Teacher Challenges Himself Inside and Outside the Virtual Classroom

Written by Christina Peebles

April 2, 2020

Blog | Teacher Stories

It might not be 54 miles, but Proximity Learning teacher Albert Shank enjoys being able to run to the kitchen for a snack between online classes as much as he enjoys running up and down the mountains of Arizona.

Running alone with one foot in front of the other, Shank said mountain running helps his state of mind with the views, wildlife and natural sounds he encounters on the trail. He enjoys the strength the cardio gives him and he even supplements it with rock climbing. From one to 54 miles, he said he intends to continue running until his body no longer can.

“What used to seem hard isn’t hard anymore,” Shank said. “You try to look for different challenges and try to challenge yourself more. Run up a bigger mountain. Run up a mountain multiple times. Run up and down five or six mountains. It’s just fun.”

With a history of running for the high school track team and, later, the military, Shank actually disliked the activity until he was older. He eventually grew bored of his day-to-day life and wanted to challenge himself with something new and difficult. Never looking back, he ran his first race in 1997 and, three years later, his first ultra-marathon before even doing his first marathon.

Zipping around trails and a creek as a child, Shank has been running since he can remember. Around this same amount of time, he’s been learning Spanish. His Italian mother taught high school Spanish for over 40 years and is a reason for his natural gravitation towards a love and enthusiasm for language.

Young and unsure, Shank did not realize he wanted to teach until he studied abroad in Spain at the University of Valencia. As he found that not only was he good with Spanish but was good at teaching it, living in the festive country built his confidence that he was following the right career path.

Shank has been in front of the classroom since the fall of 1991. 28 years later, he began a new challenge by teaching online part-time with Proximity Learning. The live video sessions were a new medium for him despite his prior decade of experience teaching online.

“I would say it’s not so much a disadvantage,” Shank said. “It’s just a different challenge … Instead of being this robot on a screen, [I’m] actually somebody who really cares.”

Additionally, Shank teaches full-time for a community college. But even with classes first thing in the morning, in the middle of the day and the evening, he prioritizes going out for a run and the gym during his breaks.

“PLI is very supportive,” Shank said. “The community is super, super supportive. [The] administration has confidence that I do my job and they let department chairs do their job and so there’s no micromanaging. It’s a very supportive system where everybody has their job and it works really well.”

Not only does Shank challenge himself, but he challenges his students to have a sense of urgency and hold themselves to high standards just as if they were in a brick and mortar classroom.

“It goes beyond just learning the material. The material is very important, but I also want them to learn all the things outside of that,” Shank said. “I don’t expect that all of them are going to want to speak Spanish. I’d love for them to. But I’d like for them to learn how to have a strong work ethic, even in an online environment they can have that. As long as I have that expectation, then they’ll feel it.”

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