German native spent career inspiring students at Dunbar, Paschal

Posted Friday, Nov. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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An inspiring, committed teacher with an unflagging and often irreverent sense of humor, Peter Glaser immigrated from Germany 29 years ago to teach language and literature to Americans in Fort Worth public schools.

“He always respected his students, and I think many of us found that respect stayed with us even after we left high school,” said Jesse Bicknell, Dunbar High School Class of 1996. “And for me, he had been a turning point for how I looked at the world.”

Mr. Glaser died Sunday of pancreatic cancer. He was 60.

Mr. Glaser was born in Stuttgart on Oct. 9, 1953, where his family ran a service station. The sounds of British rock groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones playing on Armed Forces Network radio ignited a passion for English, said his wife, Sherri Logan Glaser, who met him when he spent a year as an exchange student at the University of Texas at Austin.

After they married in Fort Worth in 1980, the couple settled here in 1984 after a few years in Germany.

With a degree in English and physical education from the University of Heidelberg, Mr. Glaser first took a job in the Dunbar magnet program teaching Latin and German, and he also coached the soccer team. The school didn’t have a girls team, so he encouraged girls to scrimmage with the boys team, apologizing for district rules that forbade them from playing co-ed in games.

He played the game himself until breaking his leg as a goalie, but he kept up with German football — and crime shows — via satellite TV.

Mr. Glaser was transferred to Paschal about 10 years ago.

Best-known for English classes that often doubled as Philosophy 101, he brought an unusual perspective to the classroom as an immigrant and non-native speaker. He made students from diverse backgrounds comfortable, inspiring them long after they left school.

“Dunbar wouldn’t have been Dunbar without you,” Margaret Kellner, Class of 2000, wrote on the guest book set up by Mr. Glaser’s daughters. “Your tireless dedication to language and literature in a school focused heavily on the sciences was truly wonderful. I remember my classes with you from 15 years ago vividly.”

He was a relentless crafter of puns, and one year students tallied them on a classroom chalkboard.

“We called him ‘Peter Pun,’” said Gary Hicks, a computer science teacher who taught with Mr. Glaser first at Dunbar and later at Paschal.

In interviews and online postings, former students recalled how Mr. Glaser instilled a love for literature, triggered an awareness of the greater world or inspired them to become teachers themselves.

“Mr. Glaser was the first teacher who gave me the interest in reading and writing,” said Bicknell, adding that he became a public school teacher in large part to Mr. Glaser. “With his jokes and cheesy puns, he made the classroom fun.

“He sat in front of the class on a stool, and he never seemed to be mailing it in. He came to work and gave us the real Peter Glaser, not some canned invention. You could tell that who he was in the classroom or on the soccer field was the same guy he was when he walked out of the door. If he got mad, he’d yell. And if he thought something was funny, he’d laugh.”

But teaching, Bicknell said in a call from Worcester, Mass., is a tougher job than his mentor made it seem.

“I am hoping that the student I don’t think I’m reaching will have the same thoughts that we have of Mr. Glaser,” he said.

Mr. Glaser frequently skipped lunch to tutor students, and held free PSAT prep classes on Saturday mornings at his home, where he and his family also hosted an annual Christmas party for Dunbar alumni.

A former Paschal teacher, Peter Canning, recalled waking at 2 a.m. during a camping trip to find Mr. Glaser using the light from his Petzl headlamp and a campfire to grade papers.

A committed environmentalist, Mr. Glaser irrigated the back yard of his east Fort Worth home with collected rainwater and purchased “53 MPG” vanity plates for his Prius, even designing a faux-inspirational poster, which read: “Subtlety: When you really want to rub it in for the Hummer behind you.”

Mr. Glaser rarely took a sick day except, his family recalled, when he had a mountain of papers to grade. Once, a sudden wind blew a stack of papers onto a citronella candle on his back porch, setting several ablaze.

“I burned your essays,” he told his students ruefully, explaining why some of them were getting the highest marks they had ever received.

Mr. Glaser also volunteered at Rahr & Sons Brewing Co, where the lagers reminded him of the brews he enjoyed in his native Stuttgart.

After he retired from Paschal in 2011, he devoted time to his dog, Sam, and also continued tutoring students for the SAT at St. Ignatius of Loyola College Preparatory School, an independent Catholic school in far east Fort Worth.

In addition to his wife, survivors include two daughters, Melissa Shahbaz of Fort Worth and Claudia Spiegel of Farmers Branch; a granddaughter, Logan Spiegel; and his mother, Ilse Haefele Glaser of Winterbach, Germany. 

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718

Twitter: @bshlachter

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