When Stuyvesant alumnus John Taylor (’07) was five years old, he sat outside the admissions office at Saint Ann’s School, awaiting his interview, and helped the much older girl next to him with her math homework. Throughout elementary school at Saint Ann’s, Taylor excelled in math classes alongside students a year older than he was. Upon entering Stuyvesant, he joined the math team, in which he rose to the rank of captain. In his senior year, Taylor competed in the tiebreaking round of the American Regions Mathematics League (ARML), an annual national high school math team competition, and was admitted to Princeton University, graduating with a degree in Music. Now he’s back at Stuyvesant, having taken over math teacher Richard Geller’s Algebra 2/Trigonometry (MR21) and Math Team classes.
Taylor visited Geller during an after-school tutoring session in May 2009, in his sophomore year of college. “Not math?” was Geller’s reply, accompanied by a smile, when Taylor said that he was majoring in Music. Though he started off as a math major, Taylor switched to music after his freshman year, during which he took two math classes: Analysis In a Single Variable, and Numbers, Equations, and Proofs, the latter of which he described as “next to impossible. [...] As a freshman, I was totally unprepared.
“I have always loved math,” Taylor said. “Math was always my favorite subject.” Even when it was challenging, as Geometry was for him, he “just worked very hard at it,” he said. He was the only Stuyvesant freshman who was selected for the 2004 ARML, and was able to answer two out of eight questions on the notoriously difficult exam. As a senior, he correctly answered all eight and competed in its tiebreaker round.
However, Taylor has always been equally passionate about music. He started taking piano lessons at the age of three, and he played the clarinet for both Saint Ann’s and Stuyvesant’s bands. He taught himself how to play the guitar, and composes string quartets and piano pieces, including one that he played for Geller’s memorial service on Wednesday, November 9.
When he was in sixth grade, Taylor applied for Julliard’s Pre-college Division, a course for young musicians held on Saturdays, as a composition major. After initially being rejected, Taylor tried out again in seventh grade, and was admitted to the program. During his time at Julliard, Taylor wrote classical and tonal music, music in a specific key with a home base.
“Music was always something that came naturally to me. Everything flowed like water,” Taylor said. Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin are his favorite composers, and Taylor’s best original composition is a string quartet with four movements. “It shows my different facets as a composer. It shows a wide range of emotions,” he said.
At the same time, Taylor was doing mediocre work in his math classes at his middle school because he didn’t agree with his teachers’ teaching styles. His parents attempted to dissuade him from joining the math team after he gained admission to Stuyvesant, but Taylor was adamant about joining. He remembers thinking, “I want to be on the math team. I want to show you and the rest of the world that I’m for real.”
Taylor retains an active presence on the math team even after graduating, attending three of the past four ARML’s as a coach. He decided that teaching math was “something to do for a time” after he graduated Princeton, but did not get accepted into any graduate professional schools for music. On Taylor’s first day on the job, Assistant Principal Maryann Ferrara asked him to help teach Geller’s classes. Taylor ended up teaching a full schedule for three weeks, with five classes a day. He will continue teaching MR21 after obtaining his teaching license.
“I got more than I bargained for,” Taylor said. “I know I won’t ever be a great mathematician [...] like Euler, who proved things nobody knew had a proof. I know I can be a great math teacher if I work hard at it.”
Though he only plans on teaching until either the end of this term or this school year, and is currently studying for the December Graduate Record Examinations to try out again for graduate professional schools for music, he said, “I would never dream of teaching anywhere else.”
Taylor’s least favorite part of his high school experience was “the escalators when they weren’t working,” he said. He also abhors the cheating that goes on at Stuyvesant. “I use the example that Mr. Geller used. I don’t want people operating on me who cheated their way through medical school,” Taylor said. “Stuyvesant is a total meritocracy, and that’s what I love about it. [...] I just wish there could be the competition without the cheating.”
Now that Taylor is a teacher, music has taken the back seat, as he has to spend time on grading and lesson plans. “While it may be hard to be a student at Stuyvesant High School, imagine what it’s like to be a teacher,” he said. As a teacher, his most difficult job is the preparedness that being in the front of the classroom necessitates. As a student, you can be lazy. Some days, you can make mistakes. No one’s really watching you. As a teacher, everyone’s watching you,” Taylor said. “All eyes are up there.”
In addition to his accomplishments in math and music, Taylor can converse in Mandarin Chinese, Latin, Italian, and Spanish. He began his Chinese studies when he was seven, and took it for four years at Stuyvesant. “Chinese, I believe, is the language of the future,” Taylor said. He took Italian at Stuyvesant as well for two years, and in college, he took Spanish and French for one and two years, respectively, citing an interest in the languages of Western Europe. “Languages and linguistic patterns was something I was always strong in,” Taylor said. “I like the idea of communicating with different people.” He plans on learning Portuguese next.
Taylor has mastered the languages of composition and math, notes and numbers. Now he is trying his hand at a new art—teaching.