HALLOWELL — A boy yelled to show his teacher how high he was swinging. A girl stole another girl’s ring. The teacher made her give it back. Another girl opened her mouth to show the teacher a loose tooth.

Wednesday seemed like a normal day on the playground for students in Sue Dodge’s afternoon pre-kindergarten class at Hall-Dale Elementary School, even though it was their last day of the year. They didn’t know that Dodge, a 41-year veteran of Hallowell and Farmingdale schools, is retiring after teaching probably more than 1,000 children.

Dodge, 63, a Hallowell native who lives in Windsor, is one of about 500 teachers and other school employees that the Maine Public Employees Retirement System says plan to retire this summer statewide. She taught in the upper three grades of elementary school for the bulk of her career, but a decade ago, she volunteered to teach pre-kindergarten.

Helping 4-year-olds blow noses and tying shoes aren’t things that Dodge thought she’d do years ago, but she credits the move with extending her career in education. She traded cursive lessons and grading papers for shaping children’s first school experiences in two half-day classes.

“They’re very sweet and very clever and very smart,” Dodge said. “It’s amazing what they can do.”

She said her last year brought one of her more rewarding experiences: A boy came into this school year unable to speak, but with aid from his teacher and speech therapy, his vocabulary improved over the course of the year. About two weeks ago, however, the child’s mother told Dodge that her son had never called her “Mom.”

Dodge decided to make that a project, printing out a picture of the boy and his mother and putting it in his locker. For days afterward, she’d point to the picture, ask him who was in it with him and say “Mom.” It culminated in a Wednesday celebration for students and parents.

With some prompting, Dodge said, the boy said “Hi, Mom” for the first time.

“She was in tears and I was in tears,” Dodge said.

On Wednesday, Sue Levesque was in tears, too. As Dodge supervised children on the playground, the education technician who has worked in her classroom since the switch to pre-kindergarten was eating lunch and greeting parents dropping off gifts. Flowers and boxes were on a table, and Levesque said she’d miss working with her friend each day.

“Nothing bothers her very much,” she said of Dodge. “She’s just lively and a lot of fun to be around.”

Now Dodge will join her husband, James, who was a teacher at Cony High School, in retirement and have more time to spend with her 91-year-old mother and four grandchildren in the area. She said she isn’t retiring because she’s burned out, but that “it’s better to go out when you’re still enjoying it.”

“Even now, when my alarm goes off at 6 o’clock, I’m still excited thinking about all the things we’re going to do that day, what fun we’ll have and the learning that can still take place,” she said.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

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Twitter: @mikeshepherdme