Martin Badoian, much-honored Canton High math teacher, dies at 90
In Martin Badoian’s Canton High School classroom, figuring how to solve a math problem was more important than simply arriving at the correct answer.
“I never want to hear, ‘I think the answer is’ in my class,” he told the Globe in 1984. “I want to hear, ‘I think because . . .’ ”
Arguably the best high school math teacher in state history, though he might have wanted to pose a challenging equation to prove such a conclusion, Mr. Badoian collected numerous awards during more than 60 years in front of the chalkboard. His drew satisfaction, however, from the accomplishments of those he taught, rather than the accolades that came his way.
“I wish that everybody could enjoy what they do as I do,” he told the Globe in 2004, when he celebrated 50 years of teaching, including 44 at Canton High. “I love teaching. I love the age group. It keeps me young.”
Mr. Badoian, who stopped teaching only when illness kept him from the classroom, died Oct. 27 of pancreatic cancer. He was 90 and had lived in Sharon for many years.
With success that drew comparisons to sports dynasties, Mr. Badoian coached Canton High’s math team to victory in dozens of state and New England championships. He coached sports, too — including the basketball and tennis teams — but his math teams were favorites in all competitions they entered.
“I will continue to teach as long as I am healthy enough to do it,” he said in 2004, when he was in his mid-70s. “I know that I’m going to enjoy it.”
His teaching was equally memorable for generations of current and former students — colleagues, too — who filled First Congregational Church of Sharon to overflowing in November for his memorial service.
Mr. Badoian “never considered himself as above any other teacher. In fact, he often told me that he worked on his craft so he could improve every day,” Don Devoid, who leads Canton High’s math department, said at the service, which is featured in a video on a Facebook tribute page.
“He said he needed to improve for the sake of the students,” Devoid added. “Marty Badoian truly was the greatest teacher I have ever met, and more importantly one of the best human beings I have ever had the honor of knowing.”
Mr. Badoian also was one of the Commonwealth’s most honored high school math teachers, and his awards include being picked by the state Board of Education’s Student Advisory Council as Massachusetts Teacher of the Year for 1976-1977.
In 1984, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching for Massachusetts. “A good teacher wants to help students to think,” he told the Globe several days afterward.
Jeff Coady, one of several former students who spoke at the service, drew laughs when he recalled that when he spent his first day in the legendary teacher’s class, “as with most, I was instantly intimidated when he wrote ‘Mr. Badoian’ on the chalkboard and underlined the B-A-D.”
The chalkboard flourish was its own sly word problem. Mr. Badoian, Coady added, “was without doubt the best teacher I ever had, or ever encountered.”
That sentiment was widely shared. When his time to speak arrived, Fran O’Neill, a Canton High math team co-captain in the late-1970s, stood the front of the church and asked everyone who had been one of Mr. Badoian’s students or athletes to stand. Nearly everyone in the packed sanctuary rose from where they sat.
“Either by direct instruction or inspiration, often through conversations in the lunchroom, teachers have improved their craft, and as a consequence, positively affected the lives of countless students,” Devoid said of Mr. Badoian.
Born in Haverhill, Martin J. Badoian grew up in Nashua. He was very young when his father left the family and his mother, Rose, became a full-time everything. A single mother to Mr. Badoian and his sisters, she worked in various jobs that included cleaning homes.
“She lived on a shoestring, but she managed to pull them through it,” said Mr. Badoian’s wife, Linda. “She was quite a woman. She was a very strong woman. He just adored her and she adored him.”
Not surprisingly given his future profession, Mr. Badoian “loved school” as a boy, his wife said. Though he wasn’t tall, he also was a standout basketball player. But there was no money for college when he graduated from Nashua High School.
He joined the Army instead and, at 17, was stationed in Japan as part of the post-World War II occupation forces. Serving in the military allowed him to use the GI Bill to subsequently graduate from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree, though his wife said he also worked through his college years as a waiter to cover costs.
Mr. Badoian went on to graduate with a master’s from American International College.
His teaching career began with three years at what was then Milford Preparatory School in Connecticut, followed by three years at Brockton High School before he arrived at Canton High.
Mr. Badoian met Linda Collins in 1962 during in-service math training. She was then an elementary teacher at Hemenway School in Canton. They married the following year.
“I’m very fortunate. Linda knows what my commitment is to my students and the amount of time it takes preparing for classes,” Mr. Badoian, who often directed summer school in Canton, told the Globe in 1984.
When he spoke at awards ceremonies, he often began to cry while paying tribute to his wife at the end of his remarks, his daughter, Leslie, recalled at the memorial service. “When he said he couldn’t do what he did without her, it was no throwaway line,” Leslie said of her mother. “It was the simple truth.”
“Dad led by example,” Mr. Badoian’s son, Peter, said at the service. “He truly cared for each and every student, player, parishioner, and human being he had the opportunity to meet and get to know.”
In addition to his wife; his son, who lives in Suffolk, Va.; and his daughter, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., Mr. Badoian leaves a sister, Barbara Vaughan of Pennsylvania, and five grandchildren.
Mr. Badoian never fully retired. Stepping down from full-time duties merely allowed him to leave behind administrative chores, such as running the department, and focus on what he loved most: teaching. His energy level, however, never flagged, as colleagues noted at the service.
“You’ve got to realize that you can be better because you can learn,” he told the Globe in 2004, as he celebrated 50 years of teaching. “I know I’m a better teacher today than I was last week.”
Indeed, along with building camaraderie and inspiring collaboration among students and colleagues, he continually let them teach him. When a student in 2005 showed him a better way to solve a particular problem, he was thrilled.
“I think it’s great a young person could teach an old-timer like me,” he told the Globe. “I didn’t feel embarrassed. I had just learned another way of doing a problem.”