Donna Massin retires after 25 years educating Wrangell's students

With a quiet demeanor and a head for mathematics and physics, one teacher has helped Wrangell's students understand all those calculations for a quarter of a century.

After 25 years, teacher Donna Massin has decided X plus Y equals retirement. Last Thursday, she dismissed class for the last time at Wrangell High School and began a new chapter in life.

Born in Mount Edgecumbe, she has lived in Anchorage, Ketchikan, Seward and Gulf Port, Mississippi. "I kind of bounced around," she said.

Massin's father, Charles Fortenberry, was a military man from Mississippi, which is how she came to live in the South for about a year. Then she returned to Alaska to live with her mother. She moved to Wrangell when she was 10, eventually graduating high school here in 1988.

Being a teacher was always at the back of her mind, but not necessarily what she was thinking of as a career.

"It's something I've always thought about when growing up," she said. "I remember even in college ... I did a research paper and came back and interviewed Mr. (Butch) Schmidt, who was my physics teacher."

When she graduated from Southern Oregon State College (now University), she returned to Wrangell for a time and had her first child.

"I got a job working as an aide in the school," she said. "I did that for a while and realized I actually enjoyed working with the kids. After I did that, I decided to get my teaching degree."

A distance-learning program allowed her to complete her certification in two years since she already had her bachelor's degree in physics with a minor in math.

Massin began her career in education teaching third grade at Evergreen Elementary School. She was there about 15 years before she left for the high school, continuing her career for the next 10 years. In that time, she's been able to teach some kids twice.

"I think they're mostly graduated, but up through last year, the last few years, a lot of those kids I had in elementary school," she said. "A lot of the students I taught have elementary school-age students now."

Some of the most rewarding moments for Massin have been when students see a return on their efforts and are rewarded for working a little harder. "It's such a great feeling to see someone realize that effort really does count," she said.

She's enjoyed the "lightbulb" moments when a child understands something and can connect earlier lessons to later lessons. Mostly, she's enjoyed being able to help students who are motivated to achieve their potential.

"When kids are motivated to do well and I can help them do that, that's really rewarding," she said. "Even if they're not doing really well, just being able to help them ... that always makes me smile."

But the years have not come without challenges, Massin admitted, most of which have been due to budgetary issues.

"With the staff we keep losing at the high school, we keep having to smush things together, whereas when I first started teaching at the high school, I taught two separate geometry classes, two separate algebra classes and a few other classes," she said. "Whereas now, it's all different classes all day long and even a few classes mixed like my pre-calculus and my calculus class are the same period."

It's been hard to prepare for multiple classes and still do a good job, she said. "I feel like the hard part is spending the time prepping that would be better spent with students."

Part of the reason classes are combined is to have more than just two or three students to a class, which Massin said she understands.

Her co-workers will miss collaborating and sharing their successes among other things.

"I will miss running over to her classroom, though our connected storage room, and sharing the excitement of successful science labs with her," said science teacher Heather Howe. "She shared my enthusiasm for the small things in life."

Howe described Massin as "sweet, kind, unassuming," and with an excellent sense of humor. But there is one other trait Howe appreciated in her colleague. "I can always count on Donna to have chocolate hidden in her desk drawers when I am in need of a little sweet pick-me-up."

Though she is still figuring out what she plans to do in the next phase of life, including travel, Massin explained why she chose to retire now.

"Besides being tired?" she joked. "It's just that point. It's 25 years where I can retire, I can pull my retirement, get health insurance and ... I'm just ready to do something else."


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