SummarySeton counselor Don Valaike says we study English to communicate effectively, history to improve our decision making, and mathematics to think analytically.
For twenty years, Don Valaike offered counsel and guidance to Seton’s math students.
Born in a small town in what were then the coal fields of Pennsylvania, Don entered military service right out of high school and by the age of 19, was the youngest staff sergeant in the Air Force.
Trained as a military surveyor, he completed his enlistment, earned a degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and then worked for many years in project management in construction related activities.
Twenty years ago, Don joined Seton’s math department. He retired in 2016, found himself “bored to death,” and so continues at the age of 85 to help Seton students.
Currently, Don is working on a special project. He is reviewing math tests taken by Seton students, seeking to figure out why a sizable number of students miss certain questions.
“Once we identify those problem questions,” Don says, “we hope to determine whether the questions are faulty or whether the material wasn’t presented adequately in the textbook or whether we didn’t guide students to study the material properly in the lesson plans.”
He pauses, and then adds, “Also, all of math, particularly geometry, requires attention to detail. I’m not sure that some of the students understand this.
“I always tell students not to do the problems in their heads. They need to write down every step of the problem. I tell them the idea is to get the problem done correctly, not as quickly as possible.”
When asked if he had any humorous homeschooling stories, Don laughs.
“When I first started working at Seton, a high school student called me in the middle of the summer and asked if we had Cliff Notes for Algebra 2. I told her I didn’t think those existed, then reminded her that to learn algebra she needed to follow the lesson plans, do the problems in the book, and study hard. She said, ‘I don’t want to learn algebra. I just want to pass it. I have to finish by September 9th.'”
Hundreds of students have asked Don why they need to take subjects like advanced math or calculus, claiming they will never use that information. Don offers this advice:
“Why should I take math? Standard answer: we study English to learn to communicate effectively. We study history to improve our decision making. We study mathematics to learn to think analytically.”
For more advice from Don Valaike about math and his Barney Barnwell philosophy of life, read “Why Being the Best We Can Be Will Lead to a Life Well Lived.”