- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

LAKELAND, Fla.
Teaching high school was the last job Hazel Haley wanted, but after 65 years in the classroom, she couldn't imagine her life without it.
"It wasn't what I wanted to do," she said. "It was the only thing I could find a job doing."
What has kept her teaching even today is her affection for the children.
"I don't have a family. These children are my family," said Miss Haley, 86, who has never married. "I'm treated well by young people. They look after me."
Miss Haley was certified by the state to teach in 1937, the same year she graduated from Florida Southern College with a bachelor's degree in English. She is Florida's longest-serving active teacher.
With the exception of two brief teaching assignments, her entire career has been spent at the same school, Lakeland High. It was also there where she received her diploma in 1933.
She is such an institution that her name adorns the building where she teaches three 90-minute English honors classes to seniors every day.
Her classroom is uniquely hers: pink area rugs cover the floor, and shelves bulging with more than 4,000 books line the pale pink walls. A self-professed Anglophile, she has filled the room with all things British: framed photos of London and William Shakespeare, pictures of the royal family, the British flag and a handmade sign that says "The Beatles."
During her career, the school has moved, teachers and principals have come and gone, and teaching styles have changed. The constants are in the hopes, insecurities and dreams of the students she calls "my children."
"I've seen a million changes, but as far as young people are concerned, deep down inside, they haven't changed," she said. "The things that were special about them when I first started are still special."
She has taught some of their parents and grandparents. She has traveled alone to countries around the world every summer for the last 25 years, spending the most time in England.
On a recent morning, Miss Haley, dressed in a red sweat suit and multicolored scarf, went over elements of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" moments before a test. When she realized she had misplaced her eyeglasses, three boys jumped up to retrieve them from her desk.
A petite woman with wide blue eyes and short gray hair that has a slight curl, Miss Haley punctuates her conversations with "sweetheart," "dear" or "little one."
"I quickly recognized how she captivates her students, how much respect they have for her," said Principal Tom Ray, who has been at the school for a year.
"She has the senior kids eating out of her hand."
Students say Miss Haley's class is their favorite.
"You come into the class and it's comfortable. It's warm and inviting. This is like another room of her house," said Jared Fowler, 17, whose mother has been a student of Miss Haley's.
She also counted among her students the now-deceased Gov. Lawton Chiles, to whom she taught ninth-grade geography.
In an interview shortly before his death in 1998, Mr. Chiles said students turned to Miss Haley for advice even in his day.
"You could always share your problems with her, and she would listen and counsel you," he told the Lakeland newspaper, the Ledger. "In those days, you didn't have much in the way of counselors like you have now."


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