When this year’s University High School valedictorians were asked what teacher inspired them most, one name kept popping up: Gerry Manfred.
Why do students love him? Believe it or not, it’s because he’s no softy when it comes to discipline.
“He’s the toughest teacher there,” says Scott Santens, one of this year’s U-Hi valedictorians. “His style is the old style.”
By old style, Santens means there’s no screwing around, no talking and no leaving class early. Manfred’s pace is pedal-to-the metal - class begins the minute the bell rings and doesn’t conclude until a few minutes after the period was scheduled to end.
“I don’t do anything fantastic,” says Manfred, 54. “I just push them.”
And those who allow themselves to be pushed end up loving it. Santens says one of the things he likes best about Manfred’s teaching was the two hours of homework every night. “He really helped my study skills,” he says.
Brian Bishop, another of this year’s U-Hi valedictorians, echoes the kudos. “He’s just the best teacher I ever had,” he says. Bishop admits Manfred’s firm approach isn’t popular with everyone. “A lot of kids think he’s too tough.” But he says Manfred doesn’t expect everyone to be a math whiz. He just expects them to try.
Bishop tried, and as a result decided he wants to study computer engineering in college. He says part of the reason is the love of math Manfred instilled in him.
He’s a teacher who can’t get enough of his subject. He loves numbers. “It’s right or wrong, this way or that,” Manfred says. “It’s like a puzzle.”
Even though the veteran math instructor has taught at U-Hi for 32 years, he has no plans for retirement.
“I still enjoy what I do,” he says. “I still have fun and the kids seem to learn.”
And learn they do. Manfred, U-Hi teacher of the year this year and last, also coaches the school’s math team. The team has placed first or second in the region for the past eight years.
When he isn’t at U-Hi, Manfred teaches night algebra classes at Spokane Community College. He also corrects advanced placement tests for the College Board, the organization that governs college placement exams.
Does he take summers off? No way. He just returned from a math conference in California sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Even now, he can be found teaching summer school classes at Horizon Junior High.
Manfred’s soft one-on-one voice jumps in decibel and pitch when he’s at the blackboard.
“You guys are here to learn, and I’m going to do anything to make you learn. Are you with me?” he says to a summer class full of algebra students. Then he zips past an open wall divider, into another classroom.
At Horizon, Manfred literally teaches two classes at once. His first and second-semester algebra classes happen simultaneously. He spews equations and concepts at one group, then sprints over to the other side.
He begins lecturing on why a mathematician should never refer to a zero as an “O.”
Suddenly, he stops. Someone is talking on the other side.
“Quiet!” he says in a firm voice. “It’s not fair to this group, unless you want to pay them their $100 back.”
They immediately pipe down.
True to reputation, when the end of class approaches, he doesn’t slow down. Students don’t have time to stare at the clock. The bell rings, one student gets up.
“Hey, sit down. Hang on,” Manfred tells the student. The boy once again takes his seat. The second the lad is back behind the desk, Manfred smiles at the class. “Now you can go,” he says.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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