I just learned that Ted Widerski died last month. Ted was a long-time math teacher, in Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin, and the programming director for the city’s gifted and talented program. He was 56.

I didn’t know Ted very well. I met him last year, when I spoke at the Middle School Math Fest he organized in Madison. I expected to lecture to a dozen or so overachieving and dutiful students — instead, I found the CUNA cafeteria packed with close to a hundred pre-teens, still fizzy and enthusiastic after a full morning of math activities led by an equally energetic cadre of teachers and high school students from Madison East. And Ted, fizzier if possible than the pre-teens themselves, at the center of it all. Very few people have the drive and know-how even to put together an event like this, let alone to make it such a success. Madison was lucky to have somebody like Ted helping young students find joy in math; from the Cap Times article linked above, it sounds like the students who learned from Ted in the classroom were pretty lucky too.

We talk a good game, in the higher-ed business, about getting kids in secondary school excited about mathematics. But it’s not easy for us to do, because we’re not *in* secondary schools. You need to have people in the school district who have a real feeling for math beyond the test, and who can convey that feeling to kids who don’t yet know how to articulate what they’re interested in. I think a lot of grown-ups in math can think of teachers of this kind we were fortunate enough to encounter in our youth. For me, and for a lot of other kids in Maryland, it was Eric Walstein. I think there’s a lot of kids, and former kids, from Madison, who’d say it was Ted Widerski.

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There was a recent article in the NY Times about using Zebra fish (!) to get students excited about science. One of the morals was that pre-university teachers really know a lot about holding students’ attention.

He sounds like it will be tough to fill those shoes — what a shame he died so young.

Ted Widerski was my husband. He was inspired to become a math teacher by his high school advanced math teacher, Gail Burrell of Whitnall High School in Greendale, Wisconsin. She was another gifted and passionate teacher who left an indeilble imprint on many of those she taught, Ted included. This is just more proof of how important it is for caring, passionate people to go into secondary education, not only to teach our children, but to inspire a few good ones to become teachers themselves – the gift that keeps on giving. Ted had at least 6-7 advanced math students who became math educators based in part on his example. And those are only the ones we know about, there may be others.

I miss Ted. He was such a wonderful guy. He always listened to every single member of my advanced math class, and offered the best answers. In a time of need, he was always there. Ted Widerski was my true hero. I was so stricken when I heard of the news. Rest in peace, Ted Widerski.

Jennifer, we met briefly. I hope this finds you well. I want to tell you that Ted, indeed, inspired me as a teacher. He hired me at Waterloo; he encouraged me to get TAG training and allowed me to start a Future Problem Solving team. My husband, Dave (also a teacher) and I respected him very much. Our kids later met Ted when they competed in math meets in high school. I have returned to the classroom and now teach AP Psych.