“Are We Having Fun Yet?”: Ms. Levenson Announces Retirement

A look back on Ms. Levenson’s era at Allderdice.

Jake Allen

After forty-five-and-a-half years as an educator, beloved Allderdice teacher Ms. Mina Levenson announced her retirement this summer. Ms. Levenson is an Allderdice alumnus who after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh returned for a long tenure in physical education and Spanish that has made her something of a legend within the school and community. Known as strict but very kind-hearted, Levenson remains close in the minds of Allderdice students and staff despite her absence, as many feel that she is part of the school’s identity. Even those who didn’t study Spanish or directly interact with her know of Ms. Levenson and her exceptional reputation.

As not all students had the opportunity and privilege to take her classes, the Foreword staff wanted to know what lessons she has to give to all of us from her years at Allderdice.

In discussing what she wants students to know, Ms. Levenson stressed that most teenagers have an unhealthy habit of selling themselves short. Many can often feel discouraged by the thoughts and actions of others, but it’s simply a matter of going through this stage of life and overcoming this habit. There will not be a transformation that happens in one day or one step, but instead an ongoing lesson that will surface in many ways. Students need to understand that they are good people and that everybody in the classroom is valued and has a lot to offer in this world.

She continued, explaining that Allderdice is truly “a microcosm of society” when it comes to education, noting that in some ways academic pursuit has increased and in some ways it has diminished. However, Ms. Levenson pointed out, most students are only used to interacting with one segment of Allderdice society and may not see that there are wonderful and accomplished students throughout the entire school. What’s common to all students is the requirement of an “awful and tedious” learning process that helps us achieve our academic goals. She claimed the patience for this process has declined in recent years — due in part to technology and the availability of information — but that whatever you know is part of you. It’s integrated into your being and nobody can take that away no matter who you are. It’s necessary to go through the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to make what you learn part of who you are.

Ms. Levenson’s advice for fellow teachers is for them to acknowledge that students need to be on board in order to take advantage of the content of any course, and then do whatever needs to be done for that to happen. However, she pointed out that there is no singular, correct way to educate and, ultimately, she can only speak for herself.

Ms. Levenson claimed her most important value is being true to her personality, her philosophies, and her concepts all while fulfilling an obligation to connect with her students. “There will be sometimes when it works and sometimes when it doesn’t,” she stated. “I can teach one lesson and it’s a dismal day, and I can teach it to the next group and I walk on water. There’s no one answer.”

As far as class management, Ms. Levenson acknowledged that “some people think I’m Attila the Hun and that’s okay as long as they understand that everything I do in class is trying to help them become self-sufficient… so as long as it’s legal, moral, and ethical, anything is fair game.” She recalled that after announcing her retirement via email to her Spanish classes, class of 2019 graduate Austin Davis responded, remembering that on one of the first days of school Ms. Levenson told the class, “Some days students get a hug and some days they get a boot in the duff.”

Her overall objective as a teacher was for every student to take information and go far beyond everyone’s expectations, and for this process to repeat indefinitely into future generations.

Allderdice librarian Ms. Brothers explained that Levenson “brought a community feel to a large school,” and “As tough as she is, it’s always the right thing to do when you make students rise to your standards. That’s what education should be.”

Secondary English instructor Ms. Bienkowski added, “When I was a student here, she was Mrs. A, my gym teacher, and I remember her commanding presence in the gym, adorned with her clipboard and tube socks.  After I started teaching here in 2004, Mrs. Levenson greeted me in the mornings with her colleague catchphrase, ‘Are we having fun yet?’”

Having put her principles into action for many years, Foreword staff members were curious as to if there were any amusing or outlandish Allderdice stories Levenson would be willing to share. 

She deemed most memories as too crazy to be published but did recall a time when tear gas was set off inside the building. All staff and students were evacuated after which students were sent home, and teachers were sent back inside the building. She also acknowledged the long-standing tradition of avoiding the Allderdice pool with a memory of a swim team member who got a doctor’s note to avoid going in.

On the subject of her retirement, Ms. Levenson admitted it was not planned and she just decided it was time despite it being a difficult decision. She contemplated it before but was always too excited by the possibilities of the next year’s class.

“I will miss the people the most.”