The Student Site of Castilleja School


The Student Site of Castilleja School


The Student Site of Castilleja School


Barbenheimer’s influence on Lora Saarnio


Lora Saarnio is a new teacher in the math department, teaching Algebra II and trigonometry as well as 10th grade geometry. I found it equally valuable talking to her about English literature and theater as real world applications of mathematics. 


Who was your favorite of your teachers when you were a student? What impact did they have on you? 


I had a beloved teacher who was both the drama teacher and an English teacher. I actually had him every year in some capacity. The thing I loved about him was how multi-talented he was. He directed the musicals, and he always made them so fun and so inclusive. He also chose really interesting pieces. One year we did Stud Terkel’s “Working.” It was a musical based on a series of interviews with working class people. He exposed me to all kinds of things I’d never heard of. I remember also, he did a seminar on 20 century women playwrights. It was the first time I read Hedda Gabler and these kinds of radical texts about “How dare a woman try to leave her husband and her child to try to assert identity and life for herself?” That’s what I really loved about him, I knew him for so many years, and he exposed me to ideas I had never been exposed to before.


What books are on your nightstand and/or coffee table right now?


I have “The Three Body Problem.” I’m excited about that book. It’s on my book cue because it’s this translation from a famous Chinese author, And it’s also physics based. I liked that one. I just finished [it]. I usually have a funny stack of books. I’m always reading a math book. One book I’m reading right now is “Things to Do and Make in the Fourth Dimension.” It’s by only the math stand up comedian I know. 


What is the most impactful interaction you’ve had with a student? 


It’s not always big interactions that are valuable, it’s actually the small ones. I just had a quarter one reflection that my ninth grade students did. I read one that was just so sweet where she said, “I don’t do outside tutoring. I don’t do Russian school of math, but I appreciate how I’ve been growing my confidence in math.” To me that makes me so happy because I believe every student can be powerful in math. That’s what I hope, so it’s not so much a big impact, but just the law of large numbers. I can multiply that kind of small impact.


What is a “fan-favorite” part of your teaching style? In other words, what is it about your classes that students love? 


One of my traditions is I try to do something hands-on. In my 10th grade we did things with a compass and straightedge and constructions. We looked at one of the oldest theorems in the world. Iit was basically to draw a semi circle, create a diameter, and label A B. Now pick any point on your semi circle, draw a straight line from A and B on the diameter, and measure it. What you end up finding is that every time it’s going to be 90 degrees. I think one thing I hope my students will get is that math is not just simply receiving knowledge from the past, but that you have a part to play in actually discovering it. 


When you were a little kid what did you want to be when you grew up?  


When I was in high school, I thought I was either going to be a geneticist or work for the State Department. I was really interested in biology and I was really interested in Russian literature and language. I actually started college as a Russian studies and biochemistry major.


What is your favorite piece of media and why? What impact did it have on you? 


Barbenheimer. They were two movies I super loved. I knew Barbie was going to be good because I’m a fan of Greta Gerwig. Everything she does is so clever and writerly. I never thought it was going to be talking about patriarchy in a smart and funny way. Then Oppenheimer was because I love the Cold War. That’s one of my favorite periods. I actually taught a course before called Cold War literature, so that’s why I like Oppenheimer. It really struck something because I knew a lot about that period.


What is one thing you are obsessed with right now? 


I am pretty obsessed with tennis. I’m trying to get to a specific rating. In a good week I play tennis maybe four or five times a week. I played in a tournament last weekend, so there’s a certain kind of rating I’ve been chasing. Every ball is a decision. I feel like it’s such a thinking game.

This story is part of the series “Q&Avery” by Counterpoint on new teachers around the circle this school year.

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About the Contributor
Avery Neuner
Avery Neuner, Editor of Opinions
Avery Neuner ‘24 is the Editor of Opinions for Counterpoint. She has been writing for Counterpoint for three  years and has been a writer her whole life. In addition to journalism, she is a published author in short story and poetry.

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