Having devoted his professional career to calculations, it wasn’t a struggle for longtime Mattituck High School math teacher Dennis Deerkoski to figure out this equation: The COVID-19 pandemic plus remote learning added up to retirement.
“They always said you would know when it was time to retire,” Mr. Deerkoski, 69, said by phone Monday. “When this remote learning came down, I knew it was time.”
After 47 years in the teaching profession — the past 39 at his alma matter, Mattituck High School — Mr. Deerkoski said he had no desire to return for the 2020-21 school year. And that was solely because of his dislike for teaching via virtual classes. That’s something he got a taste of for the first time this past spring when the COVID-19 outbreak interrupted in-person education in schools. Mattituck is planning on a hybrid model this coming school year for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“I could have retired 14 years ago, but I didn’t retire because I really did enjoy going in and working with the students,” Mr. Deerkoski said. “It wasn’t a job.”
With remote learning, though, he said it felt like a job.
With remote learning, he said, it was difficult to ascertain if the students understood what he was talking about because he couldn’t see their facial expressions.
So that’s what led Mr. Deerkoski to write a letter of resignation to the school board a few weeks ago. That’s why he has been cleaning out his classroom, Room S109, in the science wing.
If not for remote learning, he said, he would have been back in September. He didn’t know at the time that March 12 would be his final day in front of a class.
Mr. Deerkoski recalls being an eighth-grader, helping fellow students with their math work and influenced by his own math teacher at the time, Robert Krudop. He had a sense that teaching was what he wanted to do. The class salutatorian went on to become a teacher’s assistant while attending St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. He taught in Baldwin for 7 1/2 years before receiving a call one day from the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District. A teacher was leaving Mattituck. Would Mr. Deerkoski like to teach at the school he once attended?
That wasn’t a grand plan. Things just fell in place, and in January 1981, Mr. Deerkoski was back in Mattituck, teaching eighth- and 12th-grade classes. “It was just a mixture of stuff, and I was in five different rooms,” he recalled. “I was running all around.”
Calculus was Mr. Deerkoski’s subject. He taught advanced placement and Regents classes, among others.
What is it about calculus that he finds alluring?
“What I like is it’s just so consistent and it just makes sense,” he said.
Mr. Deerkoski figures he has taught at least 100 students over each of those 47 years. (Simple quick math: That amounts to some 4,700 students.) He taught students whose parents he also taught.
“I’ve gotten some nice notes back from students, how I have impacted their lives,” he said. “I think that’s worth it more than anything else.”
Brendan Kent, a senior civil engineering major at Virginia Tech, studied pre-calculus and AP calculus under Mr. Deerkoski for two years.
“He is an all-star math teacher, 100 percent,” Mr. Kent said. “He was just so dedicated to his students and making sure everyone learned it at their own speed … Calculus is not an easy thing to learn and at the same time probably harder to teach, and he made it understandable, fair, and everyone I know, all my friends and kids I graduated with, we all have great things to say about him.”
Mattituck High School math teacher Frank Massa said Mr. Deerkoski set the bar high for math teachers. “The way he can deliver high-level information in a way that it’s understandable is something that most teachers would want to emulate,” said Mr. Massa.
Mr. Deerkoski was immersed in the school experience. He attended school board meetings, was the Mattituck-Cutchogue Teachers Association treasurer and was involved with the National Honor Society and Math Club.
“I’m satisfied with what I did and what I accomplished,” he said.
What about future plans?
Mr. Deerkoski said he plans to remain in Mattituck with his wife, Bernadette. Beyond that, he said, things happened so swiftly that he’s not sure how he will spend his newfound free time.
“I know I’m going to do something,” he said. “I’m not going to sit home. I’m actually going to do something, I just don’t know what yet.”