After 21 years of teaching math at Packer, Anne Danforth is retiring. As the longest serving member of the mathematics department, Anne has made many contributions during her tenure, including influencing her colleagues’ approach to math education, offering opportunities for students to pursue advanced-level learning, and providing support to those who find the subject daunting.
In addition to “the rich institutional history of the school and the department, [Anne] also brings a deep knowledge of how kids think about math,” said fellow Upper School Math Teacher Sam Shah. “Because of her, we have an amazing two-semester elective called Advanced Math Applications, which has simultaneously sparked interest in mathematics for kids who had rarely felt that joy and allowed kids who wanted to enrich their mathematical skills to think about novel problems they had never encountered. Anne also launched Math Support [a daily drop-in program for students seeking extra help], which is a truly impressive feat.”
“What I love about teaching is that I’m always learning,” said Anne, in Teaching Is Like a Red, Ripe Strawberry, a 2011 publication featuring Upper School faculty. “I always learn so much from my students about how they think and reason, which is a most fascinating thing to me, and every year it is new and different.”
This love of learning is clear to her colleagues. “Anne is so deeply committed to understanding how students think about mathematics,” said Math Teacher Tom James. “She views every mistake as an opportunity to gain insight into a student’s thought process and she has an unbelievably deep reserve of strategies to make sure all students can fully access and understand mathematics.”
“The thing I’ve taken away the most from her is the importance of thinking like a kid,” said Sam, who began his teaching career at Packer 13 years ago. “Anne will collect and correct all homework assignments and provide detailed feedback to kids. But as she’s doing this, she’s constantly getting feedback on what connections kids are making, or where they have gaps and misunderstandings in their thinking. As a novice teacher, my learning from her about how to look critically at student work and put yourself in their mindset was invaluable for my growth.”
“Anne has taught me how to be playful with mathematics,” said Ian Rumsey, Mathematics Department Chair. “She brings an incredible joy to learning new ideas, especially when they are inherently mathematical…. More than anything else, Anne taught me how to bring my own curiosity and joy for mathematics to my classroom.”
Anne’s influence as an educator extends beyond the math department. “She has modeled for me the value of clear rubrics in assessing student work,” said Anne’s husband, Erland Zygmuntowicz, a long-time history teacher at the school. “I have always valued her wise and practical advice.”
Erland has enjoyed having his wife as a co-worker and the couple has shared their Packer experience with their two children — Elizabeth ’12 and William ’19. “It was extremely important to both of us to know that our children were nearby and in the hands of such capable colleagues,” said Erland. “Although it was occasionally embarrassing for the kids, in the long run, they appreciated having their parents nearby.”
Packer’s math department has also benefited from having the duo on campus. Sam shared an example of why.
“A few years ago, we were all in the math office getting frustrated by the fact that whiteboard markers that we left in our classrooms were disappearing,” Sam recalled. “We suspected they were being taken, likely inadvertently, by other teachers. Still, we always were scrambling to find more markers.
“One day, Anne comes into the math office laughing and holding a giant gallon-size Ziploc bag filled with markers for us. It turns out Erland would absent-mindedly take markers from rooms he was teaching in and stick them in his pockets. At home, Anne would find them and squirrel them away. And when a bag got full, she'd march into the math office holding the bag of markers up in the air, victorious!”
Anne’s colleagues said they will miss her presence at Packer.
“Anne is a force of nature,” said Sam. “I’ll miss her strong opinions, her getting mad at the printer in the math office for not printing, her dedication to seniors around graduation time, playing board games with her, so many things.”
“I am going to miss Anne’s competitive fire,” added Ian. “Anne absolutely loves to play games of all types and has been a staple at department game nights. She brings the same joy and passion to games that she brings to her classroom…. I’m not going to miss losing to Anne (over and over and over again), but I am going to miss having such a wonderful colleague and friend at the table.”
If you would like to submit well-wishes to Anne, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.