An Open Letter to Mr. Gugick

Remembering Our Remarkable Math Teacher on the Anniversary of his Death

Gugick+at+the+Great+Wall+of+China

Bcomber Archives, courtesy of Arthur Gugick

Gugick at the Great Wall of China

Dear Mr. Gugick,

It’s crazy that it’s been a year.

Your death hit us hard. And it doesn’t really seem to get easier.

It’s 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep because all your words are running together in my mind.  

I never had a teacher like you, and I don’t expect I’ll ever have another one. I remember the first time I met you. You solved a Rubik’s Cube behind your back and then told us you’d forgotten all of our names during your sabbatical. I remember thinking I was in for a strange year.

I had no idea. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in class and laugh, thinking about how you would repeatedly tell us it made you anxious when we stood up before the bell rang, how you were banned from the state of Florida because of your reaction to a student who stood up too soon. Or about how you would tell us to have a good weekend and go “run around with sticks and burn things or whatever it is that you do.”

As time goes on, I’ll forget your jokes. I’ll forget your stories. And I’ll definitely forget the math. But there are some things you taught me that I will never forget.

The words that will always stick with me the most were the ones from the last time I ever saw you. The most important lesson you ever taught me had little to do with math. 

I remember when you stopped class and started going on a tangent. Just from the tone of your voice and the change in the atmosphere of the room to a more serious one, I knew this moment was going to be one that I’d think about for years. Before you even started speaking, I knew your words would change my life.

You said that our friend groups were like tribes and that tribes were instinctively fearful of opening up to newcomers. It was human instinct. But we had to be brave and defy those instincts and the status quo. You said the way to welcome someone into your tribe was through a shared experience. You urged us to reach out to people and bring them into our tribes.”

You said that our friend groups were like tribes and that tribes were instinctively fearful of opening up to newcomers. It was human instinct. But we had to be brave and defy those instincts and the status quo. You said the way to welcome someone into your tribe was through a shared experience. You urged us to reach out to people and bring them into our tribes.

I don’t know if you could tell the future when you said that or what, but I know that you created a whole new tribe in Beachwood. It was almost ironic how we were brought together through the shared experience of your death.

I remember after you spoke about tribes, the person next to me said, “Mr. Gugick should be president. There would be no hate.”

I wish you could be president. I think the world would be a lot better off.

You taught me other important things, too, though. To go outside, to not worry about grades so much, to put down my phone, to speak up. 

I feel like I took for granted what it meant to have a teacher like you. What an honor it was to learn from one of the smartest people I will ever encounter.

I always struggled with math until your class. But somehow, when you taught it, it all made complete sense. And it seems like that’s how it was for everyone.

I struggle through math now; it doesn’t click. But for some reason, when you plugged in your calculator to the board, it did. You made the hardest questions on the ACT into simple arithmetic. You made me not dread numbers and math.

Above all, though, you didn’t only teach through giving answers. You made me question things. How much I’m capable of (more than I think); what counts at the end of the day (the way you made others feel about themselves); and what matters more: the number of people who will remember you or the people who will do something with what they remember (I’ll let you figure that one out).

They say the best teachers teach you the skills you’ll need outside of the classroom, and you definitely did just that.

I hope you’re up there right now, laughing at us, sharing a drink with Leonard Euler, and jamming out to the Grateful Dead. 

Because of you Mr. Gugick, we stand a little taller. We smile a little wider. And we try a little harder.

All I can say now is thank you. Thank you for all you taught me. Thank you for helping me expand my tribe. Thank you for making me someone who can honestly say, “I learned from one of the greats.”

I think The Wonder Years summed it up best. “Teachers never die. They live in your memory forever. And you never really knew them, not any more than they knew you. Still, for a while, you believed in them, And- if you were lucky- maybe there was one who believed in you.”

Thank you for believing in us.

Tal Rothberg

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