The story you’re about to read is about a high school math instructor, written by someone who can barely add single digits.
But in the course of professionally observing people and human nature the better part of 40 years, trust me – this guy is about as good as they get – and you don’t need an abacus to figure it out.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Roam the hallways at Rockford High, and you won’t search long before meeting someone with stirring testimony about the ways in which Fred Reusch teaches, mentors and reaches out in ways that every single person with a beef about teachers or the educational system should hear loud and clear.
And did I mention his humility? The only way Reusch would allow himself to be profiled is if I pledged to underscore that he’s no more important than anyone else who teaches in the Rockford system. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
“Some of my fellow teachers think I’m this brilliant mathematician,” says Reusch, shaking his head. “But the truth is that I work and work and work. I’m still learning all the time.
“Teaching AP Calculus requires a pretty good understanding, and there are two ways to get that: Be brilliant, which I’m not. Or work. And I work.”
Showing His Work
Reusch honed his old-school values as a kid growing up in Rochester, New York, in the shadow of a mother who worked off and on in nursing, and a father who endured a tough childhood and never went to college, but labored as a quasi-engineer for the railroad, and “was a pretty smart guy.”
Reusch loved sports and participated in basketball, football and tennis, playing the latter in college. But none of it came easy. Again, “I worked really hard at them all.”
He fancied himself a future coach and PE teacher while enrolled in college, but aptitude tests revealed a propensity for math and engineering, and his parents and counselors convinced him to pursue that instead.
So he acquired a math degree from Clarkson University in New York, then a master’s degree in applied mathematics from Northwestern University.
In 1970, he found himself very eligible for the draft, with a low number of 11, so he worked on his master’s thesis and sought an occupational deferment from the Exxon Corp., which required him to undergo “the hardest interview of my life.” He impressed, and ended up securing a job, working aboard Exxon for seven years.
He lived just outside New York City, holding down a large house with other bachelors, and life was carefree, comfortable. But deep down, Reusch wanted more. “I always thought I wanted to teach.”
He ended up following his proclivity for the kitchen instead, conferring with a sister and her husband who were attending Calvin College here, and suggested he come to Michigan and experiment with organic farming.
He bought 10 acres and an aging farmhouse on Belding Road near Rockford, and with two others founded “Down To Earth,” a restaurant that featured produce from Reusch’s own plots, and catered to a burgeoning vegetarian crowd.
Some remember it as an avant-garde place where you could bring your own bottle of wine, and sample items not available in traditional restaurants.
Add Love to the Equation
“We had a lot of regular customers,” says Reusch, including the couple who introduced him to his wife, Mary, who at the time was 29 and divorced with two youngsters.
“I had been really lonely,” Mary remembers, noting that “It’s not easy for a woman with two children at that age… but Fred was just wonderful with the children.”
These days, it’s difficult to imagine them apart. She’s a celebrated artist who complements his tendency to be left-brained. Virtually every evening finds them hand-in-hand, walking their wooded property, which abuts a state game area southeast of Rockford.
He praises her works of art, many of which adorn their home. In return, she volunteers how gentle he is, especially with kids: “He’s good with all ages. He connects.”
♥Where Mary finds herself in canvases, the outdoors is where Reusch seeks his solace, emphasizing that “I’m not really an outgoing person, but more introverted. My comfort zone is walking in the woods by myself.”
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t savor teaching. After all, he was 42 when he decided to return to school – Aquinas College – in search of teaching credentials.
His first classroom experience was with 7th-graders in the Rockford system – too many hormones for Reusch to deal with. “I’m not good at dealing with conflict.”
He reached out to a long-time math teacher in Brad Prins, now retired, whose methods were unconventional, arguably quirky. “He’d never had a student teacher before, but he had taught my oldest son (now a math professor at LSU).”
Reusch scored points with Prins when Reusch’s son Scott came home from school one day with a math problem Prins cackled was virtually unsolvable. Reusch showed Scott how to arrive at the answer, and when Scott duplicated his father’s work on the board the next day in front of Prins, Prins agreed to serve as Reusch’s supervising teacher.
All Adds Up to ‘He’s the Bomb’
Reusch is the oldest full-time teacher in the Rockford system, but he has no plan to retire. “It could be in a year or it could be in 10 years. I’m a young 68,” he said. “When it comes to August and I’m not really excited about being in the classroom, maybe then I’ll retire. But I still get really excited about doing it.”
For which students are glad.
“My mom says he’s like a saint,” says Sophia Dessart, a Rockford senior. “He’s a wonderful teacher who loves the subject of calculus. His eyes sparkle and he even does this little dance when he teaches.
“This school is really blessed to have Mr. Reusch. He really cares about the students.”
Asked if anyone has ever uttered an unkind word about Reusch, Sophia’s eyes narrow and she shakes her head no. “People would be, like, really mad at that person.”
Adds classmate Anna Lebedeva: “Mr. Reusch the teacher is Mr. Reusch the person.”
Then they’re both laughing to recount a math lesson during which Reusch developed a narrative that included Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet walking along and stealing kisses from one another. He’s also been known to don a mask and cape to teach as “Captain Derivative.”
For his innovation and personal touch, Reusch has claimed honors in both formal and informal ways. He was inducted into Rockford Public School’s Hall of Fame in 2014. Additionally, his students typically fare far better in Michigan’s Advanced Placement Calculus Tests, scoring on an average of 4.6 or better on a 5.0 scale. The widespread average is closer to 3.4.
Reusch also earns high marks for choosing to take his prep hour during lunchtime. That gives him a chance to work one-on-one with students who have missed class or need individual attention.
In online comments posted to “Rate My Teachers,” Reusch is described as “Best teacher I’ve ever had by miles,” “The coolest man ever,” and “One of the good guys,” who, when you need help, “brings in the big guns. You can tell he never stops thinking about his teaching.”
Another posted this: “Mr. R. makes complex calculus seem as easy as arithmetic, the AP test look like a joke.”
Says senior John Hammer, who describes calculus as “a tough class, but doable because of Mr. R.: “He’s he bomb. He’s got swag.”