Deborah Bittner said she's known she wanted to be a teacher since she was in the second grade at Edmondson Heights Elementary School.
"You enjoy the kids, you enjoy being with them," she said. "You like to see them grow in the knowledge they're learning, become thinkers."
After more than 40 years as a teacher and administrator in Baltimore County public schools, Bittner will retire as principal of Catonsville High School this month.
Last week, the group of sixth-graders she taught during her last year as a teacher at Catonsville Middle graduated from Catonsville High.
She said parents continue to ask if she would stay another year.
"That's the greatest compliment they could give to me, is saying 'I still have one more (kid to come through high school), please wait," said Bittner, a Relay resident.
She began her teaching career at Fountain Elementary School, W. Va., soon after earning her bachelor's degree in K-8 education and a master's degree in supervision and administration, from what is now Frostburg State University.
After one year in the five-room schoolhouse in Mineral County, she spent the past 42 years working in elementary, middle and high schools in Baltimore County.
She transitioned from teaching social studies at Southwest Academy Magnet Middle School, to becoming a reading resource and mentoring teacher at Lansdowne Middle School, to becoming an assistant principal at Woodlawn Middle School and then Catonsville Middle School .Six years ago she was named Catonsville High School's principal.
"The majority of my career has been in the classroom. I was excited to have the opportunity for leadership," Bittner said.
"Every day is different, that's one of the things I really enjoy about leadership and administration," she said. "Because you may have your agenda planned for the day but it doesn't always work out that way."
She said she has especially enjoyed the opportunity to work in the Catonsville area.
"I am tremendously indebted to the Catonsville community for having the wonderful opportunity of working with their children all these years and having the career that I've been able to have," Bittner said with a slight catch in her throat. "I appreciate their support."
She said she is looking forward to spending her retirement volunteering at Halethorpe Elementary where her twin grandsons will begin kindergarten next year .
She said she is also anticipating spending more time with her husband at their second home: a 200-acre farm in southwest Pennsylvania.
There, she plans to spend her days cooking vegetables harvested from the property on her restaurant-size French stove, one of her favorite pastimes.
"I've been known to can up to 200 quarts of tomatoes in a season," Bittner said. "Eventually, we hope to move up (to the farm) permanently."
But for now, she will remain in the area and enjoy the opportunity to spend more time with her grandchildren. The oldest is a junior at Catonsville High.
She also plans to give back to the community to which she is so grateful.
"This is a great staff, it's a great school, it's a great community," she said of Catonsville. "We have absolutely fabulous kids.
"What a great place to be, what a wonderful way to finish my career," she said.