By Laura Fitzpatrick, Contributing Writer
This school year, WCHS math teacher Mark Pifer is accomplishing something unheard of—he is completing fifty years of classroom teaching. You read that correctly, 5-0 years as a teacher and professor. This remarkable feat begs many questions: How does one work for 50 years, let alone in a classroom? And why?! Mr. Pifer’s sincere, humble response is, “The LORD receives credit for everything.”
Pifer’s career aspirations started in college. Although he did not originally think he wanted to be a math teacher as a senior in high school, he discovered he had a gift for teaching as an undergraduate student at Grace College. After completing his degree there, he started teaching at Mansfield Christian School. As MCS was expanding their school into upper grades, Pifer was their first high school math teacher. He worked there for nine years, developing their high school math curriculum. It was during this time that Pifer met his wife Maryann, whom he credits as being his “rock and stability” for the last 44 years. In 1978, he joined the faculty of Worthington Christian Schools.
During his 41 years at WC, Pifer has served in many distinctive roles and taught a myriad of classes. He has taught every level of math course from high school math through Calculus II at the college level. In the early 1980’s, he took a course at Devry University to learn how to code and program computers. Shortly after completing this course, WC purchased six Apple IIe computers, and Pifer became the school’s first computer teacher. He served in this capacity for two years before returning to a math classroom. He also was the school’s first Webmaster, developing and managing WC’s original website. In addition to serving with excellence and innovation in all of these roles at WC, Pifer found time to continue his own academic and professional pursuits elsewhere.
Pifer spent two summers taking graduate-level math courses through the University of Notre Dame on their South Bend campus, and then completed a master’s degree in Secondary Education Mathematics from the University of Akron. He went on to take 20 hours of graduate level courses at The Ohio State University on top of his previously earned master’s degree. This graduate degree enabled him to begin teaching part-time at local colleges and universities. Over the past 30 years, he has taught evening classes at Columbus State Community College, Otterbein University, OSU, Embry Riddle University, Ohio Dominican University, and Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
It is through his teaching experience at the college level that he has kept math instruction at WCHS up to speed with the needs of the college student. According to WCHS principal Buzz Inboden, Pifer “has been instrumental in the integration of technology into math instruction at WCHS.” For example, Pifer recounts that there were two professors at OSU that led the early use of handheld and graphing calculators in the classroom. As a result, Texas Instrument calculators were incorporated into the WC math curriculum.
But it is not his degrees, advanced knowledge of mathematics, or even his astonishingly long career in which Pifer finds his greatest fulfillment; it is something much higher. Although he had ample opportunity to teach full-time at the university level, he chose to stay at WC. To explain that decision in his own words, “WC is my ministry.” He adds, “I wouldn’t want to be teaching anywhere else…I have often used Galileo’s quote: ‘Mathematics is the alphabet that God used to write the universe.’” He goes on to explain that his favorite scripture is 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Pifer’s passion is to point his students to the Creator of this universe through the study of mathematics.
His reputation as a teacher also points students to the Creator. He is known for maintaining a high level of academic rigor, yet doing so in an environment of compassion, encouragement, and humor. Many WC alumni report feeling well-prepared for their college math courses specifically because of their time in Pifer’s classes. Even students that do not consider themselves “good at math” explain how inspiring and motivational Pifer is as a teacher, encouraging them to take classes beyond what they perceived to be their own ability level.
Mark Pifer has spent thousands of hours of his life teaching hundreds and hundreds of students, but there are some things in life that cannot be measured or expressed in numbers. Pifer’s impact on all of those lives is incalculable. He has poured himself out for his students in obedience to the calling and ministry that God laid out for his life, and there are many, many people that are eternally grateful.