Yesterday, I was told that my high school Physics teacher, Mr. Wertz, had terminal liver cancer. I was in the process of writing him a letter last night to send him and let him know how much he inspired me.
Then my best friend called me and told me he passed away today. So here is my open letter to Mr. Wertz. Maybe he will never see it, but others will know what a great teacher he was.
Dear Mr. Wertz,
I never would have thought, nearly six years after graduating high school that I would find myself as a high school Physics teacher. Maybe in part, because when I was a junior in high school and considering going into teaching you made me look you in the eye and you said to me, “Do not become a teacher. Seriously. Never become a teacher.” I am almost 100% positive those were you exact words. I am sure that you smelled like stale cigarettes and I am sure that I laughed and said okay.
Fast forward to June 2012 when I visited you as a fresh-out-of-college graduate with a Bachelor of Architecture. I waltzed into you classroom and informed you that I had accepted a full time position teaching Physics and Physical Science in the Mississippi Delta corps.
You said to me, “WHAT?!”
You said, “WHAT did I tell you?”
I replied, “You told me never to become a teacher.”
And then you pretended to me mad and frustrated and stuttered around to show how shocked you were, but I could tell you were smiling a little and I am pretty sure you sounded proud of me as we continued our conversation about life over the past few years and my future of teaching.
Now, more than 3/4 of the way through my first year as a teacher, I have to thank you. Thank you for always holding rigorous and high expectations of us as students and learners. Thank you for expecting nothing but the best. Thank you for requiring me to write extremely detailed and specific answers in complete sentences for every single homework assignment I turned in each Friday. These are all things I have brought into my own teaching. When a student asks me, “Does this need to be in complete sentences?” my answer is always yes and then I add, “Don’t use ‘it’ or ‘that’ either. Be specific!! Use equations to back up your answers!!”
Thank you for teaching me how to set up a problem in Physics. Your method of problem solving with the variable list on the right, equation and math on the left, and answer in a box has traveled all the way from South Central rural Pennsylvania to Jackson, Mississippi. One hundred and thirty seven students in Jackson know that if they do not set up their problem this way, Ms K will not accept it. I expect no less of them than you expected of me.
Thank you, Mr. Wertz, for letting me write all over that super old and falling apart AP Physics book junior year since you knew we were getting new ones the year after. Thank you for “forgetting” to collect the old books when we came back senior year after doing our summer break assignments and you passed out the new books. I still have mine. I used it to study for my PRAXIS and I use it as a reference for teaching my Physics kids when I want to go a little more in depth than their Physics book goes. It never fails me.
Thank you for inspiring me to love Physics. I never would have become interested in architecture if it had not been for your AP Physics class. And I certainly would never have agreed to teach Physics if you had not planted that love for Physics inside of me many years ago. Sometimes we do a really cool experiment in class and I get all giddy and excited and go on and on about how much I love Physics and how cool Physics is and my kids look at me like I’m a little crazy, and that’s all thanks to you.
Thank you for giving us the perfect balance between helping us out when we were having trouble and letting us figure it out on our own. I remember one time I worked literally ALL CLASS on one problem and I could NOT figure it out. I probably asked you a thousand times to just show it to me, but you wouldn’t. At the end of class, you handed me a folded up sheet of paper that didn’t have the answer on it, but it had the piece that I was missing. The light bulb went on and all of the sudden, it made sense and I was able to solve the problem. I learned much more through that continuous failure than I would have if you had given in the first, second, third, or twentieth time that I begged you to just show me the answer.
Thank you for being there everyday, no matter how frustrating we were. And I KNOW we were sometimes a handful. I remember how you used to brag that the only day of school you ever missed was for the Hershey Park Physics Day field trip. Then one day senior year you missed a day and as we sat there with a substitute, working in our groups, we laughed about how you broke that promise you always made every year. When you came in the next day, we were all over you about it. ”Mr. Wertz, I thought you never missed a day except for Hershey Park.” You looked over from your desk and raised one eyebrow. ”My mother died,” was all you said. You said it like a challenge. Foot.In.Mouth. Missy wanted to bake you an “I’m sorry” cake.
Lastly, thank you, Mr. Wertz, for being you. For that tough guy exterior, which made it all the more special when you showed us how much you cared. Thank you for caring. Thank you for believing in us. Thank you for hanging our college pennants on your wall. That PhilaU pennant was the first thing I bought from my university bookstore and I felt so proud to bring it back to you Christmas break freshman year. Thank you.
Littlestown High School will be lacking without you. I feel lucky to have had you as my teacher and mentor. I’ll always remember your ‘Wertzology’. There is no grey.
Ronnie, LHS class of 2007