Alan Cameron: Living the Dream

Alan Cameron: Living the Dream

Ask Mid-Pen history teacher Alan Cameron how he’s doing on any given day, and he’ll tell you that he’s living the dream. While it might sound like he's saying it in jest, Alan's response is every bit as genuine as his passion for Notre Dame football— unwavering and unquestionable.

“I always joke with my students that I'm not a good person to talk to about ambition because I accomplished all my life goals in about four months,” Alan says with a laugh. Born into a family of educators, including his grandfather, mom, dad, and later, his sister and cousins, Alan wanted to be a teacher from a very young age. As a student, though, he struggled academically.

“School was hard,” said Alan. "I would lose my homework—it would always be crumpled at the bottom of my backpack.” Even with his challenges, Alan still loved learning and was especially interested in history. While in high school at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, a teacher named Patrick McCrystal became Alan’s inspiration.

“He’s a great man—a cross country coach and a history teacher,” he said with a knowing laugh as Alan is also Mid-Pen’s cross country coach. “He was my idol. I was like, ‘I want to do that.’”

Alan studied history and secondary education at Marquette University in Milwaukee. “History is a story, and I’ve always liked stories,” he explained, adding that it allows students to learn about the past and connect it to the present. After graduating, he moved back to San J

ose and worked as a substitute teacher in Bay Area private schools, leading to a semester-long stint at Mid-Pen.

The rest is Mid-Pen history.

“This job was the gateway to a dream,” said Alan, who became the school’s cross country coach a year later (see sidebar on page 10). Now in his eleventh year at Mid-Pen, he’s developed a curriculum that helps students explore cultural history using art, architecture, religion, and music in his lessons.

“I want students to really understand the people that they're learning about because I think that in a vacuum, when people do things in history, they often don't make sense,” Alan explained. “The big argument that I asked is, ‘Can we judge people in the past based on modern morals?' We have to be able to understand the morals of the time. I want them to know the culture, vocabulary, and trends, so they can put it together to build this puzzle.”

And then there’s Notre Dame football. Alan adopted the college team as his favorite when his sister went to the university. A diehard fan, he has the school’s flag and motto, “Play like a champion today" above his classroom door. Every weekend matchup becomes fodder for classroom discussion, and contributes to the dynamic and rich connections with his students.

Alan’s senior elective course has become a staple of the school and one that students look forward to each year. The program started in 2016 because Alan wanted his British history class to culminate in a trip abroad, where his students could link what they’d learned about in his class to where that history was made. The first group of 10 Dragons and their adult chaperones traveled across the pond to Ireland. The class evolved into a senior elective, and since the inaugural trip, Alan’s classes have visited Scotland and London.

“I want them to see things they've learned. It's one thing to hear me tell stories like 'This is what Bonnie Prince Charlie did in 1745. And these are mistakes he made,’” Alan said with the energy and animation his students see in the classroom. “That’s nothing compared to standing at the spot that marked where British soldiers killed 1,200 Scots. It’s a heartbreaking historical event, and my students physically see what we discussed in class. Those connections are priceless.”

While the pandemic paused travel for two years, Alan hopes this year’s students will visit Ireland this April. In the meantime, life at Mid-Pen keeps him on this toes. He’s added government to his course list, track and field to his coaching roster, and activities director to his title.

When he’s not teaching at Mid-Pen, Alan spends time with his wife, Kristin, and dog, Wally. He’s an avid writer and pens short stories about science, fantasy, and historical fiction, and sometimes a combination of all three.

“I have a great life because I'm doing what I want to do.”