By Sgt. 1st Class Mark BellFebruary 11, 2009
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Advanced high school mathematics. Some students embrace it while others endure it.
This exact science of equations, applications and graphs could result in a near-empty classroom, but at Eastern High School here, students line up hoping to get one of those prized empty desks in Ben Rademaker's second-floor classroom.
Younger sophomore students quickly described Rademaker as funny, crazy, smart and one of the best teachers at the largest high school in the area.
Eastern High School principal James A Sexton agreed with the consensus of students who have had the rare opportunity to learn from Rademaker during the school year.
"The kids here have a great love for him and actually fight really hard to get into his class," Sexton said. "That's what makes a unique school -- to have a teacher where students line up to get into his or her classroom."
Sexton warned that Rademaker's classes aren't easy subjects to understand and learn.
"They just want to be a part of the things happening in his classroom," he said.
But once a month, the 13-year veteran teacher trades his dress shirts and math formulas for his Army Combat Uniform as a member of the 81st Regional Support Command's 100th Army Band, based at nearby Fort Knox, Ky.
As a sergeant first class, Rademaker uses his life lessons as a seasoned Army Reserve Soldier to deliver classroom instruction that students enjoy.
"The Army has definitely prepared me for the classroom," he said. "Being an NCO and a teacher has many similarities."
He said each requires passion, understanding and discipline.
When asked what is more difficult - teaching high school math or leading Soldiers in one of the largest Army Reserve bands, Rademaker said it's a near even discussion for both sides.
"It depends on the situation," he said. "Noncommissioned officers deal with a lot of stuff," he said. "NCOs deal with personal issues, while teachers deal with a lot of interpersonal issues."
Rademaker said he couldn't rank one above the other, but admits both can be difficult and rewarding at times.
Along with his classroom duties, Rademaker is also the math department chairman for the high school, Sexton said.
"I deal with mostly curriculum issues within the math department," Rademaker said. "It's a lot of organizational things, kind of like what an NCO does in the Army."
"There is a lot of logistical support and training in an Army band," he said. "This blends well with being a teacher. I deal with training every day here at the school. The difference is here, I have a boss, and in the Army I have a commanding officer."
Rademaker admits, at first, the Army thing takes his students by surprise.
"Especially when I tell them I am in the Army band," he added. "It's not the first thing that comes to mind when they think of the Army."
He said his students often relate the Army to things they see or read about in Iraq or Afghanistan.
As a Reserve Soldier, Rademaker said the school staff and students have been very supportive and respectful of his Reserve duties.
"When I do have to miss work for training, I never have issues with students," he said while knocking on a nearby wooden table and smiling.
Sexton said while Rademaker takes those isolated absences during the school week, his in-depth preparation leads to a smooth transition for the staff at the school.
"Students don't like that because they miss him, but he leaves great plans when he does leave us," Sexton said. "He returns in a good zest, those same students who missed him fall right back into that routine. I know the Reserve takes some time away from work, but we haven't missed a step."
Math or music'
"Math was the only thing I was good at besides playing the clarinet," he said laughing. "But music will always come first."
Since third grade, Rademaker has played the clarinet, and that devotion to a life-time passion has elevated the importance of music in his life.
This significance also translates to an aggressive military career that has taken him around the world.
"When the opportunity comes up, I do everything to be a part of that mission," he said about Army band performances.
While he works to complete his doctorate of philosophy, Rademaker will continue to impact lives of high school students and lead and mentor junior Soldiers.
"I have been given an amazing opportunity to teach both students and Soldiers," he said. "Who wouldn't want to be a NCO and a teacher'"