As Tuesday marked the end of the school year for students in Anne Arundel County, Flaherty officially retired after 44 years in the system. She capped a career that has seen many approaches to education while teaching several members of the same family — including siblings, parents, aunts and uncles. The school's current staff includes her former students.
"She's an institution in this community," said Mayo reading teacher Nancy Behringer. "She is extremely passionate about teaching and about children. I'm thinking for next year, and a lot of times I'll think about students that really would have benefited from being in Ms. Flaherty's class."
Toward the end of the school day, fellow teachers stopped by for farewell hugs. When asked to comment on the close of her career, Flaherty uttered, "Yay!"
She came to Anne Arundel County from western Pennsylvania because of the plentiful teaching jobs. Then she got married within six weeks of arrival and fell in love with the area. "South County is one of the best-kept secrets in Maryland," said Flaherty, 64, who retired teaching fourth-grade science. "It has good families that care about their kids, parent support."
Flaherty decided to leave at the beginning of the year, she said, because she has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung ailment that makes breathing difficult.
"I don't think it's fair to the children when you can't do what you used to do," said Flaherty. She added that she has difficulty breathing when on field trips and going up steps. "The mind and the spirit are there, but the body goes, 'Oh, no you're not.'"
Flaherty said she will miss hands-on activities such as origami. "If you're going to keep them busy, they're going to keep learning; they don't even know they're learning," she said.
Asked what she wouldn't miss, she said, "Probably bureaucracy, the changes in rules and regulations that don't always make sense."
She has taught in class sizes of as many as 38 students, including 36 students in a trailer, and she earned a reputation as a no-nonsense educator who stressed discipline but gave her students latitude for creativity.
About an hour before her career ended, she sat on the floor of the school gymnasium as groups of her students took turns launching paper airplanes they made in her class, testing how far the objects could travel and how long they could stay in the air.
"She's nice and she's been teaching for a long time. I'm lucky I got to have her as a teacher," said Matthew Bates.
"I liked having her because she's a really nice teacher, and I liked her class because we do crafts," added Kasey Ford.
Mayo teachers Danielle Bender and Katie Auld, who are former students of Flaherty's, said she was among the teachers who inspired them to enter the profession.
"She was a good teacher but intimidating at the beginning of the year," said Auld, "because you heard things about her from older students."
"But once you got in her class you realized, 'Wow, this is not so bad. This is actually fun,' " Bender added.
Flaherty said that she emptied her desk long ago but she has told school officials she would volunteer if needed. But she seemed primed for retirement.
"After a certain age, some people have the ability to keep going forever and ever and you don't even know what age they are," Flaherty said. "Others, as bad health or whatever cuts in, you have to hand it on to somebody else."