By any account, 38 years is a long time. However, if you are doing something you love, it's really only the blink of an eye. Michael Abdalla taught math and physics at Penn State Worthington Scranton for 38 years. But he did so much more than that.
For over 17 years, Mr. Abdalla served as varsity men's basketball coach. He started men's basketball in 1967 and seemed to have brought a kindly yet clear coaching style into the many classrooms he graced at Penn State Worthington Scranton. He was one of the key faculty in the engineering technology program there until it closed. Then he taught baccalaureate electrical engineering and occasionally technical physics. But mostly he taught math and electronics.
To those among us fraught with "math angst," the prospect of a teacher who, students recall, taught with "clear explanation, reasonable expectation and a caring supportive attitude" would have been a god send. And so he seemed to be. In his second year at Penn State Worthington Scranton, the dean rated him "the best instructor at this campus." This, by way of noting that Mike had received the second highest student rating received by 35 new instructors that year.
In 1999, Abdalla was awarded the Campus Advisory Board's Excellence in Teaching Award. This marked his 32nd year at Penn State.
Students remembered him in various ways throughout the years. Early on, 1968-69, one student observed, "the instructor had excellent student-teacher relations both in and out of the class. The presentation always stimulated thinking. He encouraged student participation. His classes were not a one-sided "teacher talks only" affair, but rather a give-and-take, question and answer presentation between instructor and students." Another student, 30 years later, 1998-99, observed, "He makes you want to be prepared for class. He makes you think by putting you on the spot, but when you can't do a problem he works you through it. His goal is to make sure that students learn, not just to cover a certain amount of content, and yet he gets everything done." Remarkably similar observations 30 years apart; that's consistency.
Students recall his circulating the room checking work. Giving encouraging pats on the shoulder punctuated by a "you can do it" or "good job."
A fellow instructor called him, "an outstanding example of teaching as a vocation, not a job. Deeply religious," she added, "he lives his religion by example. His vocation is not just to teach math or engineering but to bring a touch of God into the lives of everyone he encounters." The instructor concluded with, "Mike would never verbalize this, he doesn't need to. His demeanor and behavior say it for him."
In 1999, summarizing his place in Penn State life, he said that he believes God blessed him with a great job he enjoys and with "the gift of caring for each student as a person."
Today, Mike Abdalla continues teaching and remains active. He visits prison twice each month. He teaches eighth grade CCD at his church. He and his wife Catherine still live in Moosic where they raised five children and are grandparent to an ever-growing brood.
Months after his formal retirement Mike Abdalla was asked what advise he would give teachers today. "Love your students and love God," he said without hesitation. "The rest is simple."