By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Mary Lou Lynch said she always loved math.
She loved it so much, she said, that she “wanted to share it.” Her sharing of a subject that often intimidates students must have been effective because last Wednesday, the retired middle school teacher was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame.
Lynch, who taught at North Andover Middle School from 1976 through 1995, said she was “overwhelmed” when she learned she was this year’s inductee.
“I am still overwhelmed,” she said. There are many other teachers, she said, who also deserve the honor.
Yet several of her former students recommended her for the honor, according to School Committee member Stanley Limpert, who chaired the subcommittee that reviewed nominations for the Hall of Fame. After the subcommittee completed its research and nominated Lynch, the full School Committee voted for her induction.
Lynch, who tutors students at Thomson School every Thursday, acknowledged that math perplexes many students.
“Most kids like math the least,” she said. Lynch recalled how she would ask students to list how much they liked their various subjects, with the favorite at the top and the most dreaded at the bottom.
Math, she said, was on the bottom about 90 percent of the time. So how did she meet this challenge?
“I tried to make them (students) comfortable,” she said. Lynch would figure out how well a student understood fractions, percentage or whatever the material was and then proceed to teach them.
She said she did not hesitate to depart from “what the book says.”
Lynch said she made it a point to be “easily approachable.” She said she encouraged students to “never hesitate to ask for help.”
“If you don’t understand something, ask,” she would frequently urge them.
Lynch would also try to make math fun. For example, she would frequently incorporate sports themes into math problems.
“That helps them want to learn,” she said.
Word problems in math, she said, “are always a challenge.” She told of one occasion when she asked some students to give an overview of a problem she presented.
Two students “jumped the gun,” she said.
“Is it about addition?” asked one.
“Is it about multiplication?” asked the other.
The problem was about scoring in a basketball game — something the students probably would have found interesting.
A couple of generations ago, elementary school teachers drilled children in the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables. Nowadays, students are less apt to be drilled in the tables.
Lynch said mastering those tables is essential to learning the higher forms of mathematics.
“You have to understand the basics,” she said.
Asked why she loves math so much, she explained, “There’s only one answer.”
Lynch graduated from St. Mary High School in Lawrence, then went on to graduate from what was then known as Lowell State Teachers College in 1956. At their 50-year reunion, she pointed out, she and her classmates received diplomas from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“In my day, women had three choices: nursing, secretarial work and teaching,” she noted. So, had she been born 40 or 50 years later than she was, would she have picked a different career, such as engineering?
Probably not, Lynch said.
“I liked math so much, I went into teaching it,” she said.
Town Moderator Mark DiSalvo, who served on the School Committee during her teaching career, described her as “Always smiling — and tough as nails.”
Lynch did her practice teaching at Thomson School. Her first job after graduating from Lowe was at the Pleasant Valley School in Methuen.
Then, from 1959 to 1966, she taught in Avon, Conn., where she was the math coordinator for kindergarten through sixth grade. She married William Lynch in 1966 and they moved to North Andover, his hometown.
They had four children: Maureen Ward, William Lynch, Anne Lynch and Brian Lynch. The elder William Lynch died in January 2012.