Friday, May 9, 2008

Geminder Sets His Mind on Teaching

By Chris Boyd, Peninsula News

Undeterred by the rigors of grad school and full-time instruction, local resident will get his master’s degree Sunday.

Many men in their 70s spend time trying to improve their scores on the golf course, playing bridge with their buddies or writing letters to the local newspaper.

But not 72-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes resident Bob Geminder. Tomorrow, Geminder will graduate from Loyola Marymount University with a master’s degree in education and a California teaching credential. 
An engineer for 46 years, Geminder has found a new calling as an educator. “I really wanted to see if I could give back and do something where I could influence kids in a positive way,” Geminder says in his classroom at St. Mary’s Academy in Inglewood. “You pick up any paper any day, any week, and you see how screwed up the school systems are. I know I’m only one person, but I hope I’m helping that situation.” 
Geminder, now in his fourth year of teaching, had to test the school waters before he discovered the right fit. After substitute teaching in Torrance, Palos Verdes and Los Angeles during his first year, he taught middle school in Torrance the second year. In his third year, Geminder taught high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, an experience he described as “really rough.” 
He found a home at St. Mary’s, a Catholic school of about 400 African-American and Latino students. Geminder teaches science and math to ninth- and 10th-graders. 
Because the campus doesn’t have even close to the number of disciplinary problems he faced in the LAUSD, Geminder plans to return in September. “I’ll be back here next year because I really like it and they seem to really like me,” he says. “The kids aren’t perfect — they’re still teenagers — but the classes are much smaller (about 20 students per room).” 
It’s no small feat teaching algebra and physical science to a group of kids who often come in with an attitude of “I hate math.” But Geminder, who always has a smile on his face and exudes the energy of a teenager, finds a way to reach his students. 
“I don’t want a class where everybody sits there and falls asleep,” he says. “If you don’t love math, you eliminate a lot of options in your life. There’s no point in hating it because you’re going to have four years of it.” 
With a career in engineering under his belt, Geminder has been there and done that. “It’s difficult, but I try to bring in my life’s experiences,” he says. “I can give them a specific example of how this ties into the real world … I can talk about satellites with them because I worked on that stuff.” 
To become a teacher, Geminder went through a 2 1/2-year program at LMU. He sat in class with students in their 20s and 30s. “I’m convinced that what took them one hour to do took me two hours to do,” Geminder says. 
Though he maintained a 3.8 grade point average, Geminder had to work at it. “I was teaching full time and going to LMU. It was very difficult,” he says. “When I got into class there at age 70, I wasn’t sure I’d survive.” 
But Geminder, a native of Poland, had survived much worse. Indeed, he was one of the few children who made it through the Holocaust, the genocide perpetrated by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime that claimed the lives of nearly 6 million Jews. Geminder was just 4 years old when the Holocaust began; in 1947, he came to America and started school in the seventh grade. 
For the past 20 years, Geminder has talked to students across California about the horrors of the Holocaust. This connection with kids may have inspired his pursuit of a teaching credential. 
“I enjoyed the interaction with the kids and influencing them in some way,” Geminder says. “You could hear a pin drop when I talked because of the subject and how I presented it.” 
Though his audience at St. Mary’s is a bit rowdier and the subject toned down, Geminder still manages to inspire his students. “I see the kids progressing; I see them doing better,” he says. 
Geminder admits that by the end of a day in the classroom, even he is tired. “Teaching is a very tough profession,” he says. “You’re up on stage for five hours.” 
That hasn’t stopped him from taking on graduate school and a new profession. “Certainly nobody was older in any of my classes,” Geminder says. “I’m very proud of what I’m doing. Deep inside I feel good about it. I feel like I’m doing what I wanted to do.” 
His family — wife of 49 years, Judy, daughters Mindy and Ellen and son, Shia — share that pride. “I don’t think I could ever do it,” Judy says. “He has an amazing amount of energy. He’s always up and he’s always positive. 
“He’s not the retiring type, and I don’t think he should retire. And he loves what he does,” Judy says. “I think he loves it more than he did engineering.” 
“I’m not going to retire at 82 either,” Geminder says. 
Geminder has created a Web site dedicated to the Holocaust. To check it out, visit
By Chris Boyd, Peninsula News