A personal reflection on Ben Meseke

I remember walking in Freshman year and meeting my Honors Geometry teacher, Mr. Meseke. It took me forever to find the room, 224. As I was walking in, he stopped me.

Lauren Komer
Lauren Komer

“Parlez-vous Francais?” he asked.
“What?” I said.
“Parlez-vous Francais?”
“Um, speakish the English?”
He stared at me. “This is French class,” he said, condescendingly.
“Oh,” I said, backing up to leave.
“No, no,” he laughed. “This is math. Go sit down.”

I didn’t like him much at first.

After a couple of weeks, I began to warm up to him. Unlike any other math teacher I’d had, he wanted us to think. Anytime we added a new theorem, he had us try to prove it. He never let anyone guess; he wanted a reason behind their answers. I had to work hard to understand the concepts, but with a lot of effort, I earned my “A’s”.

He’s famous for his Five Minute Fridays. We had a whole system worked out in case an administrator should walk in and see us “not working.” We all had to leave our books out, and two people were designated to answer questions. Ours were “infinite” and “because it never ends.” If the administrator still hadn’t left, Meseke would ask another question, and everyone would hold up their hands.

Two fingers meant “I know the answer,” and three fingers meant “Don’t pick me!”

“Whatever you do,” Mr. Meseke said, “don’t leave me with a class who are all holding up three fingers!”

Mr. Meseke even worked in a haunted house during part of his career and liked to talk about it.

“I dressed up as the scariest thing there,” he said. “11-17ths. People are OK with 1/2, but 11/17ths really scares them.”

He truly cared about all of his students. At the end of the year, he taught us important math skills for later in life, like how bank interest works and how to play the stock market.

I learned much more than math during that hour.

I remember the first time he told us about his pacemaker. He told a story about a basketball game, which they won. His heart rate went higher than it was supposed to, and as he was running down the stairs it shocked him. He landed flat on the floor. Of course, that just scared him more, and his heart rate jumped even higher. The assistant coach didn’t know what was going on, went over to help Mr. Meseke and then got shocked, too.

I found the story funny, but didn’t see how ominous it was. Mr. Meseke’s heart doesn’t pump enough blood around his body. He could potentially die from heart failure.

Now, he’s left because the stress from teaching and coaching could cause even more damage to his heart. When I went to say goodbye, he was in the math department packing up his desk. All the math teachers were sitting at the table, silently watching him.
“I made you a card,” I said, walking up to his desk. I looked at his face, and my heart went to my throat. It was the first time he looked old to me. An almost tangible sadness hung over him, and as I hugged him goodbye, I felt tears rising.

Mr. Meseke is the best math teacher I’ve ever had. No one else seemed to care about me as much as he did. I never thought of him as the basketball coach, but rather my freshman geometry teacher who wanted us to succeed in life. He’s one of the teachers that, as I look back, made a lasting impression, not just academically, but in my character as well. He’s in my thoughts and prayers right now.

Here’s to 11/17 and Five Minute Fridays. Good luck with everything, Mr. Meseke.