THE TEACHER IS IN (originally published in New Haven Register, June 26, 2011)

Doyle, 60, has light-colored hair, wears glasses and conducts her classes with the flair of a Broadway performer. She enunciates. She cajoles. She demands clarity and rewards good vocabulary.

“Every day I put a joke on the board,” she explains. “I want kids to play with the nuance of language.” (Today’s joke? What do you call a group of cats marching down the road? A purr-ade.)

Her classroom is on the school’s first floor, conveniently situated near the library and the teachers’ lounge. It’s a smaller, more intimate room, befitting a literacy teacher who works with small groups of third- and fourth-graders. There are a central table and chairs, a white board, a world map and cabinets here. Books are scattered everywhere: “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” “Superfudge,” “American Heroes,” “The Case of the Missing Trophy,” “Junie B. Jones and the Yucky Bucky Fruitcake.”

This being the end of the school year, Doyle is rewarding the kids by devoting her last sessions to word games and poems. She recites “The Dirtiest Man in the World,” by Shel Silverstein, then begins a game in which kids have to read a word or phrase from an index card and either give a definition or use it in a sentence. If you’re correct, you keep the card. If you’re wrong, you lose all of your cards.

“I made this game up,” Doyle says. “I’ve had grown men cry at this game.”

Eric, a fourth-grader, nods. “It’s a cruel game,” he says.

They go through “fetch,” “helicopter,” “slithering,” “bundle,” “tumbling” and “bolted.”

Next, Doyle asks the kids if they know what a fable is.

“It’s a game on Xbox 360,” a boy says.

“Yes, but it’s also a story with a moral, often using animals as characters,” Doyle says.

“Isn’t that personification?” a girl asks.

“Yes!” Doyle says, closing her eyes and raising her hands over her head.

MAKING THE GRADE

A good case can be made that Doyle was destined to teach.

On the final day of first grade, growing up in Clinton, Doyle hid in the bathroom because she thought teachers spent the summer at school, and she didn’t want to leave Mrs. Sagleo. She also believed that teachers had the answer to every question in the world in the back of their teacher’s manual.

“My father dropped out of school after sixth grade, and I learned that if you didn’t have a good education and a good job, you have a tough road,” Doyle says.

She got her first teaching job in the autumn of 1973, as a teacher’s aide in Naugatuck. The next year, she taught English at West Haven High School.

“You always wonder at first if you have control of your class,” she recalls. “But I knew I was OK.”

Oh, she had control. One day, a student looked out the window and told Doyle he could see his car being stolen from the parking lot. Doyle thought he was kidding and told him to SIT DOWN. But it was true. And that young man stayed in his seat and watched his car being stolen rather than interrupt Doyle a second time.

Doyle moved over to Savin Rock when it was built 35 years ago. She’s taught third grade, sixth grade and fourth grade, in addition to her stint as literacy teacher.

Quite a bit has changed, she says.

She’s gone from mimeograph machines and filmstrips, to overhead projectors, computers and smart boards. Teachers used to just open the doors at dismissal time and let the kids go home; now they monitor each student getting on a bus or being picked up by a parent.

She shakes her head when she thinks that gum chewing used to be such a big deal. “Everything you read about in the paper, in terms of issues with children and parents — every one of those issues — I’ve dealt with in my classroom,” she says. “What children go through today, we never even thought about when I was a child.”

But the core elements of teaching, whether you’re talking about new math, standardized tests or No Child Left Behind, remain solid. “Good teaching is good teaching,” she says in a stage whisper.

HEAD OF THE CLASS

Doyle walks up and down these halls like she owns the place, and it’s no wonder. Kids basically mob her when they see her.

They reminisce with her about past classes, remind her about tomorrow’s class and comment on her clothing. She takes it all in like a good-natured party host, albeit a party host who occasionally orders her guests to form a line and silently walk downstairs.

She brings much the same breezy leadership to her cable access TV program, “Classroom Connections 360,” her monthly appearances on News 8 talking about education issues and her Community Media Lab blog Classroom Connections at www.newhavenregister.com. Those are projects she’ll continue from her home in Branford even after her last classroom bell.

On this day, her last group of kids asks for a game of Boggle after they finish their regular lesson. She obliges, but there are rules. Students must recite and spell out each new word they find and discuss what the words mean. It all proceeds lickety-split. Then the kids want a second game.

Doyle starts to say yes, but looks up at the clock, sensing another bell. She sighs.

“Actually, children, we’re out of time,” she says.