Mr. Thad Wilhelm, Math

July 21, 2010
This past year, I was a freshman in high school. New school, new environment, more challenging classes – you know the drill. When I walked into my Honors Geometry classroom on my first day, I was hungry for lunch, tired of the 50-page syllabi every teacher seemed to have piled on their front table, and about ready to cry because I didn’t especially like the Social Studies and English classes I had chosen. The room was medium-sized, and there were colorful math posters lining the walls. My eyes flew immediately to the front board, where a seating chart was being projected. I was the first one there, so I promptly found my seat and sat down. With a sigh of resignation, I took out the binder and notebooks that I had gotten especially for that class, turned my calculator on, and placed a pencil very carefully at the front of the desk. It was only then, slumping a little in my seat, that I noticed the teacher. I don’t really know quite how to describe him well – just picture your stereotypical nerd: average height, dressed nicely in a plain button-down shirt with pens sticking out of the front pocket (I would later learn that he detested wearing ties), dark-rimmed glasses that magnified his eyes a little bit more than was normal, and an expression that seemed to be questioning everything around him. His hair was dark, almost black, and he was busy working at the computer. When the next trickle of people walked in, he rose from his chair and went to sit on the front table, his eyebrows raised a little and his mouth quirked to one side as he watched the newcomers struggle to find their seats. He was tossing what looked to be the SmartBoard pen into the air and catching it perfectly every time, despite the fact that it was spinning.
After the rest of the students entered the room and the seating dilemma was resolved, he spoke. I remember thinking that he had a strangely unique voice; I can hear it in my head even now, almost a year later.”
“I see you’ve all found your seats?” Various murmurs of assent were sprinkled through the group of 14- and 15-year olds, and some nodded their heads mutely. “Good,” he said. “Logic and spatial reasoning is very important to Geometry. My name is Mr. Wilhelm, and I hope that you are all supposed to be in Honors Geometry, 3rd hour. I can’t be sure of this based on the bewildered looks that you are giving me, but since none of you look panicked, I can assume that you are all in this class.” He spoke like he was half reading aloud, half talking to himself, and seemed to trail off a little at the end of every sentence, leaving us hanging onto his every word. Already I liked him.
We dived right in to logic, which I loved. Logic has always been my strong suit: give me a word puzzle and I can solve it right off the bat, most likely in my head – but give me a challenging algebra word problem and I will sit there for hours trying to figure it out. Go figure. Anyway, we talked about truth tables and things like that. I got it right away, and proofs seemed easy to me. I was about the only one: my classmates thought that the class was impossibly hard; meanwhile, I didn’t study for the first test and got a 97%. I was elated with this score, and loved geometry from that point onward.
Mr. Wilhelm was not only a very interesting person, he was a great teacher. He used everyday objects to illustrate common geometry principles in a way that made perfect sense to me, and made my peers understand the concepts much better as well. I learned so much in his class, and realized that I am actually very good at math (before, I had had a little trouble with algebra). Despite my constant insistence that I could not do algebra, I continued to prove myself wrong as I got farther and farther into the course. I like to think that I became very good friends with Mr. Wilhelm, and he would tell us about summer programs and things that (predictably) made my friends groan, but deeply interested me. It was his class that inspired me to teach myself the honors sophomore math course (Honors Algebra 2) and test out of it, placing me in Honors Pre-Calculus my sophomore year.
There are many things that I love about Mr. Wilhelm: his way of conveying information that makes anything and everything fall into place, the colorful stamps that he used to check in our homework (a different stamp almost every day), his refusal to wear a tie, even on parent-teacher conference night, his name (Thad, but many students called him Thaddeus), his insistence that all students say ‘tangent, cosine, and sine’ as opposed to ‘tan, cos, and sin,’ his way of holding everyone in suspense wondering whether he actually has a tattoo or not, and his enigmatic smile that makes every student wonder what he is thinking and what piece of information they are missing.
All in all, I’d definitely have to say that Mr. Thad Wilhelm is the best teacher I’ve ever had. He loved to challenge us because we were his Honors kids, and he was always there if anyone needed a helping hand. He’s not the stereotypical best teacher, and that is one of the reasons why he is the best teacher. He deviates from the norm, has heated Star Wars debates with students, and has a large number of ink stamps (no one knows exactly how many, and he won’t let anyone see his famed ‘stamp drawer’). Mr. Wilhelm is amazing because he is different, and in being different, he is a better teacher.
Thanks, Mr. Wilhelm, for opening my eyes to the possibilities of the universe.

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