Alan Shinn has been a math teacher for 50 years at Uniontown High School, getting to his math room by 6 or 7 a.m. daily to prepare for class and be available for students with math questions.
As of May 17, he is retiring.
His long tenure began with an interest in math as a youth.
As a freshman at Iola High School, Shinn was challenged by his algebra teacher, Mr. Jewell.
“He would answer every question with a question,” Shinn said. “I know that frustrated fellow students. But it made me attempt to do the problem. I decided my freshman year I wanted to be a math teacher.”
Shinn attended Allen County Community College, then Kansas State Teachers College at Emporia, getting a degree in mathematics.
He was the first person in his family to attend college.
Shinn started his first year of teaching math at Uniontown High School in 1969, with a $19,000 contract.
He found out about the UHS math vacancy from his uncle Don Nichols, who was the math teacher at the school for seven years.
His first year of teaching was a learning curve.
“The first year, my wife and I would go to Kansas City (to visit Don Nichols) a half-dozen times to get advice and answer questions I had about teaching,” Shinn said.
“I owe a lot to those two gentlemen: my freshman teacher and my uncle,” he said.
There was another motivation.
“My Dad worked at the cement plant,” Shinn said. “I got to work there for two summers. It was hot and dirty and I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.”
During his first year of teaching at UHS, Shinn was offered a scholarship from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Pittsburg State University to get his masters degree in math.
At that time in history, science and mathematics were being strongly encouraged in the U. S. education system due to the space technology challenge from the Russians.
“They (NFS) paid for the master’s degree,” Shinn said.
“I think they need to do that again,” he said. “There is a shortage of math teachers.”
In his 50 years of teaching at UHS Shinn has coached math students into more than one hundred first-place victories in competitions with from three to 30 schools. Additionally, he has coached students to 46 second-place school awards and 24 third-place overall school achievements.
“I have had more than 20 students who are now math teachers,” Shinn said. “Two more are going to college right now to become math teachers.”
Additionally, a current UHS senior and sophomore have a desire to become math teachers, he said.
“I have always been known for giving lots of homework,” Shinn said. “I don’t think you can learn math and do one-half dozen problems per night.”
The best part of teaching for Shinn is doing the best he can to get his students to “be able to go to college (math) and get through it.”
“I hope that I have made a difference,” he said.