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Placing, Perfection and Potuzak – My Year in Math

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Most of you have never heard of him (6th graders weren’t here, most 7th graders didn’t meet him) so I’ll explain a bit about this tribute. Mr. Potuzak was a 7th grade math teacher, who taught both honors and those who were struggling. All of his students still remember him, whether it be for the great teaching he did or for how much they struggled in his class. The few 8th graders that I knew in the beginning of 7th grade told me of the wonders that his teaching did for them as mathematicians. They talked of the steady pace he taught at, giving everyone enough time, but not taking too long on a specific subject. They informed me of the fun methods that he employed in his teaching, whether you get involved physically with the work at hand, or were treated to an anecdote, which would be from his high school days or his work days (most of which, I suspect, were made up). This would make the assignment stick in our heads longer and drive his points home.

My experience with him started off slow, just as usual. He didn’t immediately get started with the fun. It was mostly in the 2nd trimester. Once he did, that is what quickly made math one of my favorite subjects. The perfect amounts of preparation time given for tests, and the many opportunities to retake failed tests, made it completely the student’s fault if they were to somehow fail his class. There were also jokes regularly, which would either be fine or terrible (as most jokes tend to be). By the end of the year most students were passing or at the least close to passing his class.  Once we were done with testing, there was a whole week of playing speed, a card game. This was one of the best moment in the class, and there were easily some of the most unforgettable moments. By the 3rd trimester I got an A+ on every test (you read that right). By the end I was at a 101%, while a fifth of his students had a B. This easily got me back into math. Now, whenever I think of something that has to do with math, the first thing I think about is the steps and lessons Mr. Potuzak taught me. Now the next portion is pretty long, so feel free to either skim through or listen to my experience.

Not all of my experiences with Potuzak involved class. He was the supervisor for the Math Team, available to 7th and 8th graders. It opened up in the first trimester of school and I did not have any interest in doing it, however he personally invited a few of the students that were doing well in his class at that point, which included me and a few others. This was the turning point, which made me decide that maybe it was a good idea to join. Once there, it started off with some hard math questions, as expected. Halfway through he announced the math competitions were about to begin, and with that brought a lot of excitement. The first competition was against E.O. Green and went fairly well. It started off with a few snacks (I ate like 13 mandarins), then there was the individual portion, then team portion, and then the pizza (and more mandarins for me). 1st and 2nd place were Blackstock, 3rd was Green. I did well, getting 3rd for our school, not enough for 3rd overall. Mr. Potuzak was proud of all of us and those of us who did well; however, were placed in the main team of four that would go on to represent our school at the second competition. The main team was me and three others. I was surprised, as the other three were all the smartest 8th graders I could think of, and I was a 7th grader who had no experience with anything like this (There was a math club in elementary, I quit halfway through. The math olympics in 6th grade I never joined). Mr. Potuzak saw potential in me which led me to strive for being the best. The 2nd competition, at St. Bonaventure High School (there’s a reason why I can remember it so clearly) was both fun and challenging. Fun for the fact that we got to paint our own school poster so that it can be used by the spectators of our school and  the snacks and drinks they had. It was challenging for the individual and team portions of the competition. During the individual competition, I thought I did well, but definitely not enough to top or even get near the 8th graders’ levels. I was wrong (I’ll tell you how in a bit). The team competition was more relaxed, considering many of us were working on a single task. Once it was over, we didn’t get any places for the team competitions. However, when the announcement for the individual competitions came, no 8th graders showed up in the rankings. Keep in mind I said 8th graders. When they got to 6th place, they announced “6th place, from Charles Blackstock Jr. High, Bernardo Lopez”. I was shocked, purposefully lowering my expectations beforehand to not be disappointed. I went up, got my certificate, and sat down in shock. Apparently the constant work and pressure that Mr. Potuzak put into me was working  and I somehow got a better standing in the competition than everyone, except for 5 people, out of 13 schools. The team portion was a lot less surprising. We didn’t place. The 3rd competition wasn’t anything special because we didn’t place in both individual or teams. It was the stereotypical “boring math competition”. Mr. Potuzak was fine with our performance, since we still did well. The fourth and final competition were casual and not particular noteworthy. It took place during 1st period, E.O Green was “competing” with us, and as for us, any student could join (non-mathlete, 6th grade). The individual round was simple – 5 questions that I got all right. The way places were determined was like so those who got all 5 were up to answer a few trivia questions. Whoever answered first got to be the place that was offered (with up to 3 in each place). The questions were completely unrelated to math (I got “what makes up everything”, which was atoms). I was one of three 1st placers, and the same process went for 2nd and 3rd place, but with whoever got 4 questions right, 3, and so on. Teams were a mix of 8th graders, 7th, 6th, and a few E.O. Green students. The team portion was 5 riddles, and we didn’t get much. Afterward I got my medal, and headed for 2nd period. During the final meetings, it felt like the usual. At the end, when it was confirmed Potuzak would retire at the end of the year, sad farewells were exchanged. Math team ended with a party, and we all said our goodbyes.

My final story takes place over a span of 3 months. So the end of the year arrived, and with it came state tests. Mr. Potuzak had us preparing for weeks, having us remember facts and details from the first month of school. The math state tests began, and for weeks we had to work and do our best to finish, with as much effort as possible. Mr. Potuzak promised us this: get a perfect score, you get $20 dollars. I did my best to get this, but I had some doubts. The school year ends, Mr. Potuzak retires, and summer begins. I do the usual summer activities, playing, homework, etc. I eagerly await my test results. The results come in. Language Arts was fine, exceeding score. I then see Math, and while the graph was at the highest point, I read the score and it said 2778 points. It never said the maximum score, and I thought the highest was something like 2780 or 2800, a round number, and I got very close. I was still proud of my score. School begins, a week goes by, and nothing significant happens. Out of nowhere, a friend tells me “Your science teacher from 7th grade asked you to visit her for something.” I went during lunch and said that the friend informed me to come. She tells me how Mr. Potuzak left behind something for me and I find a $20 dollar bill, and a note, simply stating that it’s for me. I say thanks, and tell her to tell him thanks too. I leave the room, and simply think about how well he taught me, enough to the point I get my first perfect score since 2nd grade. I thought about the impact he left on me, getting me to do my best, and to make the decision to stride not only to be the best in my grade, but in schools all around the area. I still think about this, and I never plan to forget the inspiration that was Mr. Potuzak.

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8 Responses to “Placing, Perfection and Potuzak – My Year in Math”

  1. adviser on September 25th, 2017 8:16 pm

    Bernardo, this is a beautiful and thoughtful tribute! I am sure that Mr. Potuzak will see it and it will make his heart swell. 🙂

  2. Saul on September 26th, 2017 2:18 pm

    Hi Bernardo. I just read your whole story and I loved it. There is a lot of detail shown and I always love that in a story. I also got hooked on the story easily. I also had Mr. Potuzak and he was a great math teacher, even if I wasn’t the greatest student. His methods were also very helpful and it is sad to know that he did retire.

  3. Isaac on September 26th, 2017 2:41 pm

    Such a great tribute story and it was a thoughtful story. Great research!

  4. Gabriel on September 27th, 2017 9:04 am

    Very awesome story I am an 8th grader and I really related to this. Good job Bernardo!!!

  5. Jose Ruiz on October 2nd, 2017 1:28 pm

    Wow!!! Bernardo during my journalism I have never seen a story that long.It took some time to read but it was worth it.Mr potuzak was a great math teacher,I learned a lot from him.Great story!!!

  6. Diego on October 3rd, 2017 7:00 pm

    Wow, Just Wow. Bernardo your description of your year in Mr.Potuzak’s class was just on point. I loved the way you use details of the year, just to let the readers have a hint of what type of person he was/ still is. Great Job

  7. ~The Double Unicorn~ on October 4th, 2017 6:46 pm

    Mr. Potuzak would be proud of you Bernardino (sorry but I like this nickname too much)! It’s giving me nostalgia of back when I was your age, as well as when I joined the Math Team. You really did well on this tribute kiddo.
    P.S. You are one of the smartest 7th graders I know :)))))))))))
    P.S.S. Welp, you’re are an 8th grader meow, so that makes u one of the smartest 8th graders I know. Enjoy your final year, have fun, do the talent show and regret it an hour later. Basically, make fun memeries. Double Unicorn out

  8. ANDREW on October 6th, 2017 1:04 pm

    wow what a thought full story i mean like you explained everything that you knew about him and if he was still in blackstock he would have been very proud maybe he already read it and is very proud you never know..

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