"When Frank (her husband) and I moved here, we didn't have any family," Koza recalled. "So it was wonderful because I had somebody here to talk with and get to know and enjoy a great deal. And it's continued over the years."
"I feel fortunate Nancy has been a teammate all these years," Dower added. "We have similar philosophies about teaching and education and children, and we both have a desire to keep things fresh. … That makes coming to work each day fun as well."
For their first 35 years together, the two teachers shared a pod, which meant they were essentially in the same classroom. Major renovations at the school in the spring, however, meant the two were moved to their own classrooms, apart from each other.
"I had separation anxiety," Dower said.
This fall, with the renovations nearly complete, the two will have separate classrooms — but they are adjoining classrooms, much to their mutual relief.
Not surprisingly after all those years in the same school, both Dower and Koza have had students who turned out to be children of former students. Also not surprisingly, both constantly are running into former students. They see them in the grocery store, in the mall — even, at times, in their own homes.
Just this summer, Dower had a repairman in her home and, after he looked at her quizzically and asked if she was a teacher, she realized he was a former student. When he was done, he showed her a photograph of his own child.
"That's the fun part of being in this field for a long time," she said.
Keeping students engaged
Their fellow teachers at Phelps Luck seem almost in awe of the two women, praising their teaching skills, ability to relate to the students and openness to change.
"They're so good with the students," said Tammy Hart, a paraeducator at Phelps Luck. "I don't know how, but they always keep them engaged. … They have great command of their classes, and they never raise their voices."
Teacher Isaac Clark, in his third year at Phelps Luck, said both women helped him adapt to teaching in Howard County after eight years in the Baltimore school system.
"If I had any questions, their doors were always open," he said.
And, while both have been teaching for nearly four decades, Clark noted, he has been "very impressed with how they integrate technology into their classrooms. … They've both been mentors for me."
Present and past principals are equally impressed.
"They're both so incredibly talented and have had such a profound impact on our school," said Principal Sean Martin.
Part of their value is their deep knowledge of the school and the community, he said, but they also "are continually being proactive in terms of seeking out new ideas to deliver instruction and curriculum."
Added Martin, who began his career as a teacher at Phelps Luck 17 years ago: "I always say I learned more being on a committee with Nancy and Amy than I did in any classroom. They're great role models, for us and for our students."
Former Phelps Luck Principal Pamela Akers, who is on assignment in the school system's Human Resources Office, noted that teachers who stay in the same job at the same school can often "get stuck." But Dower and Koza, she said, avoid that because they're "always open to trying new things — and actually looking for new ways to improve their teaching.
"Howard County is lucky to have them," she added. "And Phelps Luck is lucky to have had them for so long."
Asked how much longer they expect to keep teaching, both Dower and Koza said they'd know when it's time to retire.
And, they agree, that time has not yet arrived.
"Doesn't everybody at a certain age start to think about retirement?" Dower said. "It's the natural progression. And I think with any job you know when the time has come.
"But here we are, it's the start of the year …"
"And we're ready to go," finished Koza.