Ralph D. Small has had a very long career, most of it at Westbrook High School. He graduated from Westbrook High School in 1955, and credits one of his teachers with starting him on a lifelong love of mathematics. At that time Mrs. Hutchinson was the chairperson of the mathematics department and was the teacher for all of the math courses Ralph Small took at Westbrook High. As a senior, Ralph Small decided that he wanted a career in mathematics, and he was accepted at the University of Maine.
Ralph Small had a summer job driving a delivery route for Cushman Bakery. He managed to save enough money from this to pay his college tuition, and he kept working at this for many summers. He enjoyed helping his fellow university students with math problems, and by his junior year he decided to pursue a career teaching high school mathematics.
After graduating from the University of Maine, Mr. Small got a job teaching math in the Scarborough school system where he taught for two years. From there he went on to teach in the Portland school system, at Lyman Moore Junior High School. During this time Mr. Small got some publicity in the Portland newspapers by:
Giving a lecture to parents on the rewards of learning “Modern Mathematics”
Teaching a unique geometry lesson that involved curve stitching
Starting a slide rule club where he instructed students how to use the slide rule to do math computations
He still wanted to teach mathematics at the high school level, so he was very happy when he got a call from his former teacher, Mrs. Hutchinson. She had been following his career, and she wanted him to teach mathematics at Westbrook High School and to take over as chair of the mathematics department when she retired in a few years. So, in the fall of 1964 Mr. Small returned to Westbrook High School as a teacher of mathematics. Two years later, in 1966, he took over as chair of the mathematics department.
Mr. Small wanted to be an excellent math teacher, so in addition to teaching he continued to study mathematics, and in 1968 he received his Master’s degree in Mathematics. In the early 70s, Mr. Small got together with several other math teachers in the area and started the Pi-Cone Math League. In the fall of 1971 Westbrook High School participated in the inaugural season of the math league, which Mr. Small and many of his students greatly enjoyed competing in.
In 1975 Westbrook High School got its first computer, largely due to Mr.Small’s advocacy, and he introduced two new courses into the math curriculum: Computer Programming, and the Mathematics of Finance. Mr. Small taught both new classes. The Computer Programming class introduced students to the Basic programming language, and they wrote programs to solve computational problems.
In 1976 Mr. Small was offered a part-time teaching position at the University of Southern Maine. The courses he taught were College Algebra, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus. He held this position for 30 years, in addition to continuing to teach at Westbrook High School. In the spring of 1994, Mr. Small submitted paperwork to retire from his teaching position at Westbrook High School. The school superintendent asked him to stay at the high school to teach AP Calculus and Pre-Calculus, with no other responsibilities. Mr. Small accepted this offer, and remained in that teaching role for another 12 years. He retired in 2007 after a total of 47 years in public education, with 43 of those years at Westbrook High School. He continues to live in Windham, Maine, and still does math problems for fun!
Mr. Small was regarded as a model teacher for his love of mathematics, and how he helped so many students learn how to think and reason and figure out complex problems, starting with the basics. He helped launch so many of us into diverse careers where those skills were an asset.