A recent book about rethinking retirement says people get to their absolute peak of knowledge and skill at their jobs around retirement age, but then if they live out a traditional retirement and sit at home for the next 30 years, all that knowledge and skill goes to waste.
Angelo Turco of Kittanning is living an unconventional retirement.
Instead of retiring and letting his skills go to waste, he is still teaching math as part of a 50-year career.
After teaching full-time for the Armstrong School District for 35 years, Mr. Turco is now called to substitute as many as two to five days per week.
Mr. Turco grew up in an Italian neighborhood along North Grant Avenue, Kittanning, where a number of families still spoke Italian at home, he said.
He went to St. Mary’s School in Kittanning through the eighth grade, and graduated from Kittanning Senior High School in 1969.
After high school, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in teaching, and later also earned a Master’s degree in guidance and counseling.
Mr. Turco began his 35-year full-time teaching career in 1973, by teaching “mostly algebra” at Ford City Junior-Senior High School.
He taught there from 1973 to 1977; then taught at Kittanning Junior High from 1977 to 2008, Mr. Turco said.
When he began to teach, there were no computers, calculators or cell phones in school, he added.
When a student needed to call home, he called from the office, Mr. Turco said.
If an emergency happened, a call was made from the lobby, he added.
He was one of the first teachers to use calculators in the seventh and eighth grades, he said.
Mr. Turco used to give students math homework with a list of the problem answers in no particular order, so they would have to do the problems to figure out which answer went with which question.
“They had me written in their Christmas story as the Scrooge of homework,” he said, adding that the students described him in the story as the Ghost of Homework Past, Ghost of Homework Present and the Ghost of Homework Yet to Come.
There were no copy machines, and students would copy math questions from a text book to work out, he added.
Years ago, teachers used chalkboards and an overhead projector, Mr. Turco noted.
Now, teachers have white boards, and students can do assignments online, he said.
“Computers are probably the biggest change in schools,” he added.
Schools are locked down now, and school doors weren’t locked when he first began teaching, Mr. Turco noted.
He said the number of class periods per day has also increased since he began teaching, but classes now are shorter.
Mr. Turco is also working as a substitute teacher now with teachers he taught math to in seventh grade, which is kind of unusual, he said.
Current work as a substitute
As a substitute teacher at Armstrong Junior-Senior High School (AJSHS), he uses his skills from long experience to make the students want to do their math work.
“It is hard,” he said during a recent interview, “so I tell them stories about what it was like back then, (then) get into the lessons.”
“I have done all kinds of tricks to help them learn and get them to pay attention,” Mr. Turco added.
He said he enjoyed helping students learn by showing the steps of equations, not just the answers.
“You get a lot of bright kids who are really cooperative,” he said.
Mr. Turco said it is also important to listen to students.
Principal describes long-time teacher’s skills
AJSHS Principal Michael Cominos described Mr. Turco’s effectiveness.
“He knows how to talk to kids and kids respect him enough — those two things combined help kids to learn,” he said.
Mr. Cominos also said Mr. Turco has definitely kept his skill level up.
As a substitute, Mr. Turco is able to continue with the lesson plans the regular teachers had planned, Mr. Cominos added.
“Math teachers are very valuable because there are so few of them,” he said. “Having someone with Mr. Turco’s experience able to come in is really helpful for our students.”
The love of his lifetime
Mr. Turco said his wife, Angie, inspired him to do everything he did in life, from teaching to hobbies like vegetable and flower gardening.
When life got rough, she was a source of encouragement, he said.
In addition to him being inspired to do things for her, she helped him with things, Mr. Turco added.
He was 21, and she was 18, when he saw her at a wedding, sitting at a table with a number of other girls.
He went up to her, asked her to dance, and danced with her throughout the entire wedding reception, Mr. Turco said.
When he asked her out on a date, she told him to call her back in three or four days.
Later, she told him that was because she had to get permission from her strict Italian father before they went out together.
Her grandmother, Angela Muto, and his grandmother, Matilla Mazzotta, were friends, and their families had both immigrated from the town of Lago in Southern Italy, he said.
After a courtship of around a year and a half, they married on June 28, 1975.
Their children are now grown.
One, Dr. Domenic Turco, is an eye surgeon in State College; and their daughter, Maria Osborne, is a consulting pharmacist for UPMC, St. Margaret Hospital, Mr. Turco said.
Mr. and Mrs. Turco were able to travel to Italy, visiting the towns of Florence, Pisa, Lake Como, Milan, Sorrento, Capri, Ravenna, Verona, Venice, Assisi, Naples, Pompeii, and The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
“It was 15 cities in 10 days,” he said.
After the tour, they spent two weeks with relatives in Southern Italy, including six of Mr. Turco’s first cousins; and six of Angie’s second cousins.
One of Angie’s cousins closed his restaurant to hold a birthday party for her, and served Mr. and Mrs. Turco a five-course meal, including cantaloupe with prosciutto as an early course, and a birthday cake.
They had a wonderful life together, and Mr. Turco said Angie was the most loving person he ever knew.
Then, she was diagnosed with cancer, and died three months later on Dec. 29, 2019.