After more than four decades at Lincoln Academy, the Newcastle high school’s longest-serving faculty member has decided to retire.
Amy Lessner, of Jefferson, has served in a number of different roles during her 42-year career at Lincoln Academy, teaching physical education and wellness and coaching field hockey, track and field, and junior varsity basketball.
“My decision to retire was not an easy one, but it just felt right. The time had come,” Lessner said.
Lessner’s history with Lincoln Academy began prior to her teaching career. Her mother, Elizabeth “Peggy” Duckett, taught English at L.A. and started the field hockey program. Lessner had the unique experience of having her mother as both a teacher and a coach.
“I understood there was always a line and was always respectful of her, from home to the classroom to coaching,” Lessner said. “When I played for her, I wanted to do well not only for myself, but also for her.”
Lessner graduated from Lincoln Academy in 1970 and went on to attend the University of Maine at Orono, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and English. After graduation, she searched for a job in elementary education, but was soon presented with an opportunity to return to Lincoln Academy.
“I really lucked out on getting this job,” Lessner said. “The position opened up at the last minute in August, and (then-Principal Arthur Dexter) called me to come in and interview for the job.”
Lessner accepted the position of physical education teacher and started teaching at Lincoln Academy in 1974. In addition to teaching alongside some of her former teachers, Lessner was also teaching alongside her mom.
“She’s an easy-going person, and made it very easy for me to join the school community here,” Lessner said. “There was such a nice group of people here when I first started out that really made me feel comfortable and encouraged me.”
Lessner’s position at the school expanded a few years later when health curriculum was integrated into the school at the request of the state. Lessner attended conferences and workshops to gain information, which she would then bring back to the classroom to teach her students.
“It was a very interesting time when all that was getting started,” Lessner said. “Now it’s easy to find everything you need to know in a textbook or online, but that wasn’t always the case.”
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Lessner also coached sports at the school, including field hockey, track and field, and JV basketball.
“Athletics have played a big part of my life, both as a coach and when I played in high school,” said Lessner, who competed in field hockey, track and field, and gymnastics while she was a student. “I think the high school years can be difficult because students are trying to find themselves and figure out who they are, and sports can be a good outlet for that.”
Lessner coached for five years before stepping away to focus on raising her three kids, Kathryn, Nicholas, and Hillary, all of whom she would later have as students in high school.
Throughout the years, Lessner taught two generations of some families, and in some cases, three generations. When the school hosts open houses and parent-teacher conferences, Lessner said it can sometimes feel like a family reunion.
“It’s really neat to see the paths they’ve taken and the similarities between the family members and what traits get passed down,” Lessner said. “But that’s what’s really nice about having a small community – you get to see the students you had grow up and have kids and live their lives.”
During her time at Lincoln Academy, Lessner has had the opportunity to teach and work alongside some of her former students and classmates.
“It’s rewarding to see people come back and fulfill their passions and dreams,” Lessner said. “I had a love of the area and the people here, which is why I chose to come back.”
Lessner said she has been inspired by many of her former teachers and co-workers, including Pam Kennoyer, Lessner’s high school English teacher; Dexter, the principal who hired Lessner; and her mom.
Lessner received many pieces of advice during her career, however, one of the most influential came during her first year of teaching.
“The best piece of advice I received was to be firm with my students and not their friend,” Lessner said. “As the years have passed, I have actually felt more like a parent to many of them. I feel like you have to learn about what their passions are and the little things in life that make up who they are to really make that connection and make a difference.”
After retiring at the end of the school year, Lessner said she plans to spend more time with family, including her husband Alan and their kids, as well as gardening and completing projects. She does plan to come back for Lincoln Academy’s graduation in 2017 to hand diplomas to some of the students she has advised for the past three years.
“Handing my advisees their diplomas during graduation is one of my favorite moments throughout the years,” Lessner said. “Being able to celebrate their accomplishments and watch them grow into young adults has been very rewarding.”