Teacher Tuesday: WSCC’s Paul Drelles.

December 1, 2020

Paul Drelles

Teacher Tuesday: WSCC’s Paul Drelles.

Teacher Tuesday is a presentation of Shelby State Bank, www.shelbystatebank.com.

By Kate Krieger, MCP Staff Writer.

VICTORY TWP – West Shore Community College professor, Paul Drelles never really expected to go into teaching while earning his degree in mathematics, it just happened.

“I got into teaching by accident,” he said. “I finished my bachelor’s degree about a year and a half before my wife, Laura, finished hers and I needed something to do while she finished her degree. I entered graduate school and received a teaching assistantship. The assistantship paid my tuition and also $4,000 per year for living expenses. At the time, that was good enough money to live on. The teaching assistantship required me to teach one class per term. Since I received my undergraduate degree mid-year, I didn’t start graduate school until the spring.  Prior to the first day of the spring term, Michigan Tech did not have a class for me to teach.  During the middle of my first graduate class, a secretary from the math department handed me a memo. The memo basically said that I would be teaching a calculus class and it was starting in 30 minutes. There was no time to prepare.”

Drelles said he soon got into a good rhythm with the students and really enjoyed teaching, but after his wife finished school, he received a job elsewhere.

“I survived my first day of teaching and soon started to enjoy it, he said. “I left Michigan Tech and started working for Gulf Oil. It paid very good money, but I did not enjoy the work. My wife and I decided it would be better if I finished my graduate degree and went into teaching. It turned out to be a good choice.”

A Michigan native, Drelles grew up in Muskegon, graduating from Muskegon High School in 1975. He then attended Muskegon Community College and earned an associate degree there in 1978. Then he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Michigan Technological University in 1981 and a master’s degree in mathematics from University of Maine in 1985.

Heading east to the University of Maine to finish his master’s degree, Drelles really got more involved in teaching and soon learn what it all entailed.

“After working for Gulf Oil for a year as a processing geophysicist, I taught for two years at the University of Maine as a graduate assistant,” he said. “There, I taught pre-calculus, trigonometry and college algebra. After I received my master’s degree in pure mathematics from the University of Maine, I was hired as an assistant professor of mathematics. I taught there for 10 years. During that time, I received tenure and was promoted to associate professor of mathematics, while teaching mathematics for liberal arts, various levels of algebra, trigonometry, statistics, calculus and differential equations.”

After 10 years with the University of Maine, Drelles received a new position at West Shore Community College and he has been a professor of mathematics there ever since.

“I left the University of Maine in 1995 to come to West Shore Community College and am currently in my 26th year here,” he said. “In my first year at WSCC, I taught 11 different preparations (business calculus, calculus I, calculus II, calculus III, differential equations, trigonometry, statistics, math for elementary teachers, college algebra, introductory algebra and intermediate algebra). I have also taught pre-algebra, pre-calculus and graph theory and was the math division chair for several years.”

Mathematics classes aren’t always the students’ favorite subjects to study, but Drelles said he really gets excited about seeing his students grow in their confidence within the subjects. As much as a lot of the students don’t enjoy math, Drelles said he also doesn’t enjoy public speaking, so he tries to make his courses as creative as possible. He said he sees his teaching as more of storytelling, rather than public speaking or lecturing.

“Without a doubt, my favorite part of teaching is working with the students,” he said. “I love being in the classroom where I know all of the students and they know me. We can have a lot of fun and still learn the material. It is a wonderful feeling seeing the light come on in students’ eyes when they grasp a concept for the first time. It is also very rewarding watching the students gain confidence and watch them grow. That is especially true in my upper-level courses where I have the same students for four courses over a two-year period. You can build strong relationships that last for years.


“I also love mathematics. There is a beauty in mathematics that I try to show my students. Mathematics is not just a bunch of confusing rules and facts to be memorized. There are rules but you are free to use them in creative ways.  Mathematics is really an art. I do not like public speaking at all. I go out of my way to avoid it but being in the classroom, I feel like I am sharing something of value with the students. It is more like telling an exciting story rather than giving a speech. If I didn’t feel that way, I couldn’t be in the classroom teaching.”

With education changing so rapidly in today’s society, Drelles said he wouldn’t always encourage a student to pursue education unless they’ve had a passion for it for many years.

“Teaching has changed over the years,” he said. “Even at the college level, there are a lot more requirements and busy work. I spend less time working on teaching every year and more time on other things. To be honest, I don’t think I would encourage a person to go into teaching if they did not already have a strong desire to do so.

“Education is the key for solving many of the problems our society faces. Ideally, the best and brightest people would choose the teaching profession. When I was at the University of Maine, one of my students who was struggling in an engineering math class said, ‘I think I want to switch my major and go into education. I don’t need to know any math to be a teacher.’ Statements like that hurt the profession and reinforce the idea that ‘those who can’t end up teaching.’”

Along with prepping many different subjects each semester, Drelles faced what every other teacher did last spring when COVID-19 forced educators to go online. He said that it was something he wasn’t looking forward to at all but didn’t really have another option.

“I hated having to go online teaching last spring,” he said. “I had not done it before and was not prepared. The students and I got through the semester OK only because we had been meeting face to face for eight weeks prior to the change. The students were helpful and understanding and I learned a lot.

“This fall we started out face to face but have recently gone back to online. It felt great to be in a live classroom again although wearing masks was not enjoyable. The students did a good job of wearing their masks and keeping safe social distances. We knew that it was likely we would be forced to go online again. The students and I were ready for it.”

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