Thursday, May 10, 2012

Melvin Avery

“Probability is expectation founded upon partial knowledge. A perfect acquaintance with all the circumstances affecting the occurrence of an event would change expectation into certainty, and leave nether room nor demand for a theory of probabilities.” --George Boole

My vote for the next best 63 Highlanders teacher would be Melvin R. Avery. As with Mr. Sills, I have no particular anecdotal stories to tell of Mr. Avery. My regard for him is a result of a body of experience gained while studying mathematics (algebra, I think) in his class. Mr. Avery was not very tall, a roundish, quiet spoken teddy bear-type of man. What I really remember about him was his enthusiasm while presenting his subject. He was another one of those teachers who established a non-threatening classroom environment.

Mr. Avery was infinitely patient, although he could show some frustration when someone didn’t quite understand a concept he had just broached. However, he would quickly quell his impatience at those times and go over it again. I think his frustration was really less a matter of impatience with his students, than with himself that he had not gotten his point across clearly enough.

He exhibited several memorable traits, memorable enough that I recall them clearly now, after nearly 45-years. Mr. Avery loved number games and would frequently use them to demonstrate different approaches to problem solving. An almost boyish exuberance would overtake him as he introduced one of those number games to the class and he could become almost gleeful when one or more of his charges would take up the challenge.

This is a link to an online number game that Mr. Avery would have loved and it illustrates the kind of game he liked to introduce in his classes:

Although I recall a Jr. High math teacher, Mrs. Doris Fuller, who was very, very good in the subject, I'm sure it was Mr. Avery who ignited an early mathematics afterburner in many of us. I would credit Mr. Avery for introducing math more as a challenge than an ordeal.

Another thing I recall of him was that he loved sports although they were focus of neither his career nor his classes. I think one of the coaches adopted him as an unofficial assistant, gave him a leather-sleeved jacket, and included him on some of the team trips. There is a great picture of him in the ’62 Clan yearbook, page 105, that shows Mr. Avery proudly wearing his jacket, boarding a team bus.

His son, Ray, was a good athlete and the starting Center on our ’63 Highlander (’62 season) district championship football team. Ray resembled his father in that he was a quiet, good-humored, roundish kind of kid.

In the picture accompanying this posting, Mr. Avery is demonstrating how to use a slide rule. About a dozen years after that picture was taken, slide rules were relegated to the backs of desk drawers, and then to history almost overnight by the introduction of HP and TI calculators. It’s interesting to think that the design of our Interstate highway system, of the first jet aircraft, and probably much of our first ventures into space were produced using slide rule calculations.

I think Mr. Avery passed away about 1990 at age 71. He served in the United States Navy during WWII as a Seabee in the Pacific.  Thanks for your patience and for the help, Mr. Avery. . . . O.K., class. Quick, what is 5/6 divided by 2/3?



cj said...

1.25 is, I hope, the answer. Mr. Avery was my home room teacher all 3 years, and was also my Trig and Elementary Analysis (replaced Solid Geom in 63-64 school year) teacher. He was an outstanding teacher and a good man.

Carok Avery Reed said...

Mr, Avery was my dad. Thank you guys for the fond memories of him and my brother Ray. My dad passed away at age 72 in 1990. Ray passed away age 56 in 2002. Thanks for the memories and the pics (I had none of either of them from thi spart of their lives)