It’s Never Too Late to Thank a Teacher
I was not a math whiz, but my high-school teacher figured out ways to make those lessons stick — even thirty-five years later
My teenager has been struggling in her ninth-grade geometry class. The other night, she brought her homework packet to me in frustration and asked for help. Now, I was no math wiz in high school — as a student, I was always stronger in English and history — but somehow, as soon as I took a look at my daughter’s homework, the geometry concepts came flooding back to me.
“Has your teacher explained about parallel lines and equal and opposite angles?” I asked. “Did you learn about the one, to two, to root three triangle rule?” She looked at me bewildered and answered, “I don’t know any of that. We haven’t learned it.”
I was surprised that I had recalled so many of those geometry terms and lessons from so long ago. How did I still remember them? What was it about my teacher, Mr. Kreps, that made the information stick into my head for so long? More importantly, whatever happened to Mr. Kreps? And did I ever thank him?
The first time I met Mr. Kreps, he was holding a set of arrows (yes, real arrows) and a ball of string. Back then there were no fancy PowerPoint presentations or smartboards, just a chalkboard, and a teacher. But sweet, old Mr. Kreps arrived at my sophomore geometry class with props and visual aids in his hands, eager to help his students see the third dimensions, to picture the rays and angles shooting away from the two-dimensional flat board and into the classroom space.
He was a kind and patient teacher who had a soothing voice, a gentle temperament, a warm smile, and a twinkle in his eye. I remember that he gave students ten points for every homework assignment we completed because he wanted us to bank some “insurance” in case we bombed a quiz or test. He allowed us to take our tests with an open book so that we didn’t have to pack our heads with definitions, postulates, and theorems.
The class was fun, visual, and relaxed. Mr. Kreps’s style of teaching really made me love geometry — and it made me love Mr. Kreps, too. My classmates and I weren’t worried about our grades. Instead, we were more engaged in the experience of learning and appreciating the nuances of shapes in space. Mr. Kreps was one of many great teachers I was fortunate to have had. But after geometry ended, I didn’t really think much about him as I moved on to the next subjects and phases of my life. But that all changed when my daughter asked me for geometry help.
What was it about my teacher, Mr. Kreps, that made the information stick into my head for so long? More importantly, did I ever thank him?
I did a Google search and I found out that Mr. Kreps had passed away in 2013 after a long, devoted career in education. His obituary mentioned that he had begun his career as a founding school principal. He was credited with “creating the spirit and high expectations for students and staff alike. His qualities of mentorship, high ethical standards, and kindness permeated [the school] during his tenure. He allowed staff and students to challenge themselves in creating a positive educational atmosphere.”
He wanted to continue working in education after stepping down as principal, so he returned to the classroom as a math and physics teacher. Furthermore, I was moved to discover that Donald Kreps had previously served in the U.S. Navy at the end of World War II and had been married for 67 years, with four children and nine grandchildren. What a legacy he left behind, and how lucky was I, having benefitted from this remarkable man.
I was compelled to acknowledge him, to express my gratitude, so I reached out to his kids (who are a decade older than I am) on social media. I spoke to one of his sons, an accountant in Montana, to tell him that I never forgot his dad. We shared a laugh and some tears, and it felt good to show my gratitude even if Mr. Kreps was not physically present to hear it.
As I try to encourage my teenager to engage with mathematics problems that are challenging her now, I realize how good I had it. After all of these years, I’m grateful to recall not just the concepts he taught me, but the wonderful, magical teacher he was.
Cynthia Clumeck Muchnick is the author of several educational books for students and parents including The Parent Compass: Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness and Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World (Familius/Workman, 2020). She has worked in college admissions, as an educational consultant, and as a high school teacher. She speaks professionally to parents, students, teachers, and businesses on topics such as study skills, the adolescent journey, college admission, and the parent compass movement. She is thrilled to have finally written her own children’s book, too, that arrives in the spring of 2023. She resides in Menlo Park, California with her two teens, husband, and dog, Sprinkle. Her two grown kids that have left the nest live on the East Coast.
For more information about the author: www.cynthiamuchnick.com, www.parentcompassbook.com, IG: @parentcompass, Facebook: The Parent Compass, Twitter: @CindyMuchnick