Richard and Leslee Kretz are not only the dynamic duo of Portage High School, but they are the definition of what it means to be a great teacher. Whether it’s giving back to the community or making learning from home bearable for their students, the Kretz’s are a force to be reckoned with.
Richard is a self-proclaimed Region rat, growing up in Griffith and moving to Portage when he was hired at Portage High School. And after nearly 21 years at Portage, teaching English to ninth and tenth graders, he couldn’t have pictured it any other way.
“I was coaching ninth grade basketball, and after one of the games where we made a comeback one of the kids told me, ‘that was good coaching,’ said Richard. “It was that moment I knew I wanted to go into teaching and coaching.”
Leslee on the other hand, was born and raised in southeastern Wisconsin. Having always wanted to move south, she landed in Portage where she has been sharing her love of biology and life sciences with her students for almost 22 years.
“One time, when I was hanging out and playing with my nieces, one of them said to me, ‘you know auntie, you would make a great teacher,’” said Leslee. “So I took that and that’s where I ended up going.”
Richard was hired a few days after the school year had already started, and was placed in the classroom right next to Leslee’s.
“I was thrown into the classroom without any supplies so I walked over to Leslee’s and said, ‘hey, do you have an eraser I could borrow?’” said Richard. “That was the first thing I said to her and the rest is history.”
At the time Leslee had been dating someone else, but Richard gives credit to a colleague who knew that they were going to get together before they even knew. It wasn’t but a few years later that the two were getting married in Las Vegas.
“I wouldn’t trade all of our years of working together and being together for anything,” said Richard. “We teach in the same building, sometimes share the same kids, we understand what’s going on and are able to vent and bounce ideas off one another, it’s the best.”
“People might think we see each other way too much,” said Leslee. “But really we’re in our own space and I can’t imagine not teaching together because sometimes that’s the only place where we get to talk.”
Richard classifies himself as a “hard-ass” to the kids that come through his class. But because he teaches lower level students who may have a harder time in school, Richard knows the best thing for them is demanding a little bit more than they are used to.
“I love when kids come back after they’ve left the class and share stories with me about how they’ve matured and now understand that they weren’t the best student,” said Richard. “When they come back as they get older, it means a lot because you feel that you’ve made a little bit of a difference in their lives.”
The same goes for Leslee. Students coming back to share stories is one of the best highlights and complements a teacher could ask for.
“The students who come back and talk about how thankful they were to be in your class because you helped them not only with Biology or English but in general,” said Leslee. “It’s the best, especially when the ones who were hardest in the classroom come back. Then you know that you’re doing something right.”
The Kretz’s haven’t backed down from helping their students learn and keeping them engaged since the transition to e-learning this school year. They’ve even gotten creative in throwing out some fun extra credit opportunities.
“I sent my students an extra credit challenge to send me a picture of them dressed up as their favorite Tiger King character,” said Richard. “I’m just trying to make the assignments something that they will do because I know a lot of the students are dealing with a lot more important issues than vocabulary online.”
“I do the same thing, I try to throw some fun stuff in there and help them realize the change is a struggle for me too, so that they know they’re not alone,” said Leslee. “One such fun activity was that I needed them to show me a picture of them building a snowman or having a snowball fight. This put less pressure on them and it’s a little more fun.”
Richard and Leslee feel for their students and just want everyone to know that “we’re all in this together.”