Paul Wallulis teaches in a classroom at Central Catholic in 2010. The longtime math teacher has retired from the high school after 40 years. (Courtesy Central Catholic)
Paul Wallulis teaches in a classroom at Central Catholic in 2010. The longtime math teacher has retired from the high school after 40 years. (Courtesy Central Catholic)

In 40 years of teaching at Central Catholic High School, Paul Wallulis has had some great moments. Once, he had students listen to a song about the mean value theorem in calculus. He told his students if they performed it for the class, they’d get extra credit. One student came back with his guitar and sang the theorem song to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.”

“I was just kind of blown away,” remembered Wallulis, who always tried looking for different ways to motivate his students to get into math. The theorem song did its job.

“Frankly, if you memorized the song, you understood the theorem.”

Wallulis, a member at All Saints Parish in Northeast Portland, was born and raised in Oregon City where he attended St. John the Apostle School up to eighth grade. After one year at La Salle High School, his family relocated to Eugene and young Paul graduated from South Eugene High School.

It was that time in Eugene that led Wallulis to the path of becoming a teacher.

“A lot of times, you’re inspired by teachers you had who really impressed you,” said the retired educator. Students inspired to become teachers go forward thinking it could be a meaningful profession. For Wallulis, that teacher was Gerald Webking, a well-known German teacher at South Eugene High.

“He really got me going,” recalled Wallulis. Webking showed a passion for his subject and dedication to his students. He would meet with struggling students before and after school, helping them to learn his rigorous curriculum. Wallulis spent three years as one of Webking’s students.

“When you’re with a teacher for that long, you get to know what they’re all about,” said Wallulis.

Wallulis was so inspired by his high school German teacher, in fact, that he went on to study German in college. He graduated with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in German and only minored in math. It was at the University of Oregon that Wallulis got his feet wet teaching as a graduate fellow.

In the fall of 1980, Wallulis got his start at Central Catholic teaching German. It was the first year the school had opened its door to female students. At the time, Central offered four languages. Over time, the Spanish program grew while the German program shrank. Ten years later, the German program was completely removed. By then, however, Wallulis, who had picked up a math class every time one of his German classes was dropped, became a full-time math teacher.

“I really devoted myself to improving the [school’s] calculus program,” recalled Wallulis. So that summer, he went through all of his old calculus books and retaught himself the mathematical study in preparation for teaching it the following year. Wallulis slowly built up the AP Calculus program. From half a dozen students in his first year, there were around 70 enrolled in a calculus class when Wallulis retired last spring.

“Paul was definitely one of our best, brightest and wisest teachers, beloved and respected by students, staff and me,” said Steve Workman, fellow Central math teacher who helped Wallulis revamp the calculus program. “We — especially in the math department — miss him dearly this year.”

When the retired teacher got his start at Central Catholic, teachers stuck closely to the book. As time passed, however, the book always served as a basis but was supplemented with real life problems and other materials.

Before he retired in the spring of 2020, Wallulis had served Central Catholic not only as a teacher, but as an advisor for a mock convention and as a tennis coach. He participated in a Fulbright teacher exchange that sent him to Germany to teach English. And he helped organize MathFest, an event hosted by Central Catholic that had middle schoolers team up to solve math puzzles.

In the three decades that Wallulis taught math at Central Catholic, he saw more and more young people enrolling in higher level math than ever before. More young women are also taking the higher level math classes. Just one or two were in Wallulis’s classes initially, whereas last year, there were nearly as many girls in his class as boys.

“Math has so many important applications,” said Wallulis. “A lot of students, particularly in the technology field, need that basis in math.”

The best way to give students that basis, he said, is to teach them the why, the step-by-step process that takes them to the answer rather than the answer itself.

“If you can get them to that level of understanding, it all starts clicking.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org