78 Photo Essay: Stewart Ochs

Words and Image by Al Blanton

“Mr. Ochs, I like the whale on your shirt,” a young student says. 

“Thanks. It’s my spirit animal,” Mr. Ochs replies jokingly. 

If you walk into Stewart Ochs’ seventh-grade math class at Jasper High School, don’t expect to see desks perfectly aligned and the teacher lecturing at the front of the classroom. Expect chaos. 

The director of madness is Ochs, whose philosophy is, the more fun his students have, the more they learn. “I want it to be the loudest class in the building,” he says. “Literally, when I go to professional development people ask me to describe my class, and I describe it as organized chaos. My students know what’s going on, I know what’s going on, but if an outsider walked in and saw the way my students were they would think I was crazy, and I was out of control. I’ve got music bumpin’, the kids are having fun. They’re up, around, moving. Students fall asleep when they are sitting still.” 

This may fly in the face of rigid traditionalists, but the beauty of this teaching methodology is that it works and is a natural extension of the puppeteer—Ochs himself, who exudes a quirky, fun, jokester motif. Those daily quirks may include “jump scares”—Ochs attempting to scare one of his students by standing behind him or her and making pterodactyl sounds—bingo games, Jeopardy games, Unit Dogs (scale factor projects using cardboard squares), or singing Taylor Swift songs. 

“Whatever I can to get a jolt out of them,” he says. 

Ochs’s only fear is that his classroom will be boring. He believes that discipline becomes an issue when students are not engaged. Because of this, he intentionally keeps his room cold and plays music in the background. 

“The best part to me is when they are doing math and singing because it’s just fun for me as well,” he says. “So if I can keep the energy up, and they can keep the energy up, then I know they are going to be learning because they are enjoying what they are doing. That’s super important, especially for a 12-year-old. You want to have fun. And if we can learn some math in between and be more confident, then that’s where it’s at.” 78 

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