A familiar face

From Jones Commercial to Jones College Prep to substitute


Michael Brandt '17

Grafner lectures about the fourteenth amendment.

During a time when the majority of us students were nowhere near being born yet, Peter Grafner was walking through the doors of Jones Commercial eager to teach. Grafner is a former full time social science teacher and current part time substitute teacher. Primarily having taught both American History, and AP U.S Government, but also having some experience teaching world studies, sociology, psychology, economics.

“My strong interest in history is what brought me to the profession of teaching,” said Grafner.

Having taught a combined 32 years both in public and Catholic schools, and 27 years full time at Jones, Grafner is anything but a rookie. In 1980, Grafner spent 10 weeks practically working every day as a substitute teacher at Clemente High School, on Chicago’s southside. But one day was filled with disappointment when there was no longer a need for a substitute teacher, for a previously absent teacher had returned. However, the next day he was requested to fill in for an ill teacher at Jones Commercial, and here Grafner’s life changed forever. Teachers at Jones were quick to spot Grafner’s true knowledge and natural ability to teach and wasted no time in recommending him to the assistant principal at the time. This was the same knowledge that stands out to students today, several decades later.

“The man is just so wise and knowledgeable, it seems as everything he has known his entire life is brought to life, in his style of teaching,” said Kenton Kiser ‘18.

In 1998, when Jones was undergoing its transition from a two year “commercial” high school to a four year magnet high school, the school went through drastic changes. All current staff members needed to interview to maintain their jobs. Some teachers lost their jobs and were replaced by new educators like Frank Fitzpatrick, current social science teacher. In an awkward time of change and chaos, Fitzpatrick was astonished by Grafner’s very professional behavior.

“With Mr. Grafner there was no animosity, he was very friendly and willing to help the new people like myself coming in,” said FItzpatrick.

This sense of admiration and appreciation of Grafner’s style of teaching was not only felt by current students like Kiser but also from Grafner’s long time colleagues.

“He really did bring his own style and knowledge into the classroom,” said Fitzpatrick, “I used to hear lots of students praise Grafner for opening up about his own personal experiences to tie into the lesson.”

After over two decades of teaching at Jones, Grafner came to the realization that it was time for his retirement. Not because he lost his passion for the profession but because he wanted to have time to do the things he adored but did not have time to do while working full time. Therefore retirement was not time for him to slow down his pace, instead he looked to speed up during retirement.

“I planned to not only substitute teach, but also do more reading then I had in the past, volunteer time at the USO and more traveling,” said Grafner.

Adopting a new role in any circumstances is not always easy. And for an experienced, veteran teacher like Grafner, adapting to the ways of a substitute teacher would not be easy.


“Jones is getting much larger and by being a substitute I don’t get to see students on a regular basis, so I feel as if I might not have the same impact on students,” said Grafner. “It’s still rewarding but it’s not nearly the same as being a full time teacher.”

However Grafner does realize that although not a full time teacher, his presence at Jones is still felt and enjoyed.

“As I said in my farewell speech to the faculty, it’s like I am now playing the role of the grandfather, I interact with the students for a short period of time maybe one or a few days in a row, then I give them back to their parents, the regular teacher,” said Grafner.

This idea of only interacting with students for short periods of times, is a role that is understood by all substitute teachers. However some students do not view Grafner as a typical “sub.”

“Some substitutes let us do whatever, others give up and become really mean or grumpy, but he [Grafner] is always respectful and ready to help,” said Kiser.

Others argue that even if you do not know Grafner well, it is easy to spot his love for teaching.

“Grafner isn’t one to read off lesson plans, and check emails for the rest of class. He’s interested in what we are doing and asks if there is any way he can help us,” said Isaiah Velazquez ‘18.

There is no set time frame for how long Grafner will continue to substitute teach here at Jones. But until that day comes where he know longer wants to spend time inside the classroom, it is publically known that his presence is enjoyed by his peers.

“I’ve been in the department the longest now here at Jones, and the majority of my colleagues that I worked with in 1998 have retired, so it’s always nice to see a familiar face and to be able to maintain our friendship,” said Fitzpatrick.