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The official student-run newspaper publication at GEHS.

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The official student-run newspaper publication at GEHS.

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A Math Teacher From Brazil

Addie Reiter
Petersen in his classroom

Jeffery Petersen is one of GEHS’s math teachers. While working at Gardner he has taught Algebra II, Geometry, Pre-Calculus, and Intermediate Algebra.

He has also taught math to every level from 5th grade through college. His first year of teaching was when he was 22 in 1985. This year marks his 32nd year of teaching since he took a couple of breaks.

Petersen spent the beginning of his life in a small town in northern Brazil after being born in California.

“My parents went to Brazil when I was less than a year old,” Petersen said. “They were missionaries there, and I spent my first four years in a dusty little town in northern Brazil called Barra Do Corda. It’s a town with about 10,000 people, and at the time there were more donkeys there than there were cars.”

However, when he was in first grade he moved to the city of Belem.

“I lived [in Belem] until I was in 11th grade,” he said. “[I] went to a small missionary school [where] my dad was the principal. It had about 135 students at its most, so my graduating class would have had ten.” 

During Petersen’s senior year, he moved to a different city called São Paulo because his father got a different job. 

São Paulo had about 13 million people back then and it’s about 18 million today, so it’s much bigger than New York City,” Petersen said. “I remember getting on the subway and between two buses and a subway it took me three hours to get to my girlfriend’s house when I was in high school.”

Petersen also spent two summers on an island in the middle of the Savanna with the Palikur tribe.

“I did spend two summers between my 7th and 8th grade and one year later between my 8th and 9th grade in an Indian tribe in northern Brazil,” Petersen said. “It was the Palikur. It’s a small tribe that lives in the Everglades parts of Brazil.”

Petersen spent those summers fishing and hunting with his friends.

“I was there to have fun with my friends,” he said. “His parents were doing bible translating, while I was fishing and hunting. I caught over 850 fish that first summer, and shot 12 alligators, and two howler monkeys. It was a unique experience.”

He left but will be remembered since three kids from the tribe were named after him.

“There is actually three kids in that tribe that have my name… [but] they never met me because I left right after that,” Petersen said.

Petersen then returned to California and lived in Ventura.

“My buddies were surfers. While I was getting A’s in Algebra II, they were flunking it, but we had fun together,” Petersen said.

Petersen’s favorite part of teaching is getting to interact with his students.

“I tell my students all the time, I like second semester so much better than first semester,” he said. “First semester I really haven’t got the depth of relationship that I like, and I am not real good at making it, so it takes me time. By the second semester, I have learned who I can tease and who I better not tease. The students have learned they can tease me back and I have greeted them enough times at the door that they really know that I do love them and I care about them. Second semester is always my favorite. The first semester is always awkward.”

Petersen has always liked math. Even as a student, he enjoyed helping people learn math.

“So early on I knew I was going to [teach],” he said.

Petersen had a unique experience during his senior year, where he was far enough in math to take a course there was no teacher for so he had to teach himself the material. 

“I was taking a senior math course, which today would be like Pre-Calculus, and they didn’t have anybody to teach it,” Petersen said. “So they instead gave me a book and put me in the back of the room and I learned it on my own. I was in an Algebra I classroom so that at least I could ask questions to the teacher when I got stuck, which didn’t happen very often.”

Petersen also explained that whenever the teacher had to leave the classroom he would teach the class.

“When she would leave I would substitute for her so I taught the Algebra I class when I was a senior. So my first [time] teaching, I was actually in high school,” he said.

Petersen’s favorite part of GEHS is the students here.

“Definitely the kids. You guys have the best teachers that I have ever seen on a faculty,” Petersen said. “You’re very privileged… and while everything is not perfect at this place, and I know some of the cracks, I’ve been elsewhere and you’re really privileged to be at this school.”

During Petersen’s free time, he enjoys going on fishing trips and reading.

“I’m a trout fisherman and I tie my own flies, so I love to go fishing. I also read history, usually it’s World War II history,” he said.

Petersen has two main goals this year that he wants to accomplish.

“It’s always a goal to try and learn 140 students’ names and I am really bad at it so that is something I strive really hard to do,” Petersen said. “There’s things I find easy, but learning names is not one of them. A goal I have is to improve my teaching. I’m probably within three [to] five years of retirement, and I still want to improve my teaching.”

When it comes to his classroom, Petersen expects excellence. He also describes his teaching style as routine.

“I try to get across that I want excellence,” Petersen said. “I don’t accept work that is mediocre, and I try to get across that you need to up your game. My teaching style is pretty routine. You can expect to do almost the same overall thing every day, I just try to spice it up in the middle of the lecture.”

Petersen wants students to enjoy their time at high school because it is gone before you know it. 

“As students, you really need to look at this as a very fleeting period in your life and enjoy it,” Petersen said. “Four years seems like a long time when you’re in high school, and I remember that, but I can hardly remember those four years. They were wonderful for me, but they went so quickly that I wish I paid more attention when I was in high school to the good things in high school.”

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Addie Reiter
Addie Reiter, Editor in Chief
Addie is a sophomore who loves the color yellow and drinking iced coffee. She enjoys painting and can often be found playing video games and talking with her friends.

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