CUMBERLAND — The year was 1972. Nixon visited China, “Brandy” was a hit on the radio, and Bobby Fischer became world chess champion.
And it was also the year Steve Hill started teaching social studies at Greely Junior High School.
Forty-two years and many events later – including construction of Greely Middle School – the 63-year-old, long-time Cape Elizabeth resident is retiring.
“Teaching, to me, is a people profession; I’m kind of a people person,” Hill said last week, adding that one reward of the job is “42 years of relationships … for years I’ve done a job I’ve loved.”
Shannon Montgomery, who also teaches eighth-grade social studies at GMS, said in an email Monday that “I have truly enjoyed the time I have spent teaching with Steve the last few years. His love for teaching, enthusiasm about history and investment in this community is tremendous.”
Hill, who has also taught reading, started at the school soon after graduating from the University of Southern Maine. A professor and mentor of his brought the job opening to Hill’s attention, and it turned out Hill knew the principal, Tom Joyce, through coaching baseball.
“I’ve coached everything from JV soccer to junior high basketball and track,” said Hill, who has been married for 43 years and has three sons and five grandchildren, with a sixth on the way.
The sense of doing something important has been a significant factor in Hill’s remaining in teaching. He focuses on American history from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, and enjoys teaching young people the wisdom of founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson.
“They learn why the Declaration (of Independence) is important; they learn something about the Constitution, and what’s significant about the Civil War,” Hill said. “This week is the Emancipation Proclamation. I get energized when I do that.”
Joyce, whose time leading the Cumberland school lasted about half of Hill’s career, was a big part of what kept Hill there all these years.
“He was a well-respected principal,” Hill said. “He understood that if you take care of your teachers, they’ll take care of everything else. I think that’s a good lesson to learn.”
Plus, he said, you get to know the community. Hill said he enjoyed working with former students again when he taught driver’s education at the high school, and he is proud to see the various fields they’ve entered as adults.
“Now I’m teaching children of former students,” Hill said. “It’s been a good community. It’s a very supportive community (for) education.”
Aside from going from the original junior high to the larger middle school, another key change in the past four decades has been the ability to communicate, he explained. There was once a time when you had to go to the main office to use a telephone; now all the classrooms have them, and email as well.
But the basics of teaching haven’t changed too much, Hill said. To “instill a love of history and government, it’s the same, in a way,” he said, although the paperwork, and the data collection, is much greater.
Both of Hill’s parents were teachers, and “the important people in my life were my teacher/coaches,” he explained. “I’ve really kind of lived a dream. I’ve done, my whole adult life, pretty much what I thought I wanted to do.”
Hill said he thought about continuing to teach, but “when you get older, you find out life is short. … Forty-two years … if you haven’t done it then, it probably is not going to happen.”
He said he has no particular retirement plans, other than to spend more time with his grandchildren and journey with his wife in their travel trailer.
“A lot of people say you don’t know what you’ll do until you’re available,” Hill said. “So I’m available.”
Steve Hill of Cape Elizabeth is retiring after 42 years as a middle school teacher in Cumberland.