After 30 devoted years, math teacher David Rosen concludes his teaching career at Whitman

By Lauren Heberlee

This story was published in print during the 2020-21 school year.

Every Sunday, math department head James Kuhn could always rely on finding math teacher David Rosen in his office, meticulously poring over assignments and lessons for the coming week. Spending countless late afternoons, lunch breaks and off-days working for his students was nothing new to Rosen — in his nearly 30 years of teaching, he was always willing to drop everything to go above and beyond.

The 2020–2021 academic year is Rosen’s last before retirement. His brilliance and devotion to his work have become a staple of the math department, and his enthusiasm and passion for the subject will be sorely missed, Kuhn said.

Rosen has taught many math classes throughout his career, ranging from Algebra I up through AP Calculus. He’s also taught business math, computer programming and college test prep courses. His intellectual curiosity and deep knowledge of mathematics have established him as a reliable resource for all students, no matter their skill level, Kuhn said.

“The math department will be different because we’re not going to always have somebody sitting in the office that can answer any question about a particular topic at any given moment,” Kuhn said. 

When Rosen first started his teaching career, he prioritized simply distributing the material over individualizing student instruction, he said, but as the years went on, he learned what was most important to him: listening to student needs.

“I try to roll with students in terms of where they are,” Rosen said. “I try to see things from their standpoint and accommodate their learning styles.”

For Rosen, some of the most rewarding moments of his career have occurred when teaching entry-level high school math classes like Algebra I and Geometry. To Rosen, there is no better feeling than a student telling you that your class is the first math class where they’ve ever achieved some level of success.

“What separated him from other teachers is his passion for the subject — he really enjoyed teaching math to us,” sophomore Colin Koonce said. “Whenever I needed extra help, he would tell me to come into class during out of school hours and he would help me out.”

Rosen’s lessons often drew attention to objectives that aren’t available in textbooks or online courses. Whether they were the ways in which mathematical concepts relate to real-life situations, or interesting facts about different functions and patterns, Rosen constantly searched for new methods to engage students, his coworkers and students said.

“Rosen has an insight into higher-level mathematics that you can’t really teach someone,” Kuhn said. “He raises the bar and elevates the level of math instruction at this high school.”

Outside of his teaching career at Whitman, Rosen made a name for himself in the puzzle world, by winning the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament four times and previously working as a crossword puzzle tester for The New York Times. His interest in word puzzles spans all the way back to the age of 10, when he would create puzzles from scratch for his classmates. At the age of 13, he finished 11th in the National Spelling Bee. In high school, Rosen went on to captain his school’s team to the Western New York championship of “It’s Academic,” a student quiz show.

“I enjoy puzzles, whether word-based, number-based or trivia-based, because of the intellectual challenge,” Rosen said. “Unlike many problems in life, the process of solving puzzles can actually arrive at a successful conclusion — a complete answer.”

Rosen was always eager to share his passion for crossword puzzles with his classes. On many half days and the last day of each school year, Rosen would give his classes the opportunity to solve puzzles, teaching them tips and tricks along the way.

Rosen realized he wanted to pursue a career in education and mathematics when he was in high school. As a senior, his guidance counselor referred him to a student who needed help studying for a business-math test, and the next day, he assisted her during his study hall. After the test, she returned to Rosen smiling because she’d received an A for the very first time.

“That experience flipped the switch,” Rosen said. “I thought well, I really enjoyed this, I think I want to be a teacher.”

Rosen went on to double-major in mathematics and Latin at Cornell University. During his senior year, he wrote a thesis that translated the works of first century Greek mathematician Diophantus into English. While studying at Cornell, he student-taught at Ithaca High School with a teacher who co-wrote the AP Statistics textbook that Whitman uses today.

In 1976, Rosen started his full-time teaching career in his hometown, Buffalo, New York, instructing high school students until 1986. From 1986 to 2001, Rosen took a break from teaching to work in the information technology industry where he programmed interactive voice-response systems for telephones. After a few more teaching stints in different parts of the country, Rosen relocated to Bethesda in 2006 and began teaching at Whitman.

The procedures for teaching math have evolved greatly over Rosen’s decades-long career, he said. He can recount a time when calculators weren’t available in schools and instructional tools were limited to a simple blackboard, chalk and textbook.

Unlike the technological evolution that Rosen has experienced at Whitman, the teachers in the math department have seen a low turnover rate over the past 10 years, Rosen said, which has helped them build strong relationships with one another. Rosen has attributed much of his positive experience at Whitman to his fellow staff members.

“It’s really helpful that I’ve been able to have people who I can rely on for help, advice or lesson planning, and [vice versa],” Rosen said. “We have an absolutely terrific faculty and staff at Whitman.”

The stability of the math department has also allowed colleagues to become better friends, Kuhn said, and Rosen’s work ethic and willingness to go the extra step are what set him apart and made him an asset to the department and the Whitman community.

In Rosen’s next chapter of life, he plans on spending free time learning how to play the piano in addition to continuing one of his passions — solving and constructing puzzles. While he’s happy to have a more relaxed schedule, Rosen will thoroughly miss spending his time in the classroom with students.

“Teaching goes above and beyond just the math.” Rosen said. “It made me feel like I was a contributor to society; I just can’t tell you what a wonderful feeling that is.”