At first glance, Mr. Gregory Pelzer may seem like every other math teacher, pushing formulas and theories at rows of uninterested students, but his impact continues far beyond mathematics.
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate has been teaching for 23 years now and has done almost anything you can think of, from teaching English as a Second Language to teaching across the Atlantic Ocean in Ukraine.
Throughout his career, he has taught reading, spelling, English as a Second Language, and most math courses, calculus being the exception. Currently, he teaches Honors Geometry and AP Statistics at Oswego High School.
Pelzer has taught at Franklin Middle School in Champaign, School No. 43 in Sevastopol, Ukraine, North Boone County, Ben Franklin Lab School, Joliet Central High School, Lincoln-Way High School, and Oswego High School. In his own words, he has taught, “a little bit of everywhere.”
Although he has taught at a wide range of schools, Oswego High School stands out to Pelzer. He shared that he genuinely enjoys working with the staff here, especially the math department. “That makes it much more wonderful, when you enjoy the people you work with,” Pelzer says.
He also recognizes that OHS is more than just a school, but rather one big, close-bonded community. A prime example of this is the support for the football program.
“Football is a big deal, what does that have to do with education? Not much, but the fact that we are a community and we kind of rally around the school, that’s a neat thing,” Pelzer says.
Before he considered teaching, Pelzer was encouraged to become an engineer by his father. He began studying to be an engineer in college, before realizing that his passion was elsewhere. He shared that the decision was easy once he asked himself, “Do I want to make widgets or do I want to try and impact kids?” Pelzer then switched his major and worked to receive his teaching degree.
When asked about his most memorable moments as a teacher, two instances stood out in his mind. The first was a more emotional experience that helped him to better understand his students, especially outside of school. After looking in on an activity similar to TALK at OHS, Pelzer was inspired to ask his students to complete the sentence, “If you really knew me, you’d know that…” and the anonymous responses that he received shocked him.
“[The experience] was heart-wrenching because it’s what you look like on the outside that isn’t always what’s on the outside. It was brutal. I was crying, I was honestly crying,” Pelzer says.
On the other hand, a positive event has also became an unforgettable moment in his career.
“I had a girl crying in my class after a test and I went over and said ‘What’s wrong?’ And she actually got an A on the test. It was the first A she had ever gotten on a test and she was just crying,” Pelzer says.
He admitted that moments where a student’s hard work pays off are some of the most rewarding as a teacher.
While teaching curriculum is an important part of his classroom, Pelzer’s larger focus is on preparing his students for the future.
“I want the kids to walk out of here with a good understanding of math, but I want to equip them in other ways so that they succeed beyond school,” Pelzer says.
He also sees the parallels between a student who is successful in school and in life.
“Grit and perseverance are the most important factors in being successful. I think that that is true for school and I think it’s true for outside of school,” Pelzer says.
Additionally, as the supervisor of Fish Club, religion has had a big impact on Pelzer’s life.
“I honestly think that God has given us all certain kinds of gifts…if [the students] can realize that they have value and something to add to this world, that’s kind of a big thing,” Pelzer says.
Mr. Pelzer teaches his students more than just math; he prepares them for life-long success by building strong learning habits and helping students recognize their inner value.