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PAMS’ Alan Major: 35 years seems like he started yesterday

May 22, 2012

Larry McGuire/The Punxsutawney Spirit Students in Alan Major’s (back, center) fourth grade class congratulate him on being named the middle school “Teacher of the Year” Tuesday at Punxsutawney Area Middle School. Also on hand Tuesday were (back, far left) PAMS Principal Richard Britten; (far right) Spirit editor Tom Chapin and Spirit advertising representative Bridey Shawgo. (Photo by Larry McGuire/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — One would think that after 35 years in the same job, a person wouldn’t be surprised by anything. But ask Alan Major, who was chosen as The Spirit’s middle school “Teacher of the Year” Tuesday, and he’ll say that’s not the case.

Major, who has taught in the district for 35 years, has previously won The Spirit award, as well as Wal-Mart’s “Teacher of the Year” contest several years ago.

Major teaches fourth-grade standard math, mixed science and social studies.

At the time the The Spirit staff arrived Tuesday, Major was preparing to hold a dodgeball science review, girls against the boys, via what he calls active engagement, in which students end up doing more than they would if taught in a traditional manner.

“I’ve always been that kind of a teacher, trying to make it fun, interesting and relevant,” he said.

Major said he often wonders if all the time he puts into a lesson is worth it.

“Sometimes, you don’t think that you have an impact, as I don’t see the results immediately, but most of the time, it shows up later,” he said.
After this year’s Christmas break, Major submitted a letter for the purpose of retirement, which the school board approved. He said he submitted it early so he could think about his decision — which he did.
“The more I thought about it, I began to change my mind,” he said. “I have fantastic kids this year. I never hear them say ‘I can’t.”

He said no matter how high he set the bar, his students jump over it.
“If I retired, I wouldn’t have the privilege of knowing the next group of wonderful students for next year,” he said.

Ultimately, Major submitted a second letter, rescinding his his retirement request.

Besides math, science and social studies, he also taught language arts at Jenks Hill, Longview and third-grade at the former Mary A. Wilson Elementary School.

He said he’s been able to keep it fun and interesting for the students by coming back to school in the evening to prepare the lessons the way he felt it should be presented.

“I work on different activities, and I try to vary them from year to year,” Major said. “I also have to keep teaching the class interesting for me.”

Major said he gets bored very easily, so he assumed the kids do, too.
“I want to keep it lively and keep them guessing as to what we’re going to be doing next,” he said. “We work hard, and we play hard.”

A Punxsutawney native, Major attended elementary school at SS.C.D. until eighth grade, and then he spent one year at the former junior high school on North Jefferson Street.

“I don’t remember much from that one year at the junior high, because I was so traumatized from leaving my small Catholic school environment to the large mix of kids at the junior high,” he said. “I would have stayed until the 12th grade, but the high school portion was closed.

He said he graduated from Punxsutawney Area High School in 1972 and attended IUP for his undergraduate work.

He also earned a master’s degree in math from Clarion University.

“I was asked by a student why I was chosen for ‘Teacher of the Year,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know,” Major said. “Then she told me, ‘It’s because you make learning fun and interesting.’”

Major wanted to thank all of the students who filled out a ballot for him.

“I want to thank that rare breed of parents who supports their kids,” he said. “I hope they realize how lucky they are to be parents of the wonderful kids that I see every day. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. It doesn’t seem like 35 years to me. It seems like yesterday that I started.”

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