Having suffered through ten months of senioritis, all I knew was that I was one exam and a few hours from graduating high school. I had exempted most of them. And while I wait for you to stop laughing I'll also add that they had adjusted the school's schedule to accommodate final exams on the last few days.
So on the last day of my high school career I strolled into Mr. Gruetter's classroom about mid-morning, ready to transmit my knowledge of trigonometrics (or whatever...) onto paper. However, my addled and diseased brain, having suffered through prolonged exposure to this terrible disease that afflicts so many 18 year olds, eventually surmised that I had the right classroom but not the right class. Gruetter briefly stopped teaching the young eager minds that were seated in front of him and looked over at me standing stupefied at the door.
"You're a day late [Bernie]."
I'm not a mathematical person. And while I wait for you to stop laughing I'll also add that I have used a calculator to check my kids' math homework since they were in kindergarten. I'm not ashamed of that. There's a reason Al Gore invented handheld computational devices that can add and subtract and multiply and...do all of the other things high school math teachers asked of us.
No, I'm not proficient with numbers. And I had not exempted Gruetter's final. But thanks to his magnificent and magical chalkboard I had a grade that was good enough that I basically just needed to show up and sine
the exam. And yet, sitting here typing this a couple decades later, I don't remember much at all in terms of trigonometry. But I remember I could hear a pin drop after he told me I was very, very late for his final.
You see, Gruetter had a tremendous sense of humor. But he could stop it on a dime. His face was stern, austere. And all I could think about at that moment was how I was going to have to go home and tell my folks that I wouldn't be walking across the stage at Stegeman that night. I was doomed. Life was over. My lifelong dream of one day developing into a mediocre blogger was in ashes at my feet.
It was about then that I saw the faintest glimpse of a smirk (After all, he was in a room full of teenagers that still had at least a year left on their k-12 contract. The man had to keep up some modicum of abject authority.) Then he motioned to an empty desk and handed me the test.
"I hope you at least brought your calculator." I quickly fished it out of my jean pocket.
He'd taught me so well.
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by throwing plenty of links down the Hatch.
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over the summer.
, Neal Gruetter passed away.
There are over thirty years of former students who would cosine
and relate to you similar stories of him as a teacher, mentor, and coach, as the one I gave you up top. I can't speak to the other schools where he taught, but at Cedar Shoals Gruetter was larger than life itself. He was Gruetter Bear
. He was the guy that could relate to everyone in the building on their level, from Mr. Mac all the way down to the kid whose locker wouldn't open. He was the teacher that refused to give up until you understood how his piece of chalk arrived at a negative number. He was an educator of mathematics, and a master at being human.
If he became frustrated it was because you weren't meeting his expectations for you and were slacking off while occupying one of his desks. When he laughed it was because he recognized that there was more to life than numbers. He never lied to us and said that understanding those equations was necessary to be a productive member of society. But he also never lied to us and said that was a reason to give up and just skate by with a D in his class.
In fact, what I remember most about Gruetter was that, much like my own parents and other teachers I hold dear, I didn't want to disappoint him. I worked hard for my grade to not just be a good reflection of my knowledge in Trig, but also a good reflection on him as a teacher.
Given how many times I've been back around Athens since Dooley left the sideline, I regret not going back to the old math wing at Cedar Shoals and telling Mr. Gruetter thanks. If this somehow reaches Mr. and Mrs. Pappas, Ms. Hobson, Coach Lawson, Mrs. Franklin, or Coach Goodwin, you can expect some form of thank you soon. Like Gruetter, you taught us all so much more than course content. At times the learning was an arduous and seemingly insurmountable task. But it was always a pleasure to use one of your desks for an hour each day.
For the rest of you, let's remember that summer is over and school is back in session. So while you're thanking you local school teachers for finally taking your kids off your hands for several hours each day, it might just be a good time to go back in time and thank some of the ones that taught you how to navigate those equations of Life.
Hope your weekend adds up to something special Reader. Godspeed Gruetter!