By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

McNary math teacher Louis Tiller knows that AP Calculus is one of the hardest classes at the high school so it’s important to make it interactive and fun.

“I like to do things where it’s more student centered than lecturing,” Tiller said. “I do a lot of going group to group and trying to help. I have these really neat desks that have a white board on them so I write stuff right on the desk. It’s certainly different than the way I was taught where the instructor just, sometimes you wouldn’t see his face, he was writing on the board until the period ended.”

Tiller’s teaching methods are working.

“It is blatantly obvious that Mr. Tiller loves his job, and when a teacher loves his job, the students love that class,” wrote McNary senior Megan Schneider in a letter nominating Tiller for a Crystal Apple Award. “It is a miracle when kids are anxious to get started on their math, but Mr. Tiller pulls it off daily. Not only does he get us engaged, but he is always walking around watching and listening to us. He allows us to struggle enough so that we lean how to problem solve, but knows exactly when to come over and help us figure it out. I would almost call it an art because he is so good at it.”

Tiller received one of 13 Crystal Apples from 46 nominees at a ceremony on
Thursday, Nov. 2 at Salem’s Historic Elsinore Theater.

Tiller had nominated other McNary teachers for the award in the past and when they didn’t win, Tiller didn’t think he had a chance.

“It’s been so disappointing when you know what a quality teacher they are that I was telling myself, ‘It’s not going to happen, don’t worry about it,’” Tiller said. “It was a shock when they called my name.”

Tiller didn’t have to wait long as his was the third name called. But he did learn something from watching the first winner.

“The first guy that was announced as the winner was standing up there and he looked like he was gonna faint and then when he started to walk off the stage, he took his trophy and he shook it and the apple rolled off the base and off the stage. It didn’t break,” Tiller said. “So when I got mine, I was holding on to it like a football, trying to make sure it didn’t go anywhere.”

Reading the nomination letters was one of his favorite things about winning the award.

“I’m glad I did it in private, especially the ones from the kids,” Tiller said. “As a math teacher, it’s not like they are writing me essays and pouring over their deepest wishes and dreams so I know them but not necessarily how I affect them. So it was really a cool thing to read those and see that they had really felt like they had learned a little bit about me and a little bit about math at the same time and enjoyed the experience.”

Tiller, who grew up in Fresno, Calif., has been at McNary for 19 years. He’s most pleased with how the math department has grown during that time, from one section of calculus with 10-12 kids and one or two classes of pre-calculus to two full sections of calculus and eight of pre-calculus.

“I think all of our math teachers have done such a good job of helping the kids feel like they can be successful at the next one so they’re willing to take that risk and try a harder class once their requirements are all met and that never used to be the case,” Tiller said. “That’s pretty neat. For a lot of kids it’s just an elective.”

As a national trainer for the Salem-Keizer School District-adopted match curriculum, Tiller not only provides professional development for the math department at McNary but he also travels around the western United States assisting math teachers.

When Salem-Keizer Public Schools received an Equal Opportunity Schools grant, Tiller lead the charge in closing the access gap to AP math courses for underserved students.

“Mr. Tiller has always worked to make AP Calculus and AP Statistics a positive experience for all students,” former McNary assistant principal Rhonda Rhodes wrote.

Along with teaching math, Tiller coached freshman baseball at McNary and worked in the intramural program. He can also be found during his lunch or after school working with students from other teachers’ classes.

“His reputation for being the math instructor who understands their pain, and his willingness to take time to help anyone—even those from other teachers—has helped create a culture in our school where teachers see all students as theirs, not just the ones in their classes,” McNary assistant principal Dan Borresen wrote in his nomination letter. “Of all the teachers I’ve ever met, he is the most deserving of this important award.”