Forty-four years in teaching will soon come to an end for a well-known Tyrone Area School District teacher — closing one chapter of his story.
“Teaching was not my career choice at first, until I had the opportunity to help with a great summer program here in Tyrone, started by Sue O’Brien and director Mary Beth (Gillam) Banks that provided recreation for special needs children,” explained Steve Stoner, sixth grade teacher.
“A young boy in that program had multiple handicaps, including being blind. How he dealt with life and what many would consider to be overpowering handicaps, inspired me to want to learn as much as I could about blindness and help in some way. That is why I pursued a special education degree in visual impairment.”
Stoner earned a dual major in special education and elementary education from Kutztown University and a master of education in curriculum and supervision from the University of Pittsburgh. Throughout his teaching career, Stoner worked with students from second grade to 12th grade.
“My first job was at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children where I worked with high school students who were having difficulty with academics and social skills and also served as a program supervisor,” he explained. “I returned to central Pennsylvania and worked as a gifted and learning support teacher in Altoona School District, then at Grier School developing and implementing a study skills program, and finally settling back home with a sixth grade position at Warriors Mark Elementary School.”
After the closing of Warriors Mark Elementary School, Stoner transferred to teaching sixth grade at Lincoln School in Tyrone, then to the district’s middle school upon the closure of Lincoln, Adams, and Logan schools.
During his career, Stoner has earned recognitions including: POPS Outstanding Employee; the St. Francis Outstanding Educator Award (as nominated by former superintendent Dr. William Miller); the PSU Walter J. DeLacy Award for Excellence in Instruction; and the Shippensburg University School Study Council’s Outstanding Teacher Award.
Despite such accomplishments, Stoner noted that “in education, your accomplishments are reflected in how you enriched a student’s life in both academic growth and personal development.
“Although we can chart academic growth at the end of a year, it’s the influence you had on the whole person that student eventually becomes may never be known. That doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying with every new group of young people. For me, the greatest accomplishment is keeping that responsibility at the forefront of my teaching and trying to be a better teacher each and every year.”
He has most enjoyed spending time with young people, and witnessing their excitement and willingness to challenge themselves.
“That is also what I will miss the most. Those great moments when all of us in the room are caught up in what we are learning and just having a great time,” he said. “The chance to talk with other adults who enjoy this profession will also be a void.”
Among the most memorable times are activities the students and Stoner were able to share and do together, year after year. He recalled: “reading my favorite novel, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and producing a play; holding the Medieval Fair after reading Robin Hood; filming historical docudramas; training mice to run mazes and determining a mealworm’s preferred environment; running a school store; creating spirit signs for teams and cards for the school staff; visiting museums and historical places; Edgar Allan Poe parties; breathing life into our Constitution and events in American history; celebrating everyone’s birthday, and so much more.”
Looking back through those 44 years, Stoner said education has seen a lot of changes, but the biggest has been the use of technology. That, to him, has been a positive as well as a negative.
“While technology has so much to offer all of us, it cannot replace the impact face-to-face and personal interactions have on a young person,” he said. “Responding to a computer cannot compare with just sitting and talking together and learning from one another.”
Through those changes, Stoner attributes his success to many people around him.
“Just as on any team, being a successful teacher is dependent on the knowledge and support you receive from the educators around you,” he said. “I have been very fortunate to have worked for and with some amazing teachers and administrators over the last 44 years — so many that I really can’t name them all.
“May they each see the major role they played in helping to shape me into a teacher who really loves this profession and know I am very grateful. Also, a special thank you to Dr. Miller for giving me the chance to work in my home district.”
His greatest influences were his parents, Ren and Pat Stoner of Tyrone. “Growing up in a family-run restaurant and seeing my parents be involved in community activities fostered a work ethic within me that has been a part of my entire life,” he commented.
With his retirement official on June 3, Stoner does not have specific plans for the immediate future. He said it will be a benefit to determine how he spends his time, and having the time to pursue interests like gardening, traveling, and historical research.
“My only bucket list item is to visit each Major League baseball park with my wife and son,” he shared. “I also will stay involved with youth through programs at my church.”
He hopes the next teacher stepping into the role will find “the same excitement, sense of accomplishment, and just plain fun that I have been fortunate to enjoy.”