Math professor shares his passion for teaching

Photo by: Hannah Maltry

Melissa Rollins, Staff Writer

Dr. Thomas Fitzkee knows that not everyone loves math like he does. As a math professor, and chair of the Math Department, he wants to help change that.

Fitzkee wants to show students how the math formulas that they learn in the classroom can be used outside the school environment.

“I liked math, and I wanted others to like it as much as I did,” Fitzkee said. “The best way I thought for that to occur was to teach it.”

Originally from Mary-land, Fitzkee said that his wife was from Virginia, and he was pretty sure that they would end up in the south. When Francis Marion University offered him a job as a math professor, he took the job, fulfilling his own prophecy.

Fitzkee started at FMU in the fall of 1998 and is currently in his fifth year as chair. Even though he has more responsibility being head of the department, Fitzkee stressed that he still loves teaching math more than the business side of his position.

Before starting at FMU, Fitzkee worked in an office job doing work for NASA.

“I worked as a subcontractor for NASA,” Fitzkee said. “I didn’t model any space flight or anything like that. It was mainly fixing computers and helping with presentations.”

He said that it was this job that helped him to see that he did not want to work in an office job for the rest of his life. While he liked the experience, Fitzkee said that it confirmed to him that he wanted to teach.

“Although (with math) you are kind of teaching the same material, it may be in a different way with more technology, and the students are always changing,” Fitzkee said. “With an office job it would be the same old, same old every day. I didn’t want something totally new either, so this is a nice in between.”

Fitzkee said that he wanted to teach in college because the expectations are different.

“In college, the focus is more on teaching,” Fitzkee said. “It’s less on following standards.”

As head of the math department, Fitzkee said that he is responsible for faculty evaluations, class schedules and department budgeting.

He added that although some people may think it does, his job does not involve “what to do when a computer stops working or a door is squeaking.”

Though he has taught everything from Math 105 to Trigonometry, Fitzkee said that he prefers Calculus, because “it makes sense and flows well.”

“It’s work, it’s fun and it’s more than just solving for x,” Fitzkee said. “It’s about things like figuring out if there is a tendency for people to make right turns from this lane.”

He may have taken on more responsibility when he took the job as department head five years ago, but Fitzkee did not leave behind his love for teaching.

“With all the duties as chair, I really enjoy getting in the classroom,” Fitzkee said. “For those 50 minutes, I know what I am going to be doing. I’m going to be helping students learn math.”