As the Laurel Elementary School student body has become more diverse and technology within its classrooms has evolved, together with renovation that has revamped the interior of the school over the past 20 years, Sharon Batson has seen it all.
Batson, who started at Laurel in 1994 as a fifth-grade teacher and has been teaching third grade since 1998, is one of three long-time educators who will be retiring from Laurel Elementary at the end of the school year.
"I know it's going to be an adjustment," she said of her nearing retirement. "My whole life is centered around teaching. Even when I dream, I'm planning about my lesson, how I can fine tune it. It [teaching] just becomes a part of our lives.'
In addition to Batson, pre-kindergarten teacher Claudia Fink, who has taught at Laurel for the past 11 years; and Patricia Williams, a teacher's aide at Laurel for 26 years, will also be retiring.
Laurel Elementary Principal Melinda Lee called the trio "dedicated teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty.
"They really care about the students," Lee said. "They build great relationships with students and their families."
Although retired, that doesn't mean they'll be gone from the school community.
"Already applied to be a sub a few days a week," Williams said, and Batson and Fink also have plans to return to Laurel as a volunteer at some point.
Not an easy decision
Batson, who missed about four months of the 2012-13 school years due to a bout with endometrial cancer, said that time away from school gave her an opportunity to think about retirement, but still, it was a tough decision.
"All my life, I've been teaching," said Batson, who began her career in education in 1973 at a private school in Long Island. "It's like 'What am I going to do?' It's sort of scary."
Batson, whose mother was also a teacher, said her family has a goal to visit all 50 states, which will be taking up some of her retirement.
She is eight states away from reaching that goal and still needs to visit Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and North Dakota.
Fink and Williams, who have been working in the pre-kindergarten classroom together for eight years, consulted with each other before filing retirement paperwork.
The women, all in their early 60s, acknowledged they're ready for retirement, but reiterated that leaving the classroom won't be easy.
"I'm going to really miss it," Williams said. "I'm not sure if I'm doing the right thing."
Batson added that she had second thoughts when signing her retirement paperwork.
Williams, who lives in Bowie, plans on spending more time with her family in her retirement and possibly taking a trip to Ireland.
She began working at Laurel when her children were students there, and originally started as a teacher's aide with all grade levels.
Fink, who lives in West Laurel and has been a teacher for 31 years, also plans on using her time in retirement to spend with family, including a trip to Florida to visit her parents and brother's family.
"We've given our gift of time to the children here and we love doing that, but now it's another time of our life to explore this adventure and see where it takes us with our family and friends," she said.
While reflecting on their tenures at Laurel Elementary, one theme is a constant with each teacher—the family atmosphere.
"I'll miss my colleagues the most," said Batson, who also lives in Laurel.
The trio agreed that the family atmosphere they've all loved is fostered by the school's administration.
"We have a very nice staff that meshes well," Fink said."Mrs. Lee really makes it work."
Lee, principal at Laurel for 12 years, said she'll miss these teachers' dedication the most about this trio.
"All three really care about the students and I know these children got the very best in each of these classrooms," she said.
When looking back on why they entered the teaching profession, their answers are all the same: A love of children.
"I started out teaching Sunday School at my church years ago and just loved it," Fink said.
While at Laurel for more than two decades, Batson and Williams have seen the student body evolve from majority of white students to now predominantly Hispanic students.
But that doesn't mean how they teach is any different.
"Kids are kids," Williams said. "That's one of the great things about preK and kindergarten, they don't care if you're purple, green, white or yellow."
And what they enjoy most about the profession?
Seeing their students grow throughout the school year.
"Their accomplishments, what they do in one year's time is really amazing," Fink said.