Middle-school students lucky enough to have Anthony Holbrook as their math teacher got more than lessons in numbers. They got a floor show.
Over his 34-year career, the Wright State University graduate made math an adventure.
Holbrook’s corny jokes would produce groans, but his students would demand at least one a day. He would stuff a glove with nylons so he could “give a hand” to deserving pupils.
The principal once got a start when he walked into Holbrook’s class to find everyone wearing Groucho glasses with fake noses, bushy eyebrows, and mustaches.
And Holbrook’s classrooms were filled with the strains of everything from country music to Vivaldi. Students would conga-line to rhythms inspired by a mathematical formula so they would remember it.
Despite his passion for math, Holbrook almost didn’t become a math teacher. He was on a track at Wright State to teach chemistry.
When his adviser asked him why he was taking so many math courses, Holbrook said he “loved” math.
“You just said the right word,” the adviser replied. “Think about it.”
Holbrook graduated from Wright State’s College of Education and Human Services in 1979. His wife, Deborah, also an educator, attended Indiana University and got her master’s at the University of South Florida. She taught science and reading during a 36-year career.
As a way to thank Wright State and help create a promising new crop of educators, the Holbrooks have pledged to donate at least $500,000 for teacher scholarships.
Holbrook credits his success to Wright State. He said the university almost immediately got him doing hands-on work in real classrooms, taught him how to learn from his mistakes, and pushed him.
“It prepared me for everything,” he said. “They won’t let you fail at this university.”
Holbrook began his teaching career in Ohio, first at Twin Valley Local Schools in Preble County and then at Spinning Hills in the Mad River Township school district near Dayton. In 1985, he moved to Florida to help ease his sinus infections and began teaching at Pine View Middle School in Land O’ Lakes.
With his entertaining style and passion for making math relevant, Holbrook quickly became a most popular teacher.
“I love teaching at the higher-order levels,” he said. “I don’t want to teach just ‘two plus two equals four.’ I want them to see why it equals four.”
Holbrook would cut both ends off of a can and dub it a “can’t” because it couldn’t hold anything. He would show it to students who said they couldn’t do a math problem and then present them with a can with an intact bottom when they succeeded.
Once, as part of a math exercise, he climbed up on his desk to stack textbooks until they reached the ceiling. Then he fell off, shattering his wrist.
Holbrook taught at least 3,400 students over his career before retiring in October 2009.
“That’s the true wealth you get from teaching,” he said. “You’ve affected thousands of lives.”