Teacher Spotlight: Matthew Pitassi

Students face many challenging decisions that affect their everyday lives. Some decisions can affect their grades, their future, self-esteem, and drive to continue going. Once in a while, students need a reminder to take advantage of certain opportunities while they can. Mr. Pitassi, a mathematics professor here at Rio Hondo College, exemplifies his teaching abilities through his passion, detail, and patience.

On the first day of class, before any student can open their textbook, Pitassi encourages his students to “think Japanese”. When asked why and how he came up with that saying, Pitassi said, “I came across an article when I first started teaching (at a Long Beach Middle School in the late 90’s) that stated how Japanese students did much better than American students in math.  The article went on to describe just how much time/effort the Japanese students spent studying vs. American students.  I had a discussion about this with my sixth grade math class.  I asked them why they thought Japanese students did better.  Their answers were very revealing.  ‘They are smarter than us Americans,’ was what many of them said.  I realized that, in a way, this type of thinking gave my sixth grade students an excuse for not doing well in math.  I stressed to them that God gave us Americans just as much brain power as Japanese students but it was the effort that made the difference and not the intelligence.”

In the classroom, students describe Pitassi’s teaching method as strict, yet fair. For example, a student spoke about a dilemma he faced on the day of his first major exam in Mr. Pitassi’s class. “I do promotions for a living and my boss asked me to drop off some boxes to FedEx before school started. Being a good employee I did just that, but later realized that he had given me the wrong address and I would not be able to take my test due to the fact that I was 20 miles away, and had to ship these boxes. While I was waiting for the light to turn green I grabbed my phone and sent an email to Mr. Pitassi asking him if I could take my test some other time. Two minutes had passed since I sent the email, and Mr. Pitassi replied. His answer was short and to the point. He basically said, ‘Unfortunately, only a verified medical excuse is a valid reason to miss an exam. You will receive a zero on the exam. You might consider dropping the class.’ I will admit at first I was upset, but I couldn’t find a reason to blame him for it. I knew it was my decision, and that my grade ultimately came down to me. I then realized that I had to follow my intuition and drop what I had to do and take that test. I scored a C+, much better than a zero, in my opinion.” This anecdote conveys how much Pitassi willingly helps and encourages his students to discipline themselves in order to better themselves. In the words of blogger Alexandra K. Trenfor, “The best teachers are the ones who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.”

Besides teaching math, Pitassi is working towards improving the Basic Skills math courses at Rio Hondo. Mr. Pitassi also had some words of wisdom to share to his students, “I have come to realize that the vast majority of my problems are self-created.  I think this is true for almost everyone…How is this related to teaching math?  I want to stress to my students that their biggest obstacle in math (and probably in life) is themselves.  This may sound like a very negative message, but actually it is quite empowering – because after all, the only person we have control over is ourselves.” Mr. Pitassi not only is a great role model, but his lessons stay with his students long after they take his class.