The Trader Turned Teacher
Will Frazer has always been good with numbers. It allowed him to flourish at the Fisher School of Accounting, and have a successful career on Wall Street.
But it wasn’t until later in Frazer’s life that his affinity for numbers made a true impact. As a teacher at Gainesville’s Buchholz High School, he has bettered the lives of countless students and established Buchholz as a national power in math competitions.
Teaching high school math did not seem like a likely scenario for Frazer, 57, when his career began. After graduating from the Fisher School, he went to Wall Street as a bond trader at Lazard Freres, a financial management firm.
That Frazer made it to one of Wall Street’s leading investment firms was unique, especially in the early 1980s. He didn’t have a finance degree nor did he come from any of the Ivy League or elite northeastern schools, which historically composed Wall Street’s top talent. But he more than held his own thanks to what he learned at the Fisher School.
“It was very useful during my career on Wall Street, knowing how to read financial statements and balance sheets,” Frazer said. “I could converse with investment bankers on deals. It provided a good foundation for things I was going to do.”
Despite a successful and lucrative career, Frazer became disillusioned with Wall Street.
“Wall Street was a morally decadent place, and it eventually kind of rubbed on me,” Frazer said. “Everything was about making a dollar.”
So Frazer “retired” at the tender age of 27, having made enough money where he didn’t need a pay check for more than a decade. He lived the good life, traveled, and played golf, and eventually settled back in Gainesville. He coached the golf teams at P.K. Yonge and Buchholz High School, as well as served on the pension board for the City of Gainesville.
The teaching bug bit while coaching at Buchholz in the winter of 1996. He inquired about teaching a finance course at Buchholz’s Finance Academy, but there weren’t any finance courses available. He was offered a math course instead.
“My Wall Street career was math-related so I said yes,” Frazer said. “When I was offered the job I thought I would be starting in August, but they wanted me to start in two weeks. I remember walking in the first day of class and said to the kids, ‘Listen, I don’t need this job. You guys give me one day of grief, I’m quitting.'”
Fortunately, the students complied, and Frazer’s passion for teaching was stoked.
“I feel so blessed that I found a calling,” he said.
A year later, Frazer found a flyer in his mailbox about a math competition in Ocala. He asked his students if they wanted to compete, and they said yes. The results were less than stellar.
“We did terrible,” Frazer said. “We finished sixth out of seven teams. On the bus heading home, the kids asked how to solve the problems and I couldn’t do it. You teach honors level in the classroom, then you go to these competitions and it’s on another level.”
Despite their struggles, Frazer’s students weren’t dismayed. They asked to compete in another competition the next month, and took home fifth place and a trophy.
That was the genesis of Buchholz’s remarkable run of state and national titles. Buchholz won its 10th consecutive national title in July at the Mu Alpha Theta National Convention in St. Louis. In April, the team won its 12th consecutive state title.
Frazer’s formula for success is simple, but was unconventional when he implemented it more than a decade ago. He essentially took the competition format to the classroom. Frazer recruited Buchholz’s most promising math students, put them in a single class, and taught the coursework at an accelerated pace.
“Everybody had this flawed model,” Frazer said. “You teach honors during the day, then you’d have to come after school to teach the competitive stuff. It seemed very inefficient. I asked around to see what the best schools were doing, and created my own model.”
It’s a model not built on any exotic techniques or elaborate teaching methods. It’s simply a matter of devoting hours of hard work. In addition to the instruction during the school year, Frazer hosts summer camps—led by Buchholz students—for area middle school students.
“You get 72 hours with your math teacher in a semester,” Frazer said. “These kids are getting 80 hours in four weeks (at summer camps). This camp goes from 8 a.m. to noon, and those same kids will be prepping for our national competition from noon to 5 p.m. Nobody is going to come remotely close to working that hard.”
Because so much of the competitive curriculum is being taught during school hours, there isn’t a great need for after-school instruction. Frazer understands the misconception some may have about the team.
“People have this vision that all these kids do is math,” Frazer said. “It’s not like that at all. We have athletes. Some play the violin and the piano. They’re in business competitions and science competitions. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s efficient hard work.”
As is customary after the national competition, Frazer, the team, and their parents gathered for a banquet. The seniors said a few words about their experiences with the team, and how it impacted them.
Frazer, swelling with pride and holding back tears, knew he made a difference…again.
Said Frazer: “The way I view it, I change lives for a living.”
ABOUT WILL FRAZER
Career: Teacher, Buchholz High School
Hometown: Gainesville, Fla.
- Will’s father, William Frazer Jr., was an economics professor at Warrington for 47 years.
- Will began as a math major at UF, but was encouraged to study accounting by family and friends, including Dean Emeritus Robert Lanzillotti.
- Will said a major priority for him is to reach out to more students on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, and get them involved with his team.
Connect with Will at email@example.com