Elementary school teacher to graduate after 49-year career
MIDDLEBURY — “Mary Hogan” is an almost mythical figure to the young Middlebury children who attend the graded school that bears her name. Verily, the veteran principal had retired long before most of the current students’ parents had wandered the halls of Mary Hogan Elementary School.
But those curious enough to inquire about Mary Hogan have always been able to talk to the inimitable Mary Doyle. That’s because Mrs. Doyle not only knew Mary Hogan, Doyle was hired by Mary Hogan — almost a half century ago.
Now Doyle, 71, is poised to retire next month and most assuredly join Hogan on Middlebury’s honor roll of legendary public education figures. And while the school will not bear her name, future generations of Middlebury students are likely to ask the teachers of tomorrow if they knew Mary Doyle.
Doyle, a native Vermonter, speaks of her retirement with an economy of words and without a lot of fanfare, in keeping with her style.
“I just decided it was probably time,” Doyle said gently and matter-of-factly. She remains vital and inquisitive but wants to relocate, with husband and occasional classroom volunteer Ray, to family property in Bradford.
“It was an easy decision.”
Same as her decision to join the Middlebury graded school’s teaching staff back in 1964, following her graduation from Johnson State College. It was the year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and his successor Lyndon B. Johnson had declared a national “War on Poverty.” The United States was still in a largely military advisory role in Vietnam. The Beatles had scored their first No. 1 U.S. hit with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
“A few teachers (at Johnson State) said Middlebury was the place to go,” Doyle recalled. “I really respected those teachers, so I went for an interview.”
She liked what she saw.
“They had a 1st grade opening, which is really what I wanted,” she said, alluding to her previous experiences mentoring her younger brother.
The rest is history — and a lot of it.
Those were the days when grades K-4 were based in a much smaller building that, of course, did not yet bear Principal Mary Hogan’s name. Grades 5 and 6 were served in what is now Middlebury College’s Twilight Hall off College Street.
Doyle said she had 28 students in her first 1st-grade class. She would later transition to a “looping” policy through which she would take the same 1st graders as a 2nd-grade teacher the following year, to provide more educational continuity.
She has never regretted teaching the younger students, most of whom she described as being “very eager to go to school. That makes it more fun.”
She of course taught at least two generations of many Middlebury families, and undoubtedly a few third generations. And she also has taught a lot of siblings. The younger ones sometimes tag along with the brother or sister, so Doyle would get a preview of some of her next students.
First grade is about learning fundamentals, and Doyle makes no secret about her specialty.
“I have a real passion for reading,” she said. “And that’s what I find students have a passion for — learning how to read.”
In her earlier teaching days, Doyle noted that kindergarten attendance wasn’t compulsory. That meant some students would show up with little or no knowledge at all of how to read.
She said literacy rates and habits have gotten a lot better through the years as kindergarten attendance has become the norm and as computer technology has ushered in fun and innovative programs that encourage reading. Students have been able to choose their own books and do a lot of independent studying, which makes them more avid learners, according to Doyle.
It has also helped that Mary Hogan — and principals who followed her — have been progressive and forward thinking in their approaches to education, according to Doyle. She explained that teachers have had access to enrichment programs and workshops from which to borrow techniques that they can weave into their own instructional strengths.
When Doyle started, there were no classroom computers in the school. Teachers had to hand-crank carbon copies of educational materials, as there was no photocopying machine.
“The copy machines these days are wonderful,” Doyle said with a smile. “The copies are clean and you can print back-to-back. You can put together a whole book by pushing the right buttons.”
LOTS OF STORIES
Doyle has collected a lot of funny stories during her 49 years as a teacher at Mary Hogan Elementary. One of her favorites goes back to her first year of teaching. She said a dad dropped his son off in class on the first day of school. The dad left while the child sat in a chair. After a few minutes, it dawned on the child that his dad had left, so he tore out after him. He didn’t get very far, because he ran into Mary Hogan, who told him to “turn around and sit back in that chair.” He quickly complied with the order, she recalled.
Doyle hasn’t thought much about her longevity at the school. She’s been having too much fun. And she’s also had the benefit of sometimes sharing her classroom with longtime husband Ray, a retired teacher and veteran of the Middlebury Elementary School system. Ray Doyle taught at the Twilight Hall location and also served as assistant principal for a few years. They married in 1966. He now volunteers in his wife’s class, lending his math and science expertise to students, thereby allowing Mrs. Doyle to focus on her teaching strengths of reading and English.
“He laughs that when he gets tired (of teaching) he can go home and take a nap,” Doyle chuckled.
Both the Doyles will soon have the freedom to do what they want. They plan to relocate from Salisbury to Bradford, where Mary Doyle has a brother, an uncle and soon a sister who will be moving in from Ohio.
She will look back fondly on her teaching experiences at Mary Hogan Elementary. She will miss the children in particular.
“It’s the excitement the children have each day,” Doyle said of her inspiration, “to see how proud they are of themselves when they can read a certain thing or solve a math problem.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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