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From Drug Busts to Derivatives: Math Teacher With A History


Illustration by Regan Dunnick

Steven Kryger W’86 is one math teacher who has little trouble arresting students’ attention. Before he writes a single theorem on the blackboard, they notice his booming voice and 6 feet, 2-inch, 210-pound frame. By the time students learn of his former career as a narcotics cop, they are enthralled. “It doesn’t take long before they are clamoring for more stories.
    “Part of what helps me be effective,” he says, “is they see me as more than a teacher. I’ve had other experiences, and I’m willing to share them with the kids.” Kryger’s police work abruptly ended eight years ago when a bullet ripped into his leg during a drug bust.
    The son of a New York fireman, Kryger took his first job after graduation in a buyer- and management-training program at Macy’s. Finding it “kind of unrewarding,” and frustrated by the crimes he kept reading about in the newspaper, Kryger decided to join the Oakland, California, police department. He worked as a patrol officer and a training officer before graduating to narcotics work, which he describes as “the most fun you could have with your clothes on.”
    “It was going out and trying to solve a crime, getting to know people on your beat and trying to get them to trust you. You’d arrest a guy you knew would have a small amount of drugs and he would trade you information on a murder that just happened.” Kryger also liked to spend some time each day talking to young people in the neighborhoods where he worked, letting them sit in his car and see another side of him as a cop.
    One night he was paged by a “snitch,” who informed him and his partner that he had just walked out of a house where a guy on parole from San Quentin was selling crack while keeping his grandmother and nine-year-old nephew locked in the bedroom. Authorized to conduct a parole search, they sent an undercover officer up to the door to buy drugs.
    “Unfortunately, someone came around from the back of the house and we had to grab him. In the process, the guy spotted us and slammed the door.”
    When he wouldn’t respond to their knock, they broke the door down. “As soon as I took a step,” Kryger recalls, “my leg gave out. I literally had to carry my leg into the house.” At first he thought the battering ram used by another officer had hit him. His next reaction, when he looked down and saw the blood, was embarrassment. “To be honest I thought I had shot myself. My first thought was ’How do I get out of here without anybody knowing?’ Then I could feel the blood come out and I knew it was more serious.” (It turns out the drug dealer had shot him through the upstairs window frame just before the ram hit the door.)
    After nabbing the dealer, the squad members laid Kryger on the floor (where he proceeded to count all of his bullets) and cut a hole in the top of his pants. “With every beat of my heart, blood would squirt out like a little geyser. I knew that my artery was hit.”
    “I pretty much figured I was done,” said Kryger, who had married three months earlier. “I’ve seen enough people get hit in the femoral artery and bleed [to death]. It doesn’t take more than five minutes.”
    The men in his squad tended to his wound, using a belt for a tourniquet, until the ambulance arrived. “As I was getting faint, the guys were trying to tell jokes to keep my mind off things. It was a fight to try to stay alive, and then about 10 minutes later, the ambulance got there. They were phenomenal.”
    Kryger was eager to return to work. But the bullet had caused extensive nerve and muscle damage in his leg. “Finally, my personal doctor told me, ’It’s not about you anymore. It’s about your partners.’” How would Kryger feel if his partner got “his ass kicked” because his leg gave out while they were chasing a bad guy? Though the department offered him a desk job, Kryger turned it down. “That’s not why I joined the force.”
    Recalling the most important role models of his youth, Kryger says, “The one other thing I wanted to do was to be a high-school coach and teach high-school math. I was fortunate to find that’s an occupation that’s in demand.” He returned to school to get his credentials and began a new career in teaching, which he has found fulfilling in a different way. “At the end of every day some conversation you’ve had with a student lets you know you’ve made a difference, whether it be on a personal level or an academic level.”
    Kryger started a new job this summer at San Mateo High School, where he is athletic director, math teacher, and the girls’ basketball coach. E-mails of praise poured in from students and parents at his old school before he left. There is no comparison to the adrenaline rush of being a cop in an urban area, Kryger says, “but being a teacher is a much more positive way to accomplish a lot of the same things.

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Copyright 2001 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 8/24/01