The best salesmen all have a good gimmick. Just ask Brea Olinda High School math teacher Scott Malloy, California's newest Teacher of the Year, who has turned teaching into a dramatic art.
He spends every day trying to get kids to buy into the concept of math, and boy, has he got one heck of a gimmick.
Malloy, 36, has donned a Dr. Evil costume (of "Austin Powers" fame) on more than one occasion, arriving at work dressed up "for no reason." He reprised that role on Halloween, in the homecoming parade and for the school's annual "Mr. Brea" contest.
Well, he had to do something for that last contest. For three years, entering as himself, he'd lost. Last year, as Dr. Evil, he won.
No wonder Dr. Evil and Austin Powers paraphernalia are plastered all over his classroom: on a computer screen saver, on posters, on a calendar, even in toy figures on his desk.
"I am not obsessed with Dr. Evil," he says as his students burst out in disbelieving laughter.
But ever since his first appearance in character, the gimmick stuck, and students filled his classroom with toys. "I understand now how frog collections start, but I don't mind," says Malloy, a 13-year teaching veteran. "You need some sort of shtick in this business."
Dr. Evil, of course, has little to do with calculus, trigonometry or computer science. But it is the shtick that opens the door to learning.
Malloy's friend and colleague, English teacher David Razor, is quick to point out that Malloy is quite serious. He enjoys talking politics, literature and current events. In fact, Malloy didn't even think "Austin Powers" was all that great a movie.
In many ways, Malloy is the stereotypical math geek. He has been known to graph his weight, and his eyes grow bright as he starts talking about Euclid and "gorgeous" theorems.
This is why, to his friends, the Dr. Evil persona is so amusing.
"He's such a consummate professional," Razor says. "Scott does that--he plays the role--but teaching is an act. It's a calculated attempt to engage the students."
It is obviously working. His students, in all seriousness, spout teaching cliches, genuinely meaning every word.
"He makes learning fun," says Brian Malotte, 16.
"He tries to be your friend," says Matt Case, 17.
"He's my hero," says K.C. Santos, 17. "There's only one statement that wraps it up. Mr. Malloy is the King of the State. . . . And I don't even like math!"
When they are pushed to expound, it doesn't take long for the concrete examples to start flying. He plays chess with Case every day after school. He comes in at any hour to help a student with a difficult assignment. He challenges them. He entertains them.
And, says 17-year-old Kenny Edgar, "We sing!"
In Edgar's trigonometry class, Malloy has taught his students a little ditty, "The Quadratic Equation Song," which they sing in a jaunty melody, sometimes in rounds. "X equals negative B plus or minus . . . " well, you get the point.
"That's the only reason I know it," Edgar says. In Malloy's calculus class, he inspired his students to sing in Latin--quod erat demonstrandum (that which was to be proved)--in a chant at the end of each problem.
But Malloy seems to find everything about math engaging.
"The limit of a product is the product of two limits," Malloy tells the class. "Sooo cute. Beautiful."
At the beginning of the year, students clamor to get into his classes, which are as hard as high school math gets.
For kicks, his students last year painted the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus on a huge board and staked it into the hill outside Malloy's classroom.
It's still there, Malloy points out, having survived rain, wind, sleet, and a grass fire. He feared school administrators might get mad: The students, after all, had trespassed on the hill next to the high school.
One teacher remarked to Malloy that the math sign was "the greatest show of academic spirit in the last 10 years." Principal Doug Kimberly has been known to show it off to visitors.
Malloy is one of five California Teachers of the Year, but the only one who will represent the state in the national competition.
"There's nothing else I've ever liked," he says of his career. "You're teaching kids. It's metaphysical. I'm saying something, and they say, 'Oh, I understand it.' It's miraculous . . . It's corny, but you pass on education to young people. I wouldn't trade that for anything."