Today, American Education Week recognizes teachers who are making a difference in ensuring that each and every child receives a quality education. One such educator in Ottumwa is Larry Zuehlke.
Zuehlke has taught math to over 4,800 students in the Ottumwa Community School District. And, like the Energizer Bunny, he is still going strong.
Currently, Zuehlke teaches pre-algebra and algebra to eighth graders at Evans Middle School. He said after 40 years, students still work hard to learn math concepts. One of the things he enjoys most is watching a struggling student finally get it. “Watching the expression on their face,” Zuehlke said. “That is just awesome to me.”
He has high expectations for his students. “I expect them to make more than one year’s academic growth and I push them towards that,” he said. He also tries to help students see the relevance of math. He creates problems using real-world examples. For instance, when learning about interest, he will have students purchase a house and figure the interest they will pay over time. “That raises some eyebrows,” he said.
A graduate of Northeast Missouri State University with a degree in math education, he completed his administration degree with the hope of becoming a principal. But when he subbed as a principal, he missed the classroom. His passion is working directly with students. There is no favorite memory. “They are all good,” he said with a smile.
He could have retired 10 years ago when he met Iowa’s Rule of 88 (years of service plus your age) but doesn’t see himself retired. At 69 years young, teaching still doesn’t seem like a job. “My vacation is nine months a year. Every day is fun and I try to make it fun for the students.”
Zuehlke has been recognized during the annual Teacher Appreciation Night during winter basketball season. Students name a teacher who made a difference during their years in school. “It’s an honor to be remembered for what I did in the classroom,” he said. Frequently, high school athletes stop into his room before practice to stay in touch.
After 40 years, he still connects with his students. “He makes math understandable, he believes in us, and he is just cool!” said two current students.