“Patient, caring, understanding”: Math teacher Michael Stebbins retires after 22 years at Whitman


Navin Davoodi

After 22 years of teaching math at Walt Whitman High School, Stebbins will retire at the end of the 2022-2023 school year. Throughout his tenure, he found immense joy working with Whitman students and held an incredible passion for math education. 

By Colette Yehl

The vibrant orange sun shines through the windows of the math hallway as Michael Stebbins makes his way to his classroom at the end of the hall. It’s a striking 6:15 in the morning, but the Honors Algebra 2 and Quantitative Literacy teacher is still immeasurably excited to start the day. As he takes a seat at his desk and switches on his computer, his classroom door creaks open. A flock of students rushes across the threshold into the brightly lit classroom, seeking math-related help, and Stebbins is pleased to answer all of their questions.

After 22 years of teaching math at Walt Whitman High School, Stebbins will retire at the end of the 2022-2023 school year. Throughout his tenure, he found immense joy working with Whitman students and held an incredible passion for math education. 

After earning his bachelor’s degree in math and science education at the University of Maryland, Stebbins kicked off his teaching career at Blair High School in 1983, where he taught Algebra 1 for 14 years. In 1997, he transitioned to teaching Algebra 2 at Seneca Valley High School for a year and a half. During his time at Seneca Valley, Stebbins, who owned a liquor shop, considered quitting teaching and investing full-time into his business. But when profits started to dip, Stebbins accepted a position at Whitman in 2000. 

Teaching hadn’t always been on Stebbins’ career plan, but his teenage interests eventually led him to a career in math education. Stebbins discovered a fascination for computer science, sparked by a passion for solving puzzles. However, this interest quickly fizzled out in the face of the frustrating technology of the 80s and 90s, which led Stebbins to switch career paths. He also played soccer in high school and soon grew to love coaching his younger siblings. His passion for teaching children and the math skills he picked up while learning computer science led him to a career in math education.

Upon meeting Stebbins during his first day on the job at Whitman, the head of the math department, James Kuhn, immediately took note of the teacher’s positive attitude. 

“He’s just a really happy-go-lucky guy,” Kuhn said. “[He’s] always willing to help kids here early every day and working hard.”

Aware that many students struggle with math, Stebbins makes a noticeable effort to be as accessible and understanding as possible. In the morning and during lunch, Stebbins’ classroom fills with students asking about homework, confusing lessons and test issues. 

Sophomore Bella Starr, an Honors Algebra 2 student in Stebbins’ class, appreciates his engaging approach to teaching.

“He has all of these little sayings and tricks for you to remember certain things that help a lot most of the time,” Starr said. “It’s just nice to come to class every morning and have an energetic teacher ready to make you learn stuff even if you don’t want to all the time.”

Stebbins, who typically teaches underclassmen classes, is no stranger to fresh faces encountering challenging high school math classes for the first time.

Freshman Michael Houle is also taking Stebbins’ Honors Algebra 2 class this year and appreciates how Stebbins made his new experience more manageable. 

“Mr. Stebbins is really helpful and down to earth when he’s teaching,” Houle said. “It really feels like he’s trying to teach each student personally instead of just trying to get the job done. It’s a really nice environment.”

Having the opportunity to be around people always made Stebbins eager to come to school. He fostered many friendships with staff members and feels lucky to share a hallway with many of them, he said. Additionally, his passion for teaching flourished through the strong bonds he developed with his students.

“It’s just nice to have that bond with the kids and to have some interaction,” Stebbins said. “It keeps me young.”

Stebbins is a supportive teacher and brings an enthusiasm to math that Kuhn believes will be hard to replace.

“He just always has his door open,” Kuhn said. “He’s always willing to do whatever he can to help people, and I think it’s hard to find people like that.”

After his retirement, Stebbins plans to continue tutoring and teaching math. He eventually hopes to move to South Carolina, where he plans to purchase a home and enjoy the weather. 

But Stebbins will miss teaching; throughout his 22 years at Whitman, he treasured every minute. He adores how motivated the students are, and credits this as what kept him inspired to teach every day.

“I can’t remember any day waking up in the morning and saying I don’t want to go to work,” Stebbins said. “It’s like my home. I love this place.”