Sardo is less about staring slack-jawed at obstacles than offering practical solutions. “In terms of being a math teacher, I’d like to make the content more accessible to students, make it useful, work on actual mathematical problem-solving as opposed to procedural-based thinking,” he says. “I’d like to go about the profession in a way where it’s meaningful. You can have a lot of job satisfaction. One of the reasons I chose education is it’s a good lifestyle. I would want people to understand more about that. You can have a very full life. You can pursue things outside of your career and still be working in the community at a good wage.”

He also wants to dispel some popular stereotypes that may dissuade aspiring math geniuses. “A common misconception is that a lot of people are kind of nerdy and are only interested in getting the right answer,” he suggests. “I don’t think that’s true at all. If you’re going to be an effective educator, you really need a balance between content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, people skills and managerial skills. I think people don’t realize how many skills you have to have in order to be an effective teacher.”

Ultimately, Sardo isn’t looking to be a rebel, but he does advocate for being proactive about what you do and empowered by what you get out of it. “If I wanted to just rubber stamp the degree, I could do that and get nothing out of it,” he says. “But in the long term, that doesn’t really help me. You just can’t do that if you’re personally invested.”