Gus Peterson: From Businessman to Social Studies Teacher

Get to know one of Branford's leading educators, Gustaf H. Peterson, Jr., who will be inducted to the Branford Education Hall of Fame this year.

In late January, the community spoke and seven worthy individuals were selected to be inducted to the 2012 Branford Education Hall of Fame. The induction dinner will be held at Woodwinds Restaurant in Branford on Thursday, April 26, at 7 p.m.; event details to come. 

Starting this week, we'll be introducing you to the inductees. If an educator featured has touched your life, please don't hesitate to let the community know it the comments! 

In addition to honoring inductees through this column in the coming weeks, Patch would like to recognize those being inducted posthumously: Zenia Smolenski, teacher and principal at the former Harbor Street School; Nancy Knowlton, education activist; and Edward Hippolitus, Branford High School teacher and Career Education Coordinator.

Meet Gustaf H. Peterson

Gustaf H. Peterson, Jr. is an eighth-grade social studies teacher and department leader at Francis Walsh Intermediate School. He first came to WIS as an intern and later as a student-teacher.

Peterson confesses that when he moved is young family to Branford in 1999, he didn't yet have a job in the local school system – it just worked out that way. 

Though he's revered now as a great educator by his peers, students and the community, Peterson didn't start in the field. He graduated from Tufts University with a degree in Economics in 1980 and worked in sales in the wood pulp, paper and recycled paper industry until 1997.  Deciding to change career paths the same year he left the paper industry, Peterson enrolled in Quinnipiac University where he earned his master's degree in teaching. 

Get to know "Gus" and why he's one of Branford's top educators of 2012:

Branford Patch: Who was the most influential educator in your life and tell readers one anecdote about him or her?
Gustaf H. Peterson: The most influential educator in my life would be Judith DeCaprio.  I did my student teaching in her 8th grade classroom here at WIS.  Other than my family, Judy DeCaprio is one of the most influential people in my adult life because she modeled how to be an excellent teacher every day.  I had the opportunity to spend ten weeks with someone who loved the job, got on the same level as the students, and was never afraid to keep raising the bar of academic expectations higher and higher.

Branford Patch: In your opinion, what has been a challenge about educating others?
Gustaf H. Peterson: 
The biggest challenge for me in terms of educating others is that students learn differently today than when I started teaching.  You have to keep adapting to their changing learning styles or else you will become stagnant and irrelevant.  You don't want to do that in 8th grade!

Branford Patch: Do you consider yourself a natural educator or is it something you trained yourself to do?
Gustaf H. Peterson: I actually think that I am a natural educator.  It's what I always wanted to do.  I just got sidetracked in business for 17 years.  But I actually believe that my background has been an asset to me as a teacher.

Branford Patch: What’s your favorite childhood book?
Gustaf H. Peterson: 
Favorite childhood book?  It's pretty tough to out do "Goodnight Moon" but "Little Bear" is up there too.

Branford Patch: Name one thing you like best about Branford’s education system?
Gustaf H. Peterson:
Rather than isolating one thing that I like about Branford's education system I think that I would prefer to tell you that my wife and I and our three children moved here in 1999 because my oldest was about to enter 5th grade and I wanted her to go to school here because it was and is still an amazing school.  We made this move BEFORE I was hired. 

Mary Grande February 16, 2012 at 12:46 PM
"The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind". ~Khalil Gibran My daughter Jenna was lucky enough not only to have Gus once but twice when she was in the middle school and to this day his influence on her love of learning continues. Congratulations Gus on your induction into the Branford Education Hall of Fame! You have inspired so many!
Linda Birbarie February 16, 2012 at 02:17 PM
My son Austin, (not a fan of school), gravitated toward Gus right away. Not only is he an effective educator, but he realizes that not all students learn the same way. None the less, within the restraints of the classroom he manages to find ways of connecting with each student with his funny stories and genuine concern for them as indiviuals. Definately a standout teacher who the kids remember always. Thank you for taking teaching to the next level, you inspire someone everyday.
Sandy Fillion February 16, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Congratulations Gus!You are so deserving of this award. I am grateful that you had my son Max in 8th grade.Through your unique teaching style, you infused him with a thirst for history and teaching. I pray that you will have Christian in 3 years. Warm regards- Sandy Fillion
Lucas Johnston February 16, 2012 at 10:58 PM
I had Gus 2 years ago, and he's really had an impact on me. I used to mess around all the time, never caring much about education. However, Mr. Peterson really made me think about things, and he really influenced me to do better. Not only that, but he didn't do so in a harsh, strict way. Him and I remain on a first name basis to this day, and I still think back often about the time I had with him as a teacher, as well as a friend. - Luke Johnston
Patty MacNeil February 17, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Congratulations, Gus! We feel so fortunate that two of our children have had you for a teacher. Your teaching style adds humot to their day , while cultivating independent thinkers and preparing them for the high school. You also get many of your students interested in the BHS Model Congress experience, as you are an important part of this club as well. We hope our last child is lucky enough to have you in four years...you better still be teaching at WIS!! With Special Thanks, The MacNeil Family
Tina O'Neill February 17, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Congratulations Gus. You had a positive influence on Matt and Kevin and I are appreciative of your continued commitment to BHS MC. 100s of students have benefited from your involvement chaperoning these trips. Thanks you!
Jenna Grande February 17, 2012 at 09:14 PM
I feel lucky enough to have had Mr. Peterson as a teacher in seventh and eighth grade. His lectures were never boring, and always had our class smiling and laughing. To this day, he remains one the most influential teachers I had in my Branford school system career. Congrats on all your success Mr. Peterson! I cannot think of a more deserving teacher than you!
Jade Giuggio February 17, 2012 at 11:57 PM
I was lucky enough to have Mr. P for 7th and 8th grade, about 12 years ago. He is, to this day, one of my favorite teachers. His love for teaching and patience with us really provided a class to look forward to, and trust me I was never a Social Studies lover. But he had a way of making class fun! Congrats Mr. P!
Rachel Porter February 17, 2012 at 11:57 PM
In every essay I wrote throughout college, or on my job applications to be a teacher, I've been asked who I consider an inspiration to me and why. I include all 5 of my 7th/8th grade teachers...Mr. Peterson was one of them. He helped make my last two years at WIS the two best years of schooling I've ever had. To this day I talk to people about the article summaries we had to write, or the fact that he made me not dislike history and geography. Whether he was teaching me or making fun of me because I am a Red Sox fan, I enjoyed every day that I went into his classroom. This is the perfect honor for a perfect person. Way to go Mr. Peterson!
Eric Nemarich February 18, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Mr. P tolerated me for not one but two consecutive years. That's a feat in itself. Somehow he also managed to be the best teacher I've ever had. I commend you, sir!
Charles Ahern February 18, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Gus Peterson is the kind of teacher that every student wants. His classes are never boring and always have a fun, happy atmosphere to them. More importantly, however, you actually learned through him. Many teachers could be the cool, fun teacher, but not teach you anything because all they want is to be liked. Others can be super strict and mean, but you learn a ton of information. Mr. P is a teacher that combine these two aspects to become the best educator that I have ever had. As I am sure my fellow classmates would agree, Mr. Peterson tought us in a way that changed the way we look at school. Before Mr. Peterson's class, I hated history. Now, because of one year with him, the only path I can see myself taking and enjoying is that of a history major in college. Personally, I have maintained a friendship with Mr. Peterson through BHS Model Congress and also outside of school events. Mr. P is the go to guy for help academically or even to share a good laugh. Mr. P is just one of those people who is there to help, and will never think twice about it. He is also very good at trivia, probably owing to his habitual nightly viewing of Jeopardy. And so, I will end my rant with a quote, "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." Thank you, Mr. Peterson, for being a "great" teacher.
Sibte Zaidi February 18, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Mr. Peterson was the Best Teacher i ever had. I'm glad he is going into the Branford Education Hall of Fame.
Dalton Erickson February 19, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Great Teacher! I have had wonderful experiences with Gus!
Aaron Radulski March 03, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Mr. Peterson has been a very influential person in my life. He encouraged me to work harder and apply myself more than anybody ever has. I was always very compelled in his class to do my best and try to be the best. Because of him, I found a love for history and politics that I will probably maintain my entire life. Not only was he good at getting his students to work, but he guided them through the material like no other teacher I've had. But being an educator isn't Gus's only role in my life. He's also a role model and a good friend to me. A few months ago, two other students and I went to visit him and stayed for an hour and a half chatting, and I never found myself bored. Mr. Peterson was a great educator and mentor to all of his students, and he definitely deserves this. Congratulations!


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