TI(llman)-84, Chris Tillman: Teaches math with enthusiasm, passion

Joshua Park
In a feature for SC's student newspaper The Standard, Math Department Chair (and culinary aficionado) Chris Tillman shares his passions - which are shared between the classroom and the kitchen.

by Joshua Park
Staff Writer, The Standard

At first, his habits of calling students by their last names, sliding across the room with his shoes, and spouting math puns may seem quirky; yet, it is these eccentricities that make Math Department Chair Chris Tillman an inspiring and enthusiastic teacher.

“He’s passionate about what he does, he loves his subject, and he cares about his students,” Upper School Director Tom Perry said.

Tillman, who also annually takes students on a cooking Peak Week, excites his students with his animated personality and vibrant teaching style. Whether he is challenging his students or cooking, Tillman brings a passion and a sense of humor into whatever he does.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Tillman’s first passion wasn’t math. Although he did enjoy it, he wasn’t part of his school math club, attributing his lack of participation to his first passion, hockey. Starting at 4 years old, Tillman played to his senior year of high school. Hockey was all he was into growing up, according to Tillman. In his 10th grade year, he moved to another town and switched schools, calling the move a great experience.

“I went to a new high school and had to meet new friends, and it was a really good experience, getting to meet new people, and realizing that the world is not just the kids that I had grown up with. That really helped me when I went to college, because I already knew what it was like to go somewhere new and different,” Tillman said.

Part of his enjoyment of cooking also stems from childhood. He chalks up his ability to cook to the fact that neither his mother nor his father was a great cook. He also has always liked to take care of himself. A self-made chef, Tillman never took a formal cooking class until he started his cooking Peak Week, which was his first time participating in one.

“Sometimes you have friends that come over and if you cook for them, they enjoy the food. It’s a culinary experience, and you get to share something with them that’s good. It’s also creative. When you cook, you’re creating something, you’re creating flavors, even if you’re following a recipe, you still are making something for the world, even if it’s just for yourself to eat, but you’re learning your own things, adding your own twists and your own flavors,” Tillman said.

Tillman wanted to pass the same ability to take care of oneself to students, the main reason for starting his Peak Week.

“I thought [cooking] would be something really cool to share with students. They’re all going to be moving out on their own someday, and if they’re able to cook when they move out, that’s awesome,” Tillman said.

Tillman is also the head of the Math Team. He enjoys watching students grow while coaching the team, taking pride in providing students the opportunity and lessons to achieve mathematical feats. Not only is the team a way for students to develop their math skills, Tillman says it is also a way to develop his.

“I learn new things, I learn new methods, ideas, and concepts, that I’ve never learned before, so it challenges me and it gives me something where I get to continue to do harder things and then share that knowledge with the students as well,” Tillman said.

Members of the math team appreciate Tillman’s devotedness because he is constantly helping them grow academically.

“Mr. Tillman is a very enthusiastic teacher, and he always tries to help our training and his students the best he can,” Huizhe (Bobby) Zhang (‘17) said.

Tillman’s math classes know him to be very enthusiastic about his work, something he considers essential. He believes that if he teaches with passion, the students will respond in an excited way as well.

“I’m very excited about the things that I teach. I think that math things are really cool, and that comes out in the way I approach the room, and I hope that enthusiasm inspires the students to realize that the things we’re learning are inherently interesting. Teachers need to have passion,” Tillman said.

Students find his energy infectious. He is recognizable not only by his slight Minnesotan accent, but by his many catchphrases and habits such as trying to shoot paper balls into his trash can. Tillman’s trademark is calling students by Mr. or Ms. and their last names. These idiosyncrasies get laughs from his students and make his lessons more interesting.

“I love when he says ‘yeah yeah.’ You’ll always know when you did something wrong because he tells you that you made a ‘Mathtrocity.’ I think that because of his little quirks, his class is a lot more fun and entertaining,” Sarah Schneider (‘19) said.

Tillman’s teaching style challenges his students to overcome challenging problems, even ones that seem impossible, which he believes will help them not only in math, but in the real world as well.

“I think it helps students learn problem solving skills, and that’s going to be really useful when they go to college, not just in mathematics, but just knowing that if they think really hard about things and they don’t give up, they can figure out more than they think they can,” Tillman said.

This article was originally published in The Standard, SC's official student newspaper.
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Sierra Canyon School is a private, independent, non-sectarian, co-educational, college preparatory school for students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12 located in Chatsworth, California. The highly cosmopolitan campus community is reflective of the Greater Los Angeles area and the world at large. Students are empowered to realize their greatest creative, ethical, intellectual and physical promise through small class sizes, a diverse student-teacher culture and a family-like environment.