Mary Hogan’s Mike Quinn retires from ‘best job’ as PE teacher

MIDDLEBURY — Mike Quinn was driving a taxi in New York City 45 years ago, not sure where life was going to take him.
Well, it’s been a long, enjoyable trip, and Quinn, 68, is now ready to drive into the next chapter of his life after a 44-year teaching career that included 37 years as a physical education instructor at Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary School.
“When I started teaching, Richard Nixon was president, nobody knew of Watergate, and many of my colleagues weren’t even born at that time,” Quinn said.
He hadn’t originally set out to become a PE teacher. Quinn graduated as an American history major from Columbia University, where he had been involved in collegiate wrestling. He decided to drive a taxi until he could find a career better suited to his education and interests. He got his entrée into teaching in 1972 as a part-time wrestling coach at the private Trinity School, on the Upper West Side.
“I balanced that with driving a taxi,” Quinn recalled. “A few weeks after I started (coaching), someone in the PE department resigned.”
Trinity offered him that PE job, and he accepted.
“It was being at the right place at the right time,” Quinn said.
So he quit driving a hack and became a full-time physical education teacher, one of six for 400 K-12 students at Trinity, a very exclusive and expensive school. He spent seven enjoyable years there, before heading to points north with his wife, Margey Mastik-Quinn.
“One of my younger sisters and her husband had moved to Vermont, and my wife and I seemed to be driving up here to visit every third weekend,” Quinn recalled. “We were getting a little bit tired of commuting.”
So the Quinns made the move to the Green Mountain State during the summer of 1979. They bought a 190-year-old, fixer-upper home in Goshen, and Quinn successfully interviewed for a PE teaching vacancy at Mary Hogan Elementary.
“The house was full of birds, mice and snakes,” Quinn recalled with a smile, adding the abode needed extensive wiring, plumbing and other work.
“I’m still working on it 37 years later,” he said. “But I like it. My second most-favorite thing is woodworking.”
Meanwhile, Quinn immersed himself in his job at Mary Hogan, and took a quick liking to it. He also connected with then-Middlebury Union High School wrestling coach Hubie Wagner to offer his services as a volunteer instructor. He became part of a Middlebury-area youth wrestling program, and one of the first kids to enroll was current MUHS wrestling Coach Ethan Raymond. Quinn still joins a group of buddies each year to attend the collegiate Division I national wrestling championships.
“It’s a passion of mine,” he said of the sport.
Quinn has enjoyed working with younger children, who he has found to be enthusiastic and cooperative.
“That’s going to be the most difficult thing, come September,” he said of what would have been the start of his next school year. “The kids are all so genuine and all so eager to play and have fun. Being able to improve their skills while they are playing and having fun is the key to being successful.
“Very few children don’t like to go to ‘gym,’ as they call it,” he added. “It is very easy to motivate kids when they are happy doing what they’re doing.”
He’s been pleased to see the school expand its PE programs through the years to incorporate, among other things, swimming in grades 1 and 2 and ice skating for grades 3 and 4. Mary Hogan Elementary has offered wall climbing for 5th- and 6th-graders for the past 25 years, he noted.
“They get an immersion, where they certainly become drown-proof,” Quinn said of the swimming lessons. “Every child who has left Mary Hogan during the last 12 years we think will be able to survive falling out of a rowboat on Lake Dunmore.”
Parents, he said, have been instrumental in helping out with many of the PE programs, particularly wall climbing.
“I can’t thank the parents through the years enough for being the core of the wall climbing program,” Quinn said. Many of those parents have come away with very positive impressions of the school, which has in turn led to voter support of school budgets and innovations, according to Quinn.
Mary Hogan officials have successfully applied for grants to help fund innovative sports programming. And the school also has the McGilton Fund that provides funding for “enrichment” offerings beyond the scope of the regular budget.
Having special programs requires flexibility within the school day, and Quinn credited his colleagues for being willing to adapt their class time to make the PE curriculum work.
“Without their willingness to adjust their schedules, these programs would be impossible to run,” Quinn said. “Sometimes (the students) have to have music at a different time or art at a different time for it to all fit in. It’s a bit of a puzzle.”
He’ll keep memories of many of the humorous experiences he’s logged while at the Mary Hogan School, courtesy of the kids — such as this exchange between a mom and a boy after his first day at school:
Mom: “How did it go today?”
Son: “Not too good, Mom. I don’t think I’m coming back tomorrow.”
While it’s been a fun ride, Quinn is ready to take his foot off the accelerator and enjoy his golden years. And he’ll have the freedom to do it in warmer climes, when he and his wife feel like it.
“We’re tired of Goshen winters,” he said. The couple would like to spend at least part of future winters in Florida and southern California. Some of that travel will include visits with their two grown daughters, Megan and Kaitlyn, both of whom attended MUHS. Each helped the school to two Division I girls’ lacrosse titles.
Margey Mastik-Quinn has worked for several years at Middlebury College doing data entry. She’s not quite ready to retire, and will be able to continue her data entry duties remotely. Along with travel, Mike Quinn plans to garden and do more woodworking — maybe even finish off what has been a 37-year effort to bring their Goshen home up to speed.
The Quinns will continue to operate a small Christmas tree farm behind their home.
“I like to have my hands in the dirt,” he said of his gardening and farming interests.
He’ll look back on his teaching career with great fondness.
“It was the best job I could imagine,” he said. “I’ll miss the kids the most.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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