LEWISTON — When the bell rings on the last day of school on June 8, it will be a bittersweet sound for Diane and Charles “Bud” Bleakney Jr.
A married couple, both teach at Lewiston Middle School.
Both began teaching in Lewiston 40 years ago, she at the middle school, he at the high school.
Both are retiring when the summer recess begins.
Some ask how they could stay all those years, Diane said. She answers that it’s been a pleasure.
“I have literally loved every day,” she said. “There were tough days, but there’s been something fun. It’s always fun when you’re working with adolescents.”
Bud agreed. “The middle school-age keeps you alive and active,” he said. “There’s never a dull moment.”
She’s a 1966 graduate of Lewiston High School. He’s a 1966 graduate of Edward Little. The two began dating while they were students at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. After graduation, both began teaching in Lewiston.
She started teaching English at what was then Montello Junior High School. When the new Lewiston High School was built, the old high school became the middle school.
Initially, Diane thought she’d teach at the middle school until a job opened at the high school. But she never left.
“After a year I thought, ‘I love this. I’m not moving.’ I found a place I felt I could make a difference. The kids were responding.”
She remembers her first year when she was intimidated by parents. “You have to figure it out and if you don’t do a good enough job, you’re not coming back. It’s very stressful,” she said. She soon got in a rhythm and was surrounded by “wonderful mentors,” she said.
Bud began teaching history and English at the high school, which then was the current middle school building.
“I was a roving teacher with no room,” he said. “I taught in five different classrooms on three different floors.” Carrying books, he joined the crush of students in the hall changing classes, “making sure I was where I needed to be.”
Eventually he became assistant principal. For nine years, he was principal. He went back to the classroom when their second daughter was born, deciding to join his wife as a middle school teacher.
They drive to work together, but from 7:30 to 2:30 there’s no time to interact other than a wave, they said.
Both decided to go into teaching when they were young.
“From the time I was in the second or third grade I hoped I might become a teacher,” Diane said. Her grandfather, former Lewiston Mayor Charles Lemaire, told her that if she wanted to make a difference, she should think about teaching. “He was right,” she said.
Her teaching style, she said, is to give and demand respect, and to build on each student’s talent.
“It’s not easy to spend 80 minutes trying to tell a kid you’re going to have to read this book and write this essay,” she said. “We try to motivate them.”
She pointed to a student’s “Incredible Hulk” drawings on the board in her classroom. “If I let him draw, he’ll do the book report,” she said. “Success for me is finding the strength or gift every child has, and trying to link that to the writing or reading.”
Bud’s teaching style is to notice students who are having difficulty, to provide help “in such a fashion that no one else realizes what you’re doing and try to bring them along.” It’s a great feeling, he said, when students see something in the news and make a connection to something talked about in class.
During their four decades teaching, much has changed, they said, especially technology. Things like Xbox games, texting and social networking provide more temptation to lure students from academics.
“But their hearts and souls are just the same,” Diane said. One eighth-grade lesson is on the Holocaust. Some students haven’t heard of it, or don’t realize 11 million people were killed. When introduced to that history, many kids suddenly seek more books, more research. Earlier this year, a Holocaust survivor visited. She received warm hugs from students.
“They have a sense of right and wrong,” Diane said. “These kids really are open to learning about what freedom is, what freedom means.”
With their two daughters receiving master’s degree this month and both planning education careers, Bud and Diane decided it was time to retire.
“We have a bucket list — a very long one,” he said.
“I’m leaving loving what I do,” Diane said. “I still have the energy to get the job done right, but I don’t want to be hauled out of here in a wheelchair.”
The first day of school this fall will be difficult, he said. “We’ll probably be thinking about what’s going on.”
It will be good to finally set their own schedule, to no longer be at school at 6:15 a.m. each day. But they’ll miss the kids, he said: “their enthusiasm, the humor, the serious discussions, the volume of it.”