When growing up, sometimes (if you’re lucky) you encounter a teacher who sees your potential, realizes you’re in the wrong place, and convinces the school to change where you are, giving you opportunities to learn and grow that you would not have had if that teacher didn’t step up and take action.
I was a skinny 12-year-old who had just moved to a new house in a new school district prior to starting 7th grade. My previous school had not communicated with MacArthur Junior High my math capabilities, so I was placed in one of Mr. Fedyski’s regular math classes.
About 2 ½ weeks into the school year, another girl (who had also recently moved there) and I were acing tests and completing our homework quickly. Mr. Fedyski (“Fed”) picked up on this and asked us to come to school early the next morning. I don’t recall the reason he gave us, but he wanted to see if we could be moved to his accelerated 7th grade math class.
I don’t think I understood that at the time. Nor did I understand what it would mean to my future.
I got to Fed’s classroom first the next morning. He and I stood at the blackboard as he sketched diagrams from geometry.
He asked me, “Have you ever heard of the Pythagorean Theorum?”
I said, “The what?”
(I had never heard of Pythagoras or a ‘theorum’ before!)
He gave me that “never mind the name” look, and began to draw and explain the Pythagorean Theorum in a way that I could understand.
Then the other girl showed up.
Fed asked her, “Have you ever heard of the Pythagorean Theorum?”
She said, “The what?”
He gave her that “never mind the name” look, too, and began to draw and explain the Pythagorean Theorum again.
By the time he was done explaining the “new” geometry to us and we had grasped everything he said, he had us caught up to the place where his 7th grade accelerated class currently was in their lessons.
Then Fed had the school change our schedules so that we could be in his accelerated math class.
That decision and foresight on Fed’s part kept me in the accelerated math programs in both junior high and high school, placing me in classes where I was challenged, along with other students.
Not only that, but I believe being a part of those math programs gave me an edge in college entrance and it gave me the confidence I needed over time to realize I was capable of high achievement.
The teachers of all of those accelerated math classes really enjoyed their students. We were there to learn, we were college-bound, and we laughed a lot, too.
At MacArthur, we were shown a film in math class called “Flatland” that was an animated British film about a two-dimensional world. And it was funny. (Well, it wasn’t supposed to be funny, but we found it funny.) Because of that, through high school, we were able to convince each math teacher every year to let us watch the film. By our sophomore year we could quote some of the dialog verbatim, which made it even funnier.
All of those teachers appreciated students who worked hard. And we appreciated the fact that we were appreciated.
But I always credited that first teacher who recognized I was in the wrong class for my abilities and took the steps he needed to take to make a positive change for me.
It was with great sadness that I learned today of Greg Fedyski’s death from a fatal car accident.
In 2000, I visited the school and was able to find Fed and tell him that his decision to change my class made a big impact on my schooling and beyond.
Thank you again, Fed, for being a teacher who made a difference!
I appreciate your thoughts in response.
Glory Borgeson, President
© 2009 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.
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