Math teacher finds his way trailside
Amid a 700-mile hike in California and Oregon, Roger Binschus had a moment to reflect on what he wanted from life.
He had quit a profession he loved in architecture, a decision partly prompted by the recession, so he had plenty of time. That was when his then-girlfriend, now wife, convinced him to venture out along the Pacific Crest Trail. So for six months, the avid backpacker had plenty of time to mull his career.
On that trek he met other teachers who were taking advantage of their summers off. That appealed to an outdoorsman like Binschus, and the idea of teaching wasn’t a foreign concept. He had tutored math while studying at the University of Oregon, and he loved his time teaching at Outdoor School.
So he took the plunge as a full-time teacher.
“I always enjoyed seeing when an idea clicks for a student, that aha moment,” Binschus said. “People innately want to learn, so I could be there to facilitate that opportunity and experience.”
He has taught for 11 years, two at Oak Harbor, Washington, and nine at Corbett High School as a math teacher.
“I loved architecture, but it wasn’t as emotionally rewarding as teaching,” Binschus said. “There were days I would wake up and not want to go to work back then — I haven’t had a moment like that in teaching.”
The community recognized that mindset and care for teaching, as Binschus was nominated as one of Pamplin Media Group’s 2023 Amazing Educators.
“Thank you, I appreciate being recognized,” he said. “I would love to thank whoever nominated me in person. I suspect it may have been a parent, which is the most rewarding to hear because that means a student enjoyed my class enough to go home and speak positively.”
Binschus gravitated toward math because he could quickly get into it as a teacher and loved the discipline.
“Math is black and white, a definite right and wrong,” Binschus said. “There are patterns that emerge and lots of things that can be explained through mathematics.”
At Corbett he teaches Precalculus, AP Calculus, and Algebra. In addition, he has taught Architecture and Geometry in the past, and next year he will also helm a Physics class. Binschus has also supported the Dungeons and Dragons Club, the Nature Walk Club, and the Investments Club.
“I believe math is the pinnacle. Everything is some version of mathematics,” Binschus said.
However he knows how hard the subject can be for many. It is a hang-up he once shared. He failed the course in his first semester of algebra and may have become disenchanted with math altogether if not for a teacher of his own.
“She said, ‘You can do this,’” Binschus remembered. “I decided to trust her, work my butt off and get good at it.”
That is a mindset he follows in his classroom. He tries to empower students to make discoveries and find the confidence to tackle even the most intimidating math problems. A large part is encouraging them to talk through the work and explain it to their peers.
And his lessons often buck the trend of working on problem sheets or solving equations on the whiteboard. One of his favorites came during the 2012 presidential campaign. His students investigated the mathematics behind democracy in the United States, discussing the Census and population by estimating the number of M&Ms in the candy store. The kids learned predictive modeling of populations while enjoying chocolate.
“I enjoy the smaller community and having students for multiple years,” he said. “I can come off as a little blunt and abrasive — matter of fact — at first, so I found it takes some time for the students to warm up to me.”
Being with the same students and teaching later math levels has allowed Binschus to watch the kids grow. He gets to see their faces every day and figure out the best way to teach each of them.
“It can vary from kid to kid, but I care more about them being comfortable in class than successful at math,” he said.
That includes extra attempts at a test or quiz. Rather than fail them outright, Binschus wants them to have whatever they need to succeed, be it more time, notes, or one-on-one tutoring.
“Students can have as many tries as they want, even if it takes them 36 weeks to get there,” he said.
Binschus hasn’t once regretted that decision made out on the trail.
“I could now see myself teaching the rest of my life,” he added. “There isn’t anything else that calls me more.”