Hall-Dale teacher still passionate after 51 years in classroom
www.centralmaine.com/2017/10/16/hall-dale-teacher-still-passionate-after-51-years-in-classroom/ By Jason Pafundi October 16, 2017
FARMINGDALE — Phyllis McDonough finally got the teaching job she applied for more than 50 years ago.
McDonough is in her 51st year of teaching, and after 42 years teaching language arts at Hall- Dale Middle School, she began teaching social studies. During an interview last week in her classroom at Hall-Dale High School, where she has taught since 2013, McDonough talked about applying for a social studies job at 22 and being denied because she didn’t coach football.
“I tell my students not to give up on their dreams,” she said. “They’ll eventually come true.”
A lot has changed since McDonough, 72, began her career in 1967 after graduating from St. Joseph’s College in Standish. Advancements in technology have changed the way teachers deliver information to and receive it from students, social and cultural trends have come and gone and the world is a much different place. Man had not yet landed on the moon when she began teaching at the old Hall-Dale Junior High on Central and Warren streets, and now, there are space programs and private companies who want to send a man to Mars.
One thing that hasn’t changed in 51 years, McDonough said, is her passion, dedication and commitment to her students.
“I just enjoy spending time with the kids,” she said.
PASSION FOR TEACHING
When she started teaching, McDonough made $4,900 per year. She loves helping children and connecting with students, and it’s what has kept her going for more than five decades.
“My greatest experience is when someone sees me in the hall or they’ll stop in and talk about something,” she said. “I’m honored that kids always want to come by and ask me how I’m doing. It’s incredible.”
Principal Mark Tinkham said for anyone to stay in any profession for 51 years, there would have to be a supportive climate, and that’s what there is at Hall-Dale. There’s supportive staff, parents and students, and he said McDonough is part of the school’s bedrock.
“When you talk about her dedication, (teaching) is a vocation, not a job,” Tinkham said. “It’s her passion and what she lives for.”
Connecting with students makes teaching easier and makes each day in the classroom fun, McDonough said. She’s taught at Hall-Dale for so long, she is teaching the grandchildren and children of former students, so there’s a built-in comfort level. McDonough enjoys sports, especially the Boston Red Sox, and she said she’s connected with students that way, too.
“I had one girl, a junior, who was learning to crochet, and she knew I crocheted,” she said. “She would come during lunch and after school and we would crochet, talk about school, her future and her family.”
McDonough said she wants people to remember her creativity and imagination, and you have to be both to teach the same two subjects for more than 50 years. Throughout the year, McDonough and her students will play quiz games, board games and do other interactive activities to learn new lessons, prepare for tests and quizzes and just unwind from a long week of schoolwork.
“You have to be creative and imaginative and love what you’re doing,” she said. “It’s what pulls the kids in.”
One of the most creative things about McDonough is her wardrobe. She said she began sewing about 40 years ago and now has made more than 200 of her own dresses she keeps in a big closet. She has a different dress for each day of the school year and rarely wears the same one twice per year. There are dresses with animals, spacecraft, constellations, sports logos, floral patterns, dragons and even one with Harry Potter.
“When school starts each fall, the students will ask me how many dresses I made over the summer, and I better have made at least 12, or they’ll be upset with me,” she said.
CHANGES IN TECHNOLOGY
When McDonough started teaching toward the end of the 1960s, students kept pencils in plastic roll-top cases, and wrote on Big Chief writing tablets, while the teacher used chalk on the black board. Now, every student at Hall-Dale High has their own MacBook computer, assignments are posted on McDonough’s website and teachers and parents communicate mostly by email.
“I have to say I’ve become quite computer and technology literate, and I have students who’ve been willing to help me do things,” she said.
With computers in the classroom becoming mainstream, McDonough said there are more things she’s able to do with her students because of all the resources available online. It’d be too difficult and costly to find it in print form, she said, and having students and parents use her website and email making things easier.
“They get faster feedback from me because I’m not having to decipher what they’ve written by hand, and they don’t have to decipher what I write,” she said.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
As the decades and years and generations passed, new teachers and administrators have come to the school, some of whom had McDonough when they were students.
Colin Roy is Hall-Dale’s part-time athletic director, having retired a few years ago after a 40- plus year career as a teacher and athletics coordinator at Hall-Dale and Mt. Ararat High in Topsham. He met McDonough for the first time when he was a freshman in high school and she was in her first year teaching. He hasn’t forgotten.
“We had a weather situation where the buses were going to be late, so they put us in different classrooms,” Roy said. “I was in the back of her room and within minutes, I had everyone laughing because I was a class clown. She said she didn’t know who I was and kicked me out of her room. It was the first time I ever met her.”
McDonough and Roy taught in the same building at Hall-Dale Middle for 20 years, and after he retired, he substituted for McDonough on several occasions.
“Her longevity has everything to do with being immersed in what you do as a profession,” he said. “If there’s no connection, it’s really hard to stick with it.”
Tinkham said there are some younger teachers at Hall-Dale who could look to McDonough for leadership and guidance because she’s been through so much in life and in education.
Emily Bowen, a fifth-year French teacher, said there are many things McDonough does to help beginning educators.
“As a young teacher, you definitely rely on the teacher who’s been around to give you advice and expertise and perspective,” she said. “PM is the best, and I’m very glad to have a wonderful example to look up to.”
NO END IN SIGHT
McDonough said she’s never seriously considered retirement and plans to continue working until she no longer is physically or mentally fit. She originally had a goal to reach the 50-year milestone and said she’ll take it year-by-year going forward.
“I’ve never learned to coach football, but when I retire, I’d love to play right field for the Red Sox,” she said with a smile.
Students joke that McDonough has been around since the days of the dinosaurs, and to that end, her classroom’s unofficial mascot is a stuffed dinosaur sitting on the edge of her desk. Tyrone “T” Rex, she named him, is green and wears a bow tie, because McDonough said he has to look professional in school.
A lot of her students, especially the freshman in her Western Civilization class, tell her she can’t retire until they graduate high school. She has worked in only one place her entire life, and it’s all she knows. She has been a part of the Hallowell and Farmingdale community for more than half a century.
If she works another two years, she’ll have worked in seven different decades starting with the 1960s. And there’s no doubt she’s planning on being at Hall-Dale when the calendar reads 2020.
“I don’t have a date in mind,” she said. “I’d miss tremendously the connection with the kids, and it keeps me young.”
Jason Pafundi — 621-5663