Weeks before school is back in session, Beth Guy is back in her classroom, preparing.
From just her classroom, it’s clear she’s an English teacher – a poster of Shakespeare and several pithy quotes decorate the walls. The Bard is among her favorite writers to teach, she says.
Although the classroom has been reconstructed and remodeled, and posters taken on and off the wall countless times, it’s once again the same space Guy was assigned to teach in when she first started at Windham High School in 1977.
She’s moved to different areas of the school during her 40 years there, and although her current classroom is in the same space as her first, it’s now in a different size and shape following the school’s major remodel in the early 2000s.
“I make a joke of saying I’ve sort of come full circle,” said Guy, who is the school’s longest-standing staff member.
Guy will be among hundreds of teachers greeting their students next week as the school year begins. In Regional School Unit 14, classes begin Aug. 30. Students in both School Administrative District 6 and 61 start Aug. 31. In SAD 15, classes resume Sept. 6.
During Guy’s career, Windham has changed significantly from a small, one-town school to a district with more than 900 students from both Windham and Raymond. The high school facilities have been expanded, and shifts in education and classroom culture occurring on a national scale are playing out in her classroom.
Guy grew up in Portland and was a student at Deering High School at a time when “girls weren’t allowed to wear slacks,” she said. She attended Tufts University in Medford, Mass., where she studied English.
“I grew up in a family of teachers, and I always liked school,” Guy said, “so I always had teaching on my mind as probably what I would do with my life.”
During college, she was a student-teacher in a high school, “and I never left high school,” she said with a chuckle.
After graduating, Guy taught for one year in Brockton, Mass., before accepting a position in Windham teaching sophomores, juniors and seniors. At the time, freshmen were taught in the middle school.
Now she teaches five classes of senior-level English classes, including two Advanced Placement courses.
The growing student body at the high school has meant the school and faculty have grown accordingly. When Guy started at Windham, among the faculty, “everybody knew everybody, and they were very supportive of each other,” she said. “But now even though we’re a much larger faculty and you can’t know everybody to the extent that we once did, we have very supportive and collaborative faculty that work together for the common good.”
Despite the growth of the student body, class sizes have remained relatively stable, according to Guy, who said she consistently has fewer than 20 students in her classroom.
For a few years ending in 2004, Windham High School underwent significant construction and remodeling to add the main office, performing arts center, gymanisum and more. Classes continued as construction occurred around them.
Many of the classrooms were set up in portables, and the construction was noisy and distracting, “but we ended up with a much better facility than what we had. Because we were growing so fast, we had to make a lot of concessions in terms of space and comfort (before the new facility). But we have a pretty good building to be in now.”
Beyond the physical space, Guy said, education has evolved significantly from when she started teaching.
Guy said the culture around education has also changed, in line with cultural shifts in society and in accordance with legislation.
“When I first started teaching, students always sat in rows,” Guy said. “Schools were more disciplined in a sense – not that we don’t have discipline now – but we’re more relaxed.”
The model classroom is no longer one where the teacher is the authority figure lecturing from a podium while students diligently take notes. Now students move around the classroom, working in pairs and small groups to solve problems and develop arguments.
Guy said the way she teaches is very different from the way she was taught in high school.
“I think now teachers try to foster more relationships with students,” Guy said, and students are more open to approaching their teachers with problems.
Guy said while in some ways the culture in schools has relaxed, the students aren’t necessarily more laid back.
“For some students, there’s a great deal of pressure on them in ways that didn’t happen 30 or 40 years ago,” she said.
Students are taking heavy course loads with multiple college-level courses, while juggling part-time jobs, sports and extracurriculars.
Many students do very well juggling an intensive schedule, and “sometimes I marvel at how much they juggle,” she said.
Among Guy’s earliest students were Amy Hanrahan, a Windham graduate who is now secretary at Manchester Elementary school, and her husband, Tom Hanrahan.
Guy’s classroom was structured and had very clear expectations, and “I learned a lot,” she said. “I loved her.”
Hanrahan and Guy have since worked together professionally, when Hanrahan worked in administration for Windham High School.
Hanrahan’s two sons, Derek and Adam, were also Guy’s students.
Although the school has changed in a number of ways, Hanrahan said, the most important aspects of her sons’ education with Guy were similar to her own experience.
“The expectations were still there to get (them) ready for college,” Hanrahan said, meaning they read books they “didn’t necessarily want to,” and practiced their writing.
In preparation for classes starting Aug. 31, Guy is making photocopies, getting ready for the first couple hectic weeks and adapting her courses to align with Common Core standards.
But, “any teacher will tell you” that it’s not administrative tasks that keep teachers in the classroom, Guy said. Rather, interacting with students and witnessing growth makes the job worthwhile.
“It’s time in the classroom that teachers love,” Guy said. “That’s why people like me keep coming back.”
As for retirement, Guy isn’t sure when she’ll take down her posters for good, “but I’m definitely on the last half of my career,” she said with a laugh.
A CLOSER LOOK:
First days of school in the Lakes Region school districts
Bonny Eagle Schools (SAD 6)
Grades K-6 and 9 start Aug. 31
All students attend Sept. 1
Gray-New Gloucester Schools (SAD 15)
All students start Sept. 6
Lakes Region Schools (SAD 61)
All students start Aug. 31
Windham-Raymond Schools (RSU 14)
Grades 1-9 start Aug. 30
Grades 10-12 start Aug. 31
Kindergarteners start Sept. 1
Beth Guy, teacher at Windham High School, stands with the Windham Eagle outside the building. In the mid-1980s, then-Principal Michael Timmons led a campaign to foster school pride among students. Guy said she’s proud to teach at Windham and thinks “it’s wonderful we foster pride in our school.”
Beth Guy sits at her desk in her classroom at Windham High School. “It’s time in the classroom that teachers love,” Guy said. “That’s why people like me keep coming back.”