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Corrigan fancies a break from teaching after 25 years at Mary Hogan School

MIDDLEBURY — Longtime Mary Hogan Elementary School teacher Anne Corrigan has spent the past 40 years telling young people about interesting people, places and things.
Now she wants to see some of those people, places and things for herself.
With that in mind, Corrigan has decided to end her teaching career after 25 years at the Mary Hogan School.
“I will be 64 this summer, and although the government says ‘work ’til 66,’ I’m going to ‘work’ elsewhere,” Corrigan said with that trademark twinkle in her eye and that delightful British lilt that seems to put a little more class in her classroom.
The Shoreham resident continues to love her job, though she can’t resist the pull from two dear relatives at both ends of the age spectrum: A brand new granddaughter and her dear mum in England who, at 89, has earned some transatlantic visits.
“It just felt right,” Corrigan said of the timing of her retirement.
She acknowledged that her exit is also timed in response to ongoing and impending changes in education curriculum and technology. The Common Core curriculum — part of a new national standard in assessing student progress — will be the order of the day within a few years. And in the meantime, schools like Mary Hogan Elementary are bringing in new computers, software and other educational bells and whistles.
Corrigan knows the upcoming changes are inevitable, but has little desire to be a part of them. Her classroom is delightfully old-school — some might say anachronistic — as evidenced by the phonograph on which classics from Burl Ives get a spin during music times. Books, including a massive dictionary, adorn the shelves and tables and beckon to the students. Copious amounts of children’s work and drawings — not fancy charts and graphics — are plastered on the walls and ceiling.
“I haven’t gotten on the technology train,” Corrigan says unapologetically. “It’s a good time for me to jump ship, because that ship is sailing on and I won’t be on it.”
It’s a ship that she is glad to cede to new deckhands.
“I would like to bow out and let people with a lot of energy come in and become wonderful teachers,” Corrigan said.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
And with the changing of the guard, Corrigan can look back at a long teaching career spanning four decades and two continents. It began following her graduation from London University and her first teaching assignment, teaching at an elementary school in Greece. There she met her American husband and would return to her native England, teaching young children in the East End of London. Many of her charges were the children of poor, immigrant families.
The Corrigans took the opportunity to move to Opportunity, Mont., in 1977, where she taught in small elementary schools.
“There was (initial) culture shock,” she said of her move from Europe to the U.S. Suddenly, she had to adapt the “King’s English” to the former colonies. She refrained from using British words like “lift,” “pram” and “lorry” and instead said “elevator,” “baby carriage” and “truck.” The superfluous U’s were dropped from “neighbour” and “colour.”
Students spoke with a different accent, but one that was proper for their surroundings.
“In England, because the accents can change from village to village, we don’t put emphasis on the vowel sounds, and (vowels) are the emphasis here (in the U.S.),” Corrigan noted.
Through the years, Corrigan not only bought into the system, she invested in her adopted country. She learned the Pledge of Allegiance and became an American citizen, taking the oath at Middlebury Union Middle School more than a decade ago with some of her former students watching.
And she has accumulated plenty of former students since joining the Mary Hogan School staff in 1988. Her family had moved to Vermont in 1980. She first taught at Shrewsbury’s Mountain School and was thrilled when then-Mary Hogan School Principal Henry Scipione offered her a 4th-grade teaching job. It would remain, along with 3rd grade, her favorite demographic to teach.
“I call these years ‘the bridge years,’ and ‘the cementing years,’” Corrigan said. The terminology, she said, reflects the fact that in grades 3 and 4, students are taking the basic learning foundation they have gleaned in K-2 and are now ready to hone those skills by using them to further their education.
“It’s like the principle, ‘You learn to read and then you read to learn,’” Corrigan said.
And she’s done a cracking good job at teaching through the years, winning national recognition and quite the fan base. In 2007, she was named an American Star of Teaching by the U.S. Department of Education. She believes it is easier to do well when you love your job.
“It’s the children,” she said of her spark.
She recalled being asked, by a student intern, whether she ever gets bored after teaching for so many years.
“I told her that no such thing existed in the teaching profession,” Corrigan said. “There was never a boring moment. Minute to minute, day to day, month to month, year to year, you were on the go and you never knew what was around the corner.”
CHANGES IN EDUCATION
Regular changes in the student body, in the administrative/teaching team, in professional development requirements and in a teacher’s own life help ensure that every year will be different, Corrigan noted.
“No year is the same,” she said.
And teachers are constantly having to roll with the punches, Corrigan said. She likened the education system to a bumper-cars course; you can be proceeding in one direction or teaching method for a short while only to be bumped and sent on a different course or curricular concept. All the while, she said, she has appreciated the inclusiveness and diversity that the public school system provides.
“What I’ve done over my years is I’ve worked hard and strived to get some sense and understanding about how children learn and how to support them in their learning,” Corrigan said. “One of the things I get most pleasure from is recognizing their individual differences and making sure there’s enough variety … that every child can engage, flourish and shine.
“I think it’s wonderful for them to recognize their gifts.”
Corrigan will be leaving a school that is physically larger but serving far fewer students than when she arrived in 1988. Back then, there were 620 students at Mary Hogan, requiring an on-site expansion project. Now the enrollment is down to 400, mirroring a trend in most of the state. She credited the Middlebury community with maintaining the quality of the Mary Hogan School in spite of the decline in student numbers.
“Class sizes have stayed in the 20-range,” she noted.
It will undoubtedly seem a little strange for Corrigan not to report to school this fall. But she will continue to appreciate being stopped in town by former students and parents of students wanting to share stories and provide updates.
“It makes me happy,” she said.
The Corrigans will continue to live in Shoreham, where Anne will be able to spend more time gardening, hiking, traveling and cross-country skiing. She also plans on seeking the occasional substitute teaching assignment in area schools.
“That’s what’s nice; one door closes and other one opens,” she said.
And when the doors open up for classes at the Mary Hogan School this fall, children will still see a Corrigan — Fiona Corrigan, Anne’s daughter, to whom she will be passing the teaching baton.
“They can’t get rid of the Corrigans; another Corrigan is coming,” she said, with a chuckle.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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