Her struggle was her destiny

From her last day of school as a former student at Downey High, Ms. Gunderson holds a picture taken with her and her former AP Calculus teacher, Mr. Bremer, who inspired her to become the math instructor she is today.

Sara Cabrera, Writer/ Copy Editor

Despite the love she has had for ice-skating and pole-vaulting, Michelle Gunderson always made academics her number one priority, which led her to be the passionate math teacher she is today.


Gunderson’s interest in ice-skating began at 11 years old when her older sister, Crystal, suggested they take ice skating lessons together. Crystal was determined to learn to eventually become good enough to play hockey. The sisters always went to hockey games to support a close family friend, so Crystal’s motive was to grab the attention of his teammates.


“By the time we signed up for the lessons and started, my sister was on to a new thing,” Gunderson said. “She was over me and all of the hot guys through hockey, so my best friend at the time joined me but didn’t like it so she quit and I kept going.”


Gunderson proceeded to ice skate until she was a freshman at Downey High. As a result of quitting, she joined the track team and went to CIF for 2 years undefeated in the San Gabriel Valley League as a pole-vaulter.


Ms. Gunderson talked about pole-vaulting when I had her for Algebra 1, but what really shocked me was when I found out she ice-skated,” Cindy Bautista said. “I thought that was really cool.”


Gunderson pole-vaulted for 3 years, wanting to enter college only focusing on her academics.


“I wanted to pole-vault in college, but I am a perfectionist, so I knew that something would suffer,” Gunderson said. “I didn’t want to pole vault if I wasn’t going to be the best and I wasn’t going to be the best if I wanted to get straight as A’s, so I decided that better grades were more important in college then the pole vaulting so I quit.”


Gunderson was always uncertain of what kind of career she wanted to pursue. She considered being an ice skating coach, but realized it was a difficult career and was not an enjoyable world to be a part of.


“I did not know what I wanted to be in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to be the day I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I started college and my friends made fun of me and they told me I was going to be a hobo, because I had no idea what I wanted to be.”


Math did not come easy for Gunderson. She states she worked hard for her grades, which had never dropped to a C or lower. Her senior year, she took AP calculus with Mr. Bremer and ended the year with a D. Mr. Bremer made a final for those with a D or F who wanted to improve their grade. A passing grade on the AP test meant receiving a credit for a college level math class to satisfy all college math requirements. Gunderson was completely devastated when she discovered she failed.


“I still remember it took him like 15 minutes to scan my final and I was like where is he, where is he, what’s he doing,” Gunderson said. “He came out and he said ‘I scanned it five times because I wanted so badly for you to pass my class, but you didn’t’. I started balling and I remember his eyes started to tear up a little bit and he was like ‘Don’t cry. You’re going to make me sad,’ and he told me, ‘I know how hard you worked. I just want to let you know that I was rooting for you this entire year.’”


Even though Gunderson felt hopeless towards math, Mr. Bremer asked her to promise that if she passed the AP calculus test that May, she would take one more math class. He knew she hated math at that point, realizing if she did pass the AP test, she would take the college credit and be done with math forever. Sticking by her word, Gunderson took Calculus 2 at Long beach State the following year, after passing the test.


Her first semester in college, Gunderson went back to Downey High to talk with her old counselors, Mrs. Riggs and Dr. Reese who offered to put her name down as a tutor. Gunderson accepted and realized how much she enjoyed explaining math concepts to these students. After she had been tutoring a while, she decided she wanted to become a math teacher in her sophomore year of college.


“I realized that he had made such an impact on my life that I keep taking math classes,” Gunderson said. “It’s so cheesy, but it’s so true. He totally inspired me to want to make someone else feel the way he made me feel, because I felt hopeless. I was ready to give up and the things he said to me, no other teacher had ever said anything like that.”


During the month of Oct 2009, Gunderson was asked to substitute for Mr. Hodges, an Algebra 2 and Algebra 1ab teacher who was going to be out sick for 2 weeks. During the time she was substituting, it came up that he was retiring towards the middle of that year, so principal Tom Houts, informed Gunderson of a job opening and stated it was hers for the taking. 3 weeks before this offer, Gunderson had just begun working on obtaining her Masters degree, so she had an important decision to make. Either to keep working on her masters, which was already incredibly demanding, or take the job she has wanted.


“I actually went across the hall to Mr. Bremer and I asked him his advice and we had a nice heart to heart. He was one of the people who made me realize I had to take the job. It was kind of cool how it all worked out. He is still across the way and I still go to him as a mentor. I feel very lucky to be across the hall from him, when we talk about it I still get misty eyed.”


Principal Houts states that when he discovered Mr. Hodges was retiring, Gunderson was the first person he thought of for the job.


“Since she went here, we knew about her and how good she was, so we wanted her and we got her,” Houts said. “She’s awesome. Her test scores are through the roof.”


Michelle Gunderson is a perfectionist of a woman with many talents. She is an ice skater, an undefeated a CIF champion, and a teacher. Her passion for math has always been a priority in her life. It is that passion that has made her the math teacher she is today.