Originally published Sept. 19, 2018 in the Frontiersman.
By Jacob Mann
Susan Allen has only taught at Wasilla High School. That’s where she plans to end her tenure, perhaps in six years but she’s isn’t sure yet. On Monday, the Wasilla Sunrise Rotary presented Allen with their annual Rotary Teacher of the Year Award for her countless hours invested in the classroom and on the field.
“It’s just remarkable what she’s done for this school over the years,” Susitna Sunrise Rotary Past President Dan Kennedy said. “It’s wonderful.”
After 20 years of coaching various sports and teaching physical education and health, Allen shows no signs of slowing down.
“These kids do more for me than I’ll ever do for them,” Allen said.
As Allen stood on the school’s football field Monday afternoon, about 15 to 20 kids ran on the track that circles the field. One student kept slowing down and rubbing his hamstring. Allen shouted across the field, “stop and stretch.” Allen joked around with the student as he pulled in to take a quick break. He smiled holding the end post, stretching his legs.
“The kids always made it easy to come back,” Allen said.
Six years ago, Allen lost her father and her husband around the same time. She credited her students and their emotional “instincts” for her quick return to school. She said that in her experience, the kids in all her classes seem to know when to: give her a hug, give her space, sit by her desk, talk, or simply listen.
“I’m not sure how I would have gotten through it,” Allen said.
Allen moved to the Valley in 1994, after she was laid off from BP, where she was a health and fitness director. She said she wanted to get out of Anchorage anyway and it, “seemed like a good time to get back into teaching.”
Allen was a substitute teacher across the district for fours until she got her foot in the door at WHS. She said that the principal at the time was helping her find a teaching position. Once a spot in the special education department opened up, he called her up and she began her career at WHS. Eventually, the physical education position opened up and, “the rest is history.”
“There’s nothing more appropriate to every kid than health and fitness. It’s for life,” Allen said.
She finished college almost 30 years ago with a Bachelor’s degree in physical education and health for K-12 and a Master’s in exercise physical physiology.
“I always liked kids and I always liked sports. It seemed like a natural fit,” Allen said.
Once she “got past softball,” Allen was an avid sled dog musher. Although it could very well be more than six years from now, when she eventually retires, she hopes to open up a retirement home for sled dogs.
She said that sled dogs and teenagers are a lot alike.
“They can be moody. It takes some motivation to train them. They can also be the happiest thing you’ve seen all day. In the end, they are just fun,” Allen said. “ I get energy from dogs and kids.”