NEW PALESTINE — It was just a few minutes before school let out when the front office staff at New Palestine Junior High School (NPJHS) and one of the school’s PE teachers decided to call science teacher John Alter and ask him a rather important question.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how grumpy are you today,” The gym teacher jokingly asked John, who had answered his classroom phone.

The answer back was, “About a 9 and a half,” the gym teacher said as he relayed the information to the front office staff, causing everyone to laugh out loud.

When John walked into the front office a few minutes later, he was all smiles, shaking his head at the laughter coming from the group at his expense.

That fun moment was just one of the thousands of great times John has had during his 37 years of teaching middle school students for New Palestine schools. This year will be his last as John and his wife Tonya Alter, a NPJHS health teacher who has taught in the district for 35 years, will both be retiring at the end of the current school year.

“The change is going to be hard for him,” Tonya said. “This is his thing, and these kids are his level because teaching junior high school is not easy.”

John fought back tears when asked if he was going to miss being a teacher and noted it’s been a great profession to be part of. He’s been teaching middle school students in the district since the fall 0f 1987. Tonya taught for 10 years at Brandywine Elementary School, where she was a classroom assistant before becoming a PE teacher for another 10 years. She then became the 7th grade health teacher at NPJHS in 2010.

“What I’m going to miss about teaching is the daily interactions of talking with everyone,” Tonya said. “Teaching here has been a little harder for me because I’m geared more to work with elementary school-aged kids.”

While John noted he’s going to miss the kids and having fun with them in the classroom, he’s mostly going to miss the interactions with his fellow teachers and administrators.

“That’s probably what I’m going to miss the most, those interactions,” John said.

John went to Indiana University and then on to Indiana State University for his master’s degree in science before getting into teaching. After teaching science in grade school in the 1980s in another district, he was hired as a PE teacher for the old Doe Creek Middle School in 1987 and never left.

“When they made all the teacher cuts about 15 years ago, I moved back to my master’s degree area of science and became a science teacher here,” John said.

John and Tonya met when they were both student teachers at Oak Hill High School and have been together ever since. They will celebrate their 42 anniversary in July. They’re now looking forward to life after teaching with plans to enjoy their grandchild.

“I think now we’re just ready to relax and enjoy life,” Tonya said. “We want to visit and have more time with our family and our grandkids (three of them), and one of them is active in sports.”

John noted teaching and coaching has kept them from doing that. While both say there are no plans to substitute or get back into teaching at any level, John will still keep score at varsity and JV athletic events in the district and plans to call a few middle school games now and again.

“Hey, I’m a Dragon for life,” John said.

The couple says there are a few places out west they’d like to travel to, but Tonya says they mostly just want to relax and hang around home.

She noted this final year of working together has been fun even though they had never made plans to retire together until recently.

“He was going to go last year and me this year, but then he changed his mind,” Tonya said.

That’s because their financial adviser told John if he stuck around and worked just one more year, it would set the couple up perfectly for retirement, so John came back to teach this school year.

“I’m glad I came back and taught another year, but I’m more than ready to go,” John said. “I took one for the team coming back one more year and it’s been a hard year, I’m not gonna lie, so that tells me I’m really ready to retire.”

John, 66, is now 10 years removed from a cancer scare that could have easily ended his life, but he battled through, beat it and said he is now ready to enjoy retirement with his family.

“He needs to relax because he is tired,” Tonya said. “He’s dedicated his life to education.”

John and Tonya admit they’re worried about the future of education and the impact social media is having on students, particularly kids addicted to video games. Still, John said there has to be faith in the educators left behind in hopes they’ll be as dedicated to the profession and helping kids as he and his wife have been.

“I don’t know if it’s education or a combination of society and education that are changing, but things are very different from when we first started teaching,” Tonya said.

As for being the focus of so many pranks at the school through the years, John couldn’t help but laugh when he recalled the time, before teaching went digital, and he had to get his grades in by a certain time but was derailed by school pranksters.

“I walked into my old PE office and somehow they had gotten some big chains and they chained my desk to the rafters,” John said with a laugh. “I couldn’t get to my papers to turn in my grades because they were in my desk.”

It’s those things John said both he and Tonya will look back on and smile as they start the next chapter of their lives.