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How Harlem math teacher Bill Dredge discovered the perfect formula for a long, happy career – Rockford Register Star

Posted: May 25, 2021 at 1:54 am


Alex Gary| Special to the Rockford Register Star

MACHESNEY PARK Theres a saying that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. In the Harlem School District, for the past 45years, the certainties have been death, taxes and Bill Dredge teaching math.

Dredge, 68, started in the district in the fall of 1976 atwhat was known then as Franklin Middle School and is now Machesney Elementary.

To give you a sense of how long ago that was, Gerald Ford was president, the Byron nuclear plantwas under construction and the MetroCentre (now the BMO Harris Bank Center) wouldnt open for another 4 years.

Dredge moved from Franklin to the Harlem South Campus (freshmen and sophomores) and then to the high school, becoming a threadtying together generations of Harlem families.

I was at a birthday party in Elgin, Harlem High School principal Terrell Yarbrough said. Everyone was introducing themselves. When I said I was the principal at Harlem, a guy said I went to Harlem. Is Bill Dredge still teaching there?

The run comes to an end next month whenDredge retires.

More: Harlem hires fifth female A.D. in NIC-10 history

Interestingly, the closest thing Harlem has to a living institution never wanted to teach there in the first place.

Im from Batavia. My whole family lives there. I went to Aurora (University) for college and I wanted to teach and live in Batavia, Dredge said. My wife we werent married yet said Im not living in Batavia. Im going to go get a job.

Gayle Dredge was going to be a teacher, too. She interviewed at Franklin. They liked her, offered her a position and then called Aurora (University) to see if the school had any other students looking for a teaching job.

They said, 'Well, theres her future husband, Bill Dredge said. I got the job. I dont remember filling out a job application or even interviewing.

Jared Day, a 1987 Harlem graduate who has been teaching math in a classroomnext to Dredge for nearly 30 years, said in baseball terms, Bill was the teacher to be named later.

Also: Harlem doubles, Auburn win tennis sectionals

With 45 years in the classroom, Dredge is one of the area's longest serving public school teachers. Sherrilyn Martin, who teaches at Keith County Day School, has been teaching for 50 years.

The Dredges havetwo children. Both areHarlem grads.

Bill Dredge has taught countless father-daughter, mother-son combos. In some cases, he's teaching third generations.

Its more than a couple, hesaid. A student said to me once, My grandfather remembers you. I said, I dont like you as much anymore.

Dredge's story is less about longevity and more about energy.

Anyone who has interacted with Dredge over the years inevitably talks about the joy he brings to whatever role hes filling that day.

And hes filled lots of roles. Hes coachedboys and girls basketball at several levels. Hes coached tennis.Hes been the announcer at football games and basketball games and countless pep assemblies and musical and choir performances. He even performed in Harlem theater productions.

When Sandra Cain was in charge of the music department, she needed a teacher for a role and she asked me, Dredge said. That was a stretch for me. Id never done anything like that. But I enjoyed it so much I kept saying yes.

The school recently named its tennis center after Dredge.

To Dredge, his classroom subjects math and statistics areendlessly fascinating. To many high school students, they're something to endure. Dredge made learning fun.

I still remember the day we did an experiment to see if double-stuffed Oreos were really double-stuffed, 2005 Harlem grad Jake Ruef posted on Facebook after news of Dredge's upcoming retirement started to spread.

I loved doing that lesson, Dredge said. It meant you got to eat cookies in class.

The state of Illinois and the United States is facing a looming teaching shortage. In a 2020 survey by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, 77% of school districts across the state reported that they cant find enough teachers to fill their staffs.

This is a great profession," Dredge said. "It can be tough. ...The biggest thing I tell young teachers is to get out of your room. Find another teacher to vent if things went poorly or celebrate if they went well. And get out and meet the kids. Sign up for stuff. Thats what keeps me going.

Having the right attitude is important, too. Dredge said he learned that lesson early.

I had two brothers, and our dad didnt allow us to wake up grumpy. He told us to adjust our attitude, Dredge said. When I started teaching, I dont think I was always happy-go-lucky, but then I decided I was just going to bring (joy to the classroom) every day.

I remember I had a bad day once. I brought that attitude to school and everyone was like whats wrong. They thought I was dying. I said to myself, that was brutal. Im never going to do that again.

Illinois State Board of Education: Public schools to return to in-person learning next year

The coronavirus pandemic, which now has affected everyday life for more than a year, has been particularly tough on schools, teachers and the educational system as a whole. The shift from traditional, in-person learning to varying forms of online, independent and hybrid learning models as well as managing COVID-19 safety protocols and quarantining has tested administrators, educators, students and parents.

Coming to school and staring at empty desks has been depressing, Dredge said. Being in the middle of fights about whether schools should reopen has been discouraging.

Dredge said he wentback and forth on whether this should be his last year.

I renewed my (teaching) certificate six years ago and it runs out after this year so I always thought this would be it, Dredge said, but then I thought I didnt want to end it like this so I asked Terrell (Yarbrough) if I could come back.

He said hed support me, and I think I could convince the school board to let me come back, said Dredge, who years ago reached the top of the pay scale. My daughter tells me I should go to an even 50 (years). But I havent done any of my continuing education work. Id have to take course work. Its time.

Regardless of what happens in the classroom next fall, Harlem wont have to go cold turkey from Dredge energy.

He plans to return as boys and girls tennis coach and assistant girls basketball coach. He is open to substitute teaching, too, a popular option for retired teachers.

Fellow teachers say it will be strange not to hear Dredge's voice in the hallway or see him giving out fist bumps.

Whos going to be that guy that brings you up every day? Thats going to be the question, said fellow Harlem math teacher Jerry Foss. I hope weve learned enough by watching him.

Alex Gary is a freelance correspondent.

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How Harlem math teacher Bill Dredge discovered the perfect formula for a long, happy career - Rockford Register Star

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