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Illinois man sets world record for 53-year career teaching social studies

When Paul Durietz taught his first social studies class, Richard Nixon had yet to resign as US president and the American military was at war in Vietnam. The Beatles had also not split, and 29-year-old Pelé had just captured his third soccer World Cup title.

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Durietz has educated students through a lot of history since then, and now he has the Guinness world record for longest career as a social studies teacher to show for it.

The 76-year-old from Gurnee, Illinois, told the organization known for maintaining a database of more than 40,000 world records that his story is a testament about the good that can come if people “keep working on what [they] love to do in life”.

“It may turn into a world record,” Durietz remarked to Guinness in an interview published Monday.

Durietz said his parents’ lineages helped spark his interest in history as well as the social studies.

His father, Alfred Durietz, fought in the Battle of the Bulge during the second world war and earned a Purple Heart medal for his service. The younger Durietz said he was captivated by his old man’s tales of “going into German bunkers and finding helmets, [German] Luger pistols and uniforms”.

Meanwhile, his mother, Opal Pembroke Durietz, was a relative of England’s earl of Pembroke.

The result was for Durietz to develop a fascination with both world wars as well as the middle ages. And by the time he was 11, after numerous conversations with his father about what he wanted to be when he grew up, Durietz knew he wanted to make his living by teaching social studies.

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He landed a job at Woodland school district 50 beginning 1 September 1970. The school in the Chicago suburb of Gurnee primarily serves students in elementary and middle school (the UK equivalents of years 1 to 9), and he’s taught classes there ever since.

He has coordinated the social studies curriculum there since the mid-1980s.

The role has not only allowed him to mentor more than 20 fellow social studies teachers. It has also let him stage days themed after the US civil war, host mock political elections at school and hold geography contests – exposing his students to subjects which aren’t necessarily second nature to even US adults.

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Durietz told Guinness the thought of imparting knowledge to younger generations still motivates him to come to work. And he said his morale was further boosted when a former student once wrote him an email saying that Durietz’s engaged teaching style had inspired the ex-pupil to pursue a career in education.

Eventually, Durietz’s family, friends and co-workers encouraged him to apply for recognition from Guinness World Records. The organization recognized him as a record-holder in September, citing his 53-year career.

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Durietz said he considered the Guinness record to be perhaps his greatest achievement. He said he hoped to eventually clinch Guinness’s record for longest-serving teacher at the same school.

He also said his advice to aspiring teachers was to blend their passion for a subject with patience for students. If he’s any indication, such a combination could produce results that stand the test of time.