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Bridget Mohler, the 'Queen of Catonsville Elementary School,' retiring after 38-year teaching career

Catonsville Elementary School teacher Bridget Mohler assists fifth grader Tyler Mackenzie in her classroom Wednesday, June 8.
Catonsville Elementary School teacher Bridget Mohler assists fifth grader Tyler Mackenzie in her classroom Wednesday, June 8. (Jon Bleiweis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

As the fifth-graders in Bridget Mohler's art classroom designed their graduation portraits, she proposed a deal.

As long as they remained well behaved, Mohler would play a "special song" on her iPod.

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Within a matter of seconds, the students and their 64-year-old Catonsville Elementary School teacher were singing along and dancing to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling," which filled the room.

Music is a constant in Mohler's classroom. She believes it helps build a happy and creative atmosphere.

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Her students say it's just another day in the art room.

"She makes art way more fun," said fifth-grader Lena Kikalo. She's always in a joyful mood."

The fun, however, is coming to an end. Mohler will complete her 38-year teaching career at the end of the school year. Despite not losing a love for teaching, she says she is simply exhausted and can't teach elementary school anymore. With the school moving into a new building next year, she said now would be a good transition.

Mohler's teaching career started with seven years in Baltimore City and another six bouncing through Baltimore County, before she got the position at Catonsville Elementary, where she is wrapping up her 25th year.

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Her lone regret is something that's out of her hands — or anyone else's.

"I regret I'm so old," she said. "I wish I wasn't so old and I could still do it, because I love teaching and I love these students and I love my faculty. I had a hard time making the decision, but once I made it, I was comfortable with it."

An energetic teacher

When the Timberlake song ended, Mohler quickly billed the next song about to play. She said it was the students' favorite graduation song from last year, which got the fifth-graders thinking.

In a matter of seconds, she played "I Lived" by OneRepublic, to the delight of many students, who continued singing along and dancing in place as they worked on their projects.

After that, she played Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk."

Mohler's teaching philosophy comes down to three words: Have fun first.

"If I'm not making it fun, they're not going to learn," she said. "That's it, in a nutshell. It's real simple."

Mohler had a love for art since she was a little girl. As she got older, she realized she was more comfortable teaching it, than making it.

If there's one thing she's tired of, it's hearing from both students and teachers who doubt their artistic abilities.

"I have all the confidence in the world that I can instill that ability that everyone can draw," she said. "You can. You jus't have to be taught. It's like math."

Students said they look forward to their weekly visit to her classroom, learning about different techniques and making projects.

"No teacher is going to be as fun as Mrs. Mohler," said fifth-grader Maya Bowman. "She will always make you laugh or smile."

Over the years, Mohler has made her presence known in the school beyond her classroom. She typically starts her day greeting students as they come off the school buses.

"I can stand out there with her and, by far, she's the one the kids want to see," said principal Linda Miller. "They come in and they're happy to see her."

Miller said Mohler is full of energy and is responsible for helping create a positive atmosphere in the building that makes students and staff want to come to school each day.

She knows the school will be a little quieter next year, with the longtime art teacher gone.

"It will be very different not having that energy and positive vibe and sense of humor around," she said.

She can occasionally be heard on the school's morning announcements, singing a song as a way to open the day with laughter. She said the kids get a kick out of the simple deviation from the typical mundane announcements.

"She's the queen of CES," said fifth-grader Grace Marsh. "Without her, I don't think this school could be this school."

Her parting words

Mohler knew time was running out in the art period. She decided to play the kids a snippet of one last song, a cover of her favorite song — "Stairway to Heaven" — before she addressed her students one last time.

She wanted to say goodbye.

"This is going to be a really hard time for me," she said, prefacing her speech.

She gained her composure and delivered one last set of words of wisdom to the fifth-graders.

"It's very, very hard to leave something that you love so much," she began.

She thanked her students — many of whom she had for six years — for giving her their best effort, even at 9 a.m., and being well behaved.

She explained how she was grateful that the students accepted her sense of humor. A sense of humor, she told them, is the most important thing to have in life.

"It gets you through everything," she said.

She told them she hoped her instruction inspired them to appreciate art and its history, which she called "a window back in time."

"I applaud you," she said, "and I thank you so much for ending my career the best way that it could end."

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