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Richard Osborn does some of his best teaching after classes are over for the day.

Then, dozens of children sacrifice a bit of play time to take part in Osborn's free-wheeling ceramics class. And they begin learning - without being aware of it - some of the things Osborn thinks are as important as math facts.Those facts and figures children learn in elementary school can't compare with the importance of what they come to feel about themselves, Osborn believes.

"When they feel good about themselves, learning takes care of itself," said the Columbia Elementary School math teacher. He sees to it that his ceramics activities result in positive feelings.

"If something breaks, we just start over again," he said.

Osborn believes he's part of a pyramid consisting of parents, teachers and administrators. When things are working right, they come together in a point that has one objective - preparing children for success in the world.

"If any one part of the process fails, the other two can't compensate," he said.

He's aware that many of society's problems have come to roost in the schools and accepts the challenge as part of his job, but he can't help yearning for the ideal - supportive, cooperative parents, creative administrators and dedicated teachers working together for kids.

Increasingly, men are steering clear of education, and that's bad news, he believes. He became intrigued with the notion of teaching during a career day when he was a senior in high school, and "I've never regretted it for a day. It matters a lot that men are not going into elementary education, in particular."

He himself spent some time in the Jordan School District offices as a math specialist, but he found himself in the classroom again when the position was eliminated.

In an era when America's math scores compare abysmally with those of other industrialized countries, Osborn believes it is important to make his subject relevant to children's life experiences. Girls, who traditionally have been led to think they don't do well in math, get as much encouragement as boys.

He uses things they are familiar with to demonstrate math concepts. For instance, a VCR becomes a lesson in the passage of time, a familiar reality in the concept of "start" and "stop."

If Osborn has a concern for education, it's that "we've allowed pretty good to be good enough. We have to set standards and hold people accountable."