IMS math teacher Mr. ‘Seg’ to retire

Islander Middle School math teacher, Dave Segadelli, with students from left, Elakshi Shah, Isis Fu, and Rani Woerner. - Mary L. Grady/Mercer Island Reporter
Islander Middle School math teacher, Dave Segadelli, with students from left, Elakshi Shah, Isis Fu, and Rani Woerner.
— image credit: Mary L. Grady/Mercer Island Reporter

Even before this reporter can ask a question of Dave Segadelli, a long-time math teacher at Islander Middle School, the teacher has something he wants to say up front.

"I have been so pleased and honored to be part of this community," he said. "The best 15 years of my working life has been as a teacher here."

Segadelli who has taught high school-level geometry and algebra at the middle school, is retiring this month.

"I want to thank the community, thank my colleagues," he said.

His students are mostly 8th graders but also include a sprinkling of seventh and even sixth graders. They are students working at one or two levels above their grade. Of the adolescents that he teaches, he smiles. "This is a nice age."

Asked if students have changed over his years of teaching, Segadelli said that he has changed more than the students.

But the tools available for teaching have changed dramatically he said, pointing to computers but also a tsunami of teaching resources on the Internet. Many YouTube videos are very good, he said. Kahn Academy - the non-profit website created in 2006 by educator Salman Khan, is one such example.

Everyone wants to get in the act, he laughed. There are a wealth of resources. That means teaching really has to be tailored to the individual. The question, he mused, is what will be the role of the classroom in the future?

“I started out with an overhead projector,” he deadpans.

But make no mistake, all this technology does not make it any easier, he adds.

Having iPads for all students, for example, is a two-edged sword, he said. It is both a valuable tool and a constant temptation.

Segadelli holds a degree in math and attended a masters program at the University of California at Santa Barbara funded by the National Science Foundation. After teaching at other schools that included O'Dea High School in Seattle, he came to IMS.

He remembers that he did not feel very confident when he started out as a teacher. "I was a bit intimidated by my students then," he said.

It was about style, he explained. It took a while for him to feel confident about his approach to explaining a topic and the kind of relationship he needed to establish with students. But he feels that finding that style is key to being a good teacher: "Any teacher will tell you that you are constantly adjusting how and what you teach.”

Stepping into Mr. Segadelli's classroom at Islander Middle School is a bit disconcerting. It is a sunny, warm Friday afternoon - a day that you'd expect lots of wiggling and sighing going on. But no. The students are going over the answers to a practice test. Their teacher sits up front writing on a surface that is projected to a screen. At each question he invites comments, suggestions about how to solve the problem in front of them. He shows them how he would solve the problem - and tosses in suggestions about alternative ways to test a solution perhaps by using a trial and error approach. The students are engaged, offering their take, scribbling down notes. No eye rolling was detected. If there is talking between students in the back row it is surprisingly about the topic at hand - not about getting out of there.

Here and there he pauses to cajole a response about a method used - he praises answers. He reminds students that there are several ways to solving any problem. He said he sometimes chooses one technique over another because his mind is not as quick as his students, he says.

Aaron Miller, co-principal at Islander Middle School, said that Segadelli does whatever he needs to do to help kids succeed. He is always the first one at school each morning, unlocking doors so that fellow staff do not have to.

"He is one of a kind," said Miller.

After class, the students pause to say hello and goodbye to 'Mr. Seg.'

Miller said, "kids know that he cares about them."

Segadelli, who lives on the Island, will tutor students after he retires.

"I love saying that I am a teacher," he said.


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