Great Gumbo! Teaching for 69 Years!
Miss Hazel Haley just retired after teaching for 69 years in Florida.
Through the years, Miss Haley has taught an estimated 13,500 students, including Lawton Chiles, Florida's late governor and former U.S. senator. But he was no more adorable or beloved than anyone in this semester's three senior honors English classes.
''My inspiration every day comes from the satisfaction of being with these young people,'' Miss Haley says. ``You know, they give you so much back that is stimulating, exciting and fun, and that every day I will miss. That's been an integral part of my life for most of my life. I depend on it. It's not approval, . . . although sometimes I get that, and sometimes I don't. But it's a life force. It's an energy that comes from the children that nothing else can replace.''
Today's text is Macbeth's woeful Act IV, so murky with eye of newt, fearsome apparitions and murder, but the lesson, as always, quickly ricochets from the literary to the personal. ''Dears, we've all agreed that the second or third time that you do something you know is wrong, it's easier,'' Miss Haley says. ``When you sneak out on your parents, and you don't get caught, it becomes easier to sneak out a second and a third time.''
''She doesn't just teach you about English, but she teaches you about life,'' says senior Tori Harvey, whose mother once sat in this classroom, too.
''She just lets you know that you are special,'' says Robin Harris, class of 1987, who named her 11-year-old daughter Haley, because, "when you're in high school, you don't really know which way you're going. She just made me interested in school again. She made it exciting to learn.''
Harris and her daughter were among more than 500 fans -- community leaders, co-workers, friends, students and alums, even Miss Haley's mailman -- sipping punch and nibbling on cake and homemade cookies at the frothy Queen for a Day retirement party at the church. ''She said she remembered me,'' says Jo Kelly of Brandon, class of 1940, who turns 80 in July.
``Of course, she says that to everybody, but she might. I never forgot her.''
Here are a few things to remember about Miss Haley: She was a student here herself, graduating in 1933. She has never married and lives alone, but every student she has ever taught is dearly regarded as ''my child.'' She drives to school in Earl, her 1988 Grand Marquis. She is a lifelong Anglophile and will happily show off letters from Margaret Thatcher and the Queen.
An accomplished motivational speaker, she believes that life is a series of little joys.
She believes it is a long string of choices, that each choice exacts a consequence, and if you choose to say something naughty on the video being shot for your retirement party, you must be genteel when the editor calls your bluff and lets you spill these spicy beans: ``I love being with the children. . . . That's my whole life every single day, but when I come home, then I'm ready to close the door, take off my clothes and run naked through the house.''
Good grief. This is the toughest woman alive. Let us all raise a glass to her, God Bless Her.