When Richard Doyle, a retired U.S. history and government teacher at Newburyport High School, got unique and outrageous answers to test questions, he always saved them. He would share the funny answers in the teachers' room, and colleagues were so amused that they suggested he write a book.
The Newburyport native compiled his collection in "Winston Churchill Was a Catholic Priest," a memoir of what he experienced in his 37 years as a teacher in the Newburyport Public School system. Doyle writes about situations in and out of the classroom, including his work with the Theater Arts and Yearbook groups and his four years as president of the Newburyport Teachers Association.
The book's title is an answer he got on the very first midterm exam he gave in the mid-1960s.
"I was one of those teachers who will give you credit if you write something down," Doyle said. "I was right out of college, giving my first midterm, and as I went down the aisles proctoring, I saw a young lady had left a bunch of blanks. I suggested that she write something down, and when she turned in the test, that's what I got. I don't know if it was because he had the word 'church' in his name or what."
The book is filled with funny anecdotes like that or the one when a teen identified General Electric as a Civil War general, but the humor is also interspersed with sadder chapters.
"As president of the Teachers Association, they called on me for everything. One time, a brand-new teacher was let go in accordance with the rule that the school can let go of a teacher without reason in the first 90 days of their job," Doyle said. "I spent 90 minutes consoling her and giving advice. I had to deal with it all from challenging students to challenging authorities."
Anyone who is a teacher will relate immediately to the tales of vacation changes and battling administration, and anyone who has ever been to school will get a better understanding of what happens "behind the scenes" at a high school.
"There's always problems, but there's nice benefits too," Doyle said. "Kids would get really discouraged, and I'd tell them that no one got through life easily. Look at FDR, he had polio but was able to overcome it and serve as president. They always loved that type of story."
Initially, Doyle had problems publishing his book and had to follow the advice he'd been telling students his whole life. The first-time author didn't know how to publish or market a book, and several publishers to whom he sent the manuscript said there was no market for memoirs. After putting it on the shelf for five years, he attended a memoir-writing seminar at an AARP convention in Boston.
"I got involved with the two presenters, who were wonderful, and they walked me through it," Doyle said.
The Author-House publication will be produced in time for Christmas and will be available in local bookstores, Borders and Amazon.com.
In Doyle's last year, he had his students fill out questionnaires and answer questions such as "Who was the best president in your lifetime?" and "What do you think you'll be doing in 10 years?," which are featured in the book.
Doyle retired in 2002 and with his wife now divides his time between New Hampshire and Florida. He is currently working on a book devoted to the history of his family.
He looks back on Newburyport and his students fondly. His greatest accomplishment is when they feel the same way.
"I was downtown getting a bite to eat with my wife, and a former student was waitressing. She said, 'Mr. Doyle, I voted today,' and I asked how she remembered the date. She said, 'You told us it was the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November,' and I couldn't believe that out of everything, she remembered that," Doyle said. "That sort of thing makes it all worthwhile."