Dane Dwyer doesn’t do snow days well.
“After one or two hours, I’m going crazy.” So as he and wife Gail mulled how to lighten his load after three decades of his teaching, coaching and athletic administration in Bath, they realized he should keep teaching.
At 61, he started in Wiscasset Elementary School’s fifth grade this fall. “It separates me a bit from Bath and (Regional School Unit) 1, where I’m known for more than just teaching. Being over here I’m looked at just as a fifth grade teacher.” He liked RSU 1. “But Wiscasset’s a little bit smaller, and for me it’s just been a great fit. I’m loving everything that I’m doing right now.”
Dwyer taught third grade in Auburn for five years, then started his long run in Bath, first as a fifth grade teacher at Fisher-Mitchell School. When he was earning his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at University of Maine at Farmington, he always pictured himself teaching that grade. He thinks he associated it with his fifth grade teacher, Mary Timmerman, at Brunswick’s Coffin School. “That was a great year for me,” including two months of weekly trips Timmerman took students on to bowl at Yankee Lanes in Brunswick, he recalled. “And from that a number of us started doing a Saturday league.
“She was just a great lady, very calm, (with a) down to earth, gentle approach. And I think that’s something I try to have.”
Another inspiration for Dwyer’s career choice was his mother, Dorothy MacKenzie. She taught first grade at Coffin and at Jordan Acres School, also in Brunswick. On weekends, she brought her children to help in her classroom and to play in the gym. “That was a big influence on all of my five siblings and myself becoming educators.”
So was his adventurous, smart grandmother, Agnes Brown. “She was, no disrespect to anyone else I know, probably the most intelligent person that I’ve ever met in my life. And she was a very kind person, but high energy,” like he was as a boy. “She just nurtured me and (helped) me be more calm, and just provided me with a wisdom that I didn’t realize I had until I got into teaching.”
Dwyer comes from an Army family with Korean War and World War II service. He served in the Army Reserves. Most of his teaching career has been in sixth grade at Bath Middle School, thanks to another one of his “great mentors,” Dave Dorian, Dwyer said. Dorian encouraged him to get into coaching; and BMS’ school day ended at the right time. “So that worked out, and that’s pretty much where I’ve been ever since.”
At WES, he plays kickball at recess. He said it’s a fun way to connect with the kids outside class. But he isn’t coaching or working in sports like he was in Bath. That’s how he lightened his workload. And despite the longer commute, the Bath man gets home in time to walk the dog.
“We are all very excited and appreciative of Dane's teaching experience and level of professionalism that he brings to the WES staff and teaching community here in Wiscasset,” Superintendent of Schools Terry Wood, who is also WES’ principal, told Wiscasset Newspaper.
The appreciation is mutual. Dwyer said his energy has always been able to match anyone’s, until now. “I really don’t think I can match her energy, but you just want to come in and try. You want to give everything, because she gives everything. She’s kind of like a Maria Von Trapp,” from “The Sound of Music,” his grandmother Brown’s favorite play.
Something else he likes about WES comes at day’s end: He said all the teachers go out and wave goodbye to the kids.
It’s fun being a rookie, he said. His fifth grade teaching partner Justin Stygles has helped him acclimate and the other teachers have also welcomed him, with open arms, literally and figuratively, he said. He likes his classroom and the class. For the first two or three weeks, he kept accidentally calling them sixth graders, after so many years teaching that grade. “And they’re like, ‘Look, we’re not sixth graders, Mr. Dwyer,’” he said, laughing.
“I think I do set the bar a little bit higher, which is a good thing. It’s better to set it a little higher than a little lower. But I’ve learned that there is a little bit of an adjustment to teaching at this level. But ... children are children wherever you go. They’ll put in the effort if you show them you care.”