Delos Jensen knows a kid can't wait until he enters college to turn on the switch to success.
That's why the 1988 recipient of The Most Influential Teacher Award in the Deseret News-KSL Sterling Scholar Awards Program tries to put more than mathematical equations into his students' lessons.Assuming every one of his students is college bound, Jensen prepares each with the necessary study skills at the same time he fills them up with linear equations and the quadratic formula.
"You really have to try to teach them as future college students, if you want them to succeed. They need to learn how to study, when to listen, when to take notes, and you have to start with the freshmen," Jensen said.
Brian Bruner, West's Sterling Scholar nominee in mathematics, said Jensen's approach has paid big academic dividends for his students. In nominating his teacher for the award, Brian reported that nearly 100 percent of Jensen's calculus students passed the Advanced Placement tests.
"His dedication to hard work rubs off on students and helps them learn not only calculus, but about the rigorous college life to come," Brian wrote the judges.
Jensen finds his reward in students who succeed in college, whether they end up in mathematics or a related field. And he finds it even more satisfying if that successful college student readjusted his goals after originally planning only to get a high school diploma.
The West High math teacher came late to a career in the classroom. After 28 years of military service, Jensen, who had earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Utah, a master's degree in mathematics from Penn State and who did some graduate work at MIT, decided to fulfill his dream of becoming a teacher. He returned to college, securing a master's degree in education from the University of Utah.
Saying he had admired his teachers and always wondered about teaching as a possible career, Jensen decided upon his new career while still in the Air Force. While working on space projects at the Air Force's Cambridge Research Lab, Jensen helped tutor math students in the Lexington (Massachusetts) School District. He loved it, and that solidified his plans to teach.
With his teaching degree in hand, Jensen went to the now defunct Jordan Junior High School before moving to his alma mater, West High, in 1975.
Teaching 150 students in six classes, including beginning and intermediate algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus, Jensen often finds himself buried under a pile of homework and tests to correct. But that doesn't bother him. "It's a necessary part of the job," he said.
Jensen is at his best lecturing, if his students' responses are any indication. Rapidly scribbling problems across a board with a marker, Jensen pauses in the middle of an equation, wheels around to face his students and asks his favorite question, "What do we do, troops?" With the question, Jensen flings open his arms as if waiting to catch the answers in midair.
Clowning with the class is interwoven in Jensen's teaching. He works at making math fun. "Math can really be a drag, so you have to clown around sometimes," the teacher said.
He also stresses the subject's importance. "I try to get the point across that calculus is the beginning, not the end," he said, describing how calculus plays an integral role in statistics, engineering, the physical sciences and other fields.
In less than two months, the lectures and piles of papers to correct will permanently end for Jensen. He will retire after 18 years in the classroom. "I've really enjoyed teaching. The kids keep you young. It's a two-way street. You give a lot, but the kids do, too. They keep you young at heart."