By Paulette Safdieh
There’s a big difference between helping students to grasp a new concept and just showing them the right answer, and Dr. Warren Wollman makes sure his math students know that. As he wraps up his fifth year at Rodeph Sholom School on the Upper West Side, he accepts a Blackboard Award for his ability to reach students in a way not everyone can.
“I try to give students an idea of where math comes from, not just presenting it to them,” said Wollman, who teaches seventh and eighth grade honors classes. “I try to demystify the mathematics.”
Although Wollman, 73, has taught at schools across the city for the last 23 years, teaching wasn’t his first love. He obtained his undergraduate degree in nuclear engineering at New York University and completed his doctorate in physics at the University of California. While there, Wollman was introduced to the famous psychologist Jean Piaget and went on to study with him in Geneva for three years, an experience that influenced his teaching style.
Wollman returned to Berkley with a strong interest in child development and educational psychology. He taught at universities for 17 years before making the switch to schools.
“I just preferred that life,” he said. And the Rodeph Sholom community agrees it’s a fitting environment for him.
“He really connects with middle school students well,” said Lisa Rubin, 54, whose son had Wollman for both seventh and eighth grade. “He believes in their intellect and he’s able to get them farther then they ever thought they could get.”
While he sets expectations high, Wollman’s sense of humor in the classroom has been known to lighten the mood. Most importantly, parents insist he is always available beyond class hours to help students one-on-one.
“He really lives by that model of if you give a man a fish, you feed him for life,” said Steve Lipman, 51, chairman of the school’s board. “He doesn’t want you to memorize formulas as much as he wants you to think and understand. He wants students to be self-sufficient.”
According to Lipman, whose ninth grade son had Wollman, he has a way of guiding children in the right direction—something Lipman says is characteristic of the best teachers. According to Wollman, it’s all a conscious effort.
“If I want to teach something new, I place a big emphasis on how it can come out of something old—something they already know,” he said.
Outside the classroom, Wollman enjoys playing on the faculty volleyball team at Rodeph Sholom, reading whenever he can and spending time with his two grandchildren. Born, raised and still living in the Bronx (he used to walk to Yankee Stadium as a child), Wollman insists he won’t be following the baseball season. “I got to the age when I realized I won’t be able to read everything I want to read,” he said. “I read more than I watch.”
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