NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — When Walter Lincoln first started teaching sixth grade science, the area where Melican Middle School now stands was a cow pasture.
Forty-four years later, standing on the cusp of retirement, Lincoln reflected on his long tenure.
What keeps a teacher in the same position for so long?
"Love of kids, love of learning," Lincoln said. "The enthusiasm that the kids had," he added, was "just basic motivation."
Lincoln figured that he's taught almost 5,000 students over his career—including some that are grandparents today. "My first sixth grade class is now 56 years old," he said.
"I've been in London where kids have come up to me and said, 'Are you Mr. Lincoln?' I've been to Mt. Washington and people have come up to me, asking, 'Are you Mr. Lincoln?' I've been at Disney World and people have come running up: 'Aren't you Mr. Lincoln?'"
Without a doubt, a lot has changed since Lincoln got his start—including the way teachers are expected to teach.
"Quite frankly," he said, "before the MCAS, before the state standards came out, we used to teach a lot more science. Now we're kind of focused in on certain subjects, where before we could go off in different directions."
"When I've gone through my plan books over the last few years," he said, "you can actually see the difference. We might have done 10 different things, now it's down to, say, six."
In the past, Lincoln said, "We had a total hands-on approach. There were no books involved, and the kids progressed at their own level."
But some things never change. Like sixth graders, who Lincoln said "are still basically the same" as they've always been.
"At the sixth grade level, they're still kids," he said.
The secret to teaching them?
"Never stop looking at things differently," Lincoln said. "Stay with the times. Enjoy yourself. Have fun, and make learning fun."
"I've always treated the kids with respect," he continued. "We've tried to have a good time with the kids, and I've gotten 10 times back. It's been a ball."
Even though he has a degree in administration, Lincoln never wanted to leave the classroom.
"I couldn't think of a better job," he said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Though he knew it was time to walk away, he admitted that it wasn't always easy. "It was emotional," he said of his last day at Melican. "I had to hold back."
"Next September, it's going to be tough," he added.
Lincoln is still considering his post-retirement options. He may very well return as a substitute teacher. But, until then, he plans to spend as much of the summer as possible on the beach of Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.