John Padden: Bringing Math off the Page


Ryfee' Randolph

John Padden, Upper School Math Teacher

Newly hired math teacher John Padden intentionally ran into a wall on his first day of school. He certainly elicited reactions from his students – some were confused, others laughed out loud. He managed to turn what seemed to be a mistake into a fifteen-minute lesson pushing the boundaries of math and how we know the subject.

John grew up in Northern New Jersey, in a small town called Florham Park. There, he attended his local public high school. Since eighth grade, he has been tutoring and teaching math to younger students. He attended college at Rutgers University, where he majored in math and music undergrad. He also earned a master’s in counseling psychology from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. After graduating, he worked in a hospital, teaching children with cancer and blood disorders. While teaching at the hospital, he also tutored for SAT prep. His friend suggested that he check out independent schools, and so John started what would become a thirteen-year career at a boarding school in New Jersey. He recently moved to Philadelphia just this year to be near his partner who is also a teacher in the area.

Outside of math, John has a variety of interests. As mentioned before, John majored in music for college. He sang with a choir for many years and played many instruments while growing up. John has a passion for photography, sports (baseball, golf, ski-racing), and anything that makes his “brain hurt” (logic puzzles, board games, and escape rooms).

Sarah Kelly, the Math Department Chair at Friends Select, was part of the committee that hired John. She was impressed by the way he was able to approach teaching a lesson over Zoom to a bunch of students he’s never met before, and how he kept them engaged and involved on a topic that they may not have seen before. Sarah explains, “just talking with him, it felt natural. It felt like he understood our culture and he understood our mission and our beliefs. The way he approached conversations with thoughtfulness, really just made me feel like he would be a really good fit for not just the job but the school.”

Along with Sarah Kelly, many students had positive first impressions of John. They like his unique style of teaching and using math to connect to the real world. Lena Kinser ‘23, a student in John’s Algebra Ⅱ class, says, “I do think it’s a really interesting teaching style and I like how he incorporates the unknown to his questions.” 

Alston Abobi ‘22 adds, “After John ran into a wall in our first math class I thought that he was a very entertaining teacher, meaning that he would always keep his students engaged. So far I’ve felt engaged in his class, and he’s been a very good teacher with using some real-world problems and applying them to math class.”

John’s first impression of Friends Select was the excitement he felt while talking to the students in his interview, noting the amount of student activism and their eagerness to speak out, particularly on issues of social justice. He wants to teach students who are ready to challenge and ready to push. John had some previous exposure to Quaker education and the SPICES as his partner teaches second grade at another Quaker school, but he is enjoying the new experiences, specifically Meeting for Worship. 

There are many differences and adjustments John will have to make coming to Friends Select. Coming from a boarding school, the workday “truly never ended.” For many years he lived in a dorm with the students, having formal dinners, sports practices, and advisories together. He was able to build strong bonds with students and faculty, he even went to a former advisee’s wedding a couple of weekends ago. John has heard from other students and faculty at Friends Select that there is room in the school to build those bonds, and he is looking forward to building them. 

The schedule and getting acclimated to a new school are two things John is anxious about, but he is most excited to no longer have Saturday classes. He has some nervousness as he is just starting fresh, back to square one, with a new community and student body. John says, “I am eager to establish myself as a teacher who can be trusted to always have the students’ best interests in mind. To be supportive, inclusive, and to bring kids on an intellectual journey that really challenges them.”

John hopes that students leave his class thinking that they didn’t just learn topics or skills, but they think differently as a result of his teachings. He wants his students to embrace struggle and always be curious. He says, “Struggle is so much of life. Whether it’s small things like not snoozing your alarm in the morning ten times to the big challenges in life that we’re all going to face, the more that we can talk together about the things that really challenge us, the better. Something that I always try to be conscious of, is that every person in my class is bringing their entire life to that moment.”