Lustig’s funny business (teaching)

Veteran educator returns from retirement to fill temporary position, wins students’ hearts


Photo by Stefan Welsh

LEAPING LUSTIG: Mr. Joe Lustig dances in front of the roaring student body at a pep rally. He was covered with a blanket earlier in the dance number, and surprised the students with his moves.

With a teacher shortage developing in Indiana, some former teachers have volunteered to come out of retirement to help, including temporary Roncalli math teacher Mr. Joe Lustig, who taught at Alexandria High School for 33 years, along with brief times at Guerin Catholic, Ball State, and Ivy Tech.

Married for 46 years, Lustig has nine children, 21 grandchildren, and coaches a tennis team in his spare time. He used to perform stand-up comedy with his dad, an experience that has translated well into the classroom.

So, what would motivate him to leave retirement to go back to work again?

“You retire so you can do some things you want to do,” said Lustig.

He wanted to help out Roncalli and teach again, giving up his relaxing retired life to give the gift of mathematics to high school students.

Lustig not only teaches math, but also entertains his students with his exceptional joke telling skills. He’s heard a lot of jokes, read a lot of jokes, and has created many of his own as well, and loves to share them with his students. Lustig even used to perform stand up comedy with his father.

“A large part of the success is timing and how the joke is told,” said Lustig.

He’s become extremely popular among his students, despite only filling a temporary position. They particularly enjoy his famous “Joke Tuesdays,” laid-back personality, and excellent teaching skills.

“[I like] the way he uses the process of elimination and his algebraic expressions,” freshman Riley Allstatt said. “And he makes jokes while doing them. That’s pretty funny.”

The mark of a truly excellent teacher is being able to create an entertaining class while still actually teaching, which Lustig has perfected over his lengthy teaching career.

“I was expecting a normal math class. Not one as exciting as it is now,” freshman Sam Morris included.

At the opening school assembly, Lustig was showered with cheers and applause from the moment he was introduced. After each sentence spoken about him, the entire gym practically exploded.

“I thought the students’ reaction was hilarious,” said Lustig. “I was definitely taken aback. I had no idea why they were doing that.”

The clear answer is that the school truly enjoys having him here. The feeling appears to be mutual as Lustig has enjoyed his time at Roncalli.

Lustig said that the school is full of “respectful and friendly students,” and that “the staff has been really welcoming”.

This is a great sign, since Roncalli prides itself on being a great environment for students and teachers alike.

Unfortunately, Lustig will leave Roncalli at the end of the semester, and will immediately fill in another temporary position at Guerin Catholic.

A math teacher at Guerin is undergoing surgery soon, and the school needed someone to teach for January and February. With the teacher shortage in Indiana, similar to Roncalli, Guerin was experiencing trouble finding someone qualified to help, but Lustig came to the rescue once again.

He originally hoped to retire again after leaving Roncalli, planning to hike, play tennis, and spend more quality time with his giant family, but duty called him back to the classroom once again.

Leaving will be tough for both Lustig and the school.

“I’m going to miss Roncalli. I had a great time here; the people are fantastic,” said Lustig. “There are a lot of students I’m gonna miss.”

Roncalli will certainly miss him as well, and the school can only hope that his replacement can live up the footprint Lustig has left here.