A longtime Fruitland Middle School teacher with a passion for science also likes to help students feel good about themselves.
“My number one thing as a teacher is I’ve tried to build rapport with kids and to make them feel like they are important,” says Mike Greif, who is retiring after 32 years of teaching. “I think that God believes they’re important, and because he does, I’ve told every kid that walks in the door that they’re important to me.”
Greif said he spent his entire teaching career in the Fruitland School District at Fruitland Middle School, spending the past 26 years teaching eighth grade science.
Science is a subject of which Greif apparently never grows tired. His enthusiasm for the subject can even bubble over to the point of becoming infectious, and that’s really his intent. For any students who catch the bug, the enthusiasm should prove to be a lifelong thing.
“Most people go through life and they’re in such a big hurry that they don’t get to understand their natural world,” Greif says.
His teaching style relies more on storytelling while he de-emphasizes reliance on a textbook.
Stuart Grimes, Fruitland Middle School’s student achievement specialist, says Greif is highly effective as a teacher.
Beyond teaching science, notes Grimes, Greif has taught “all kinds of different electives,” including everything from Technology to the martial art of Taekwondo, in which Greif holds a fourth-degree black belt.
“He’s done just a ton of stuff,” Grimes said, adding that Greif is held in high regard by the student community. He guessed that if anyone were to survey Fruitland High School students as to who their favorite teacher was in middle school, “about 90 percent of them are going to answer with his name,” Grimes said, referring to Greif.
During the newspaper’s May 9 interview with Greif in his classroom after school, two of his former students, Katie Mason and her daughter Libby Mason stopped in to wish him well. Not only had both been his students a generation apart for eighth grade science, but the mother and daughter also both took the elective class in Taekwondo. Libby said she continues to practice the martial art.
Personal fitness is an important value to instill in youth, and Greif has more than done his part. He says that over the course of his teaching career he coached every sport the middle school offered except wrestling and volleyball. He said he coached basketball all 32 years, and also coached middle school baseball, football, track and cross country, At one time he coached junior varsity baseball at Fruitland High School.
He views himself as a supportive element in the district’s athletic program.
“I just want to build the program. That’s kind of been my role,” Greif said. He added that he’s “probably going to continue coaching some” after he retires.
And about that retirement: He’s not doing it alone. Wife Gwen Greif, a first grade teacher at Payette Primary School, is likewise calling it a career this month after the last school bell rings.
Greif said Gwen’s teaching years total less than Mike’s because the couple opted to have her stay home during 15 of the years they’ve been raising two sons. The oldest son is now an adult, and the youngest just completed the eighth grade. During their respective eighth-grade years, both boys were students in their dad’s science class.
Greif said he and his wife hope to travel more after they retire. They are especially interested in Europe. Gwen is most anxious to visit Italy, Greif says, and he has his own list of high picks. “I really want to go to Great Britain and all of the islands and Germany,” he said.
He added that Gwen has put some time into studying French in a free course online.
For a long time yet, learning is likely to remain important to Mike and Gwen Greif. As a lifelong follower of developments in science, Greif can look back upon how much in science has changed in just the space of his three decades teaching it.
He recalls that early in his teaching career, science at that time listed five to 10 things that were critically needed in order for life to flourish on Earth. “Every year that I teach, it grows,” Greif said of the list, and today the list is more than 2,000 items long.
“The more I’ve taught this class, the more I realize that this place is perfect for life — it’s absolutely perfect,” Greif said. He later added, “I just want the kids to understand that nature is amazing.”
On average, Greif says, he teaches approximately 140 students during a school year. Multiplying that by 32 produces thousands of acquaintances. It may be hard to remember any particular one at a moment’s notice, but all of them are nonetheless meaningful.
“My greatest joy is to bump into my former students anywhere.”
He says he doesn’t always recognize them immediately, but they always seem to wear “a big smile” which conveys to Greif the idea that they know him. A pleasant conversation always ensues. Greif says he enjoys “seeing what they’ve become and what they’re doing, and just reconnecting with them.”
It’s also not unusual for him to receive letters from former students who simply want to let him know that they are embarking on teaching careers themselves.
“I’ve gotten several letters this year,” Greif said. One was from a former student who wrote that she was finishing a geology degree. Greif said the student thanked him and stated something to the effect of, “You turned me on to geology and now I’m going to become a geology teacher.”