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Omega Taylor’s 40-year career teaching at Mechanicsville Elementary School is coming to an end.

Taylor, 62, practiced the art of teaching with fourth-graders for most of her career — 31 years — before switching to second grade several years ago. And all of that time, since 1973, was spent at Mechanicsville Elementary.

Taylor plans to retire at the end of this school year, and several of her coworkers and friends are gathering information, including testimonies and photographs, from her former students and peers. They are planning a retirement party later this spring.

When Taylor started teaching in 1973, the Vietnam War was still being waged, and the Watergate scandal was well under way, leading to President Richard Nixon’s resignation within a year. Public schools in St. Mary’s County had only officially desegregated six years earlier, despite the ruling of Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954.

Taylor has worked with 10 principals, and started teaching before her current principal, Jeffrey DiRenzo, was born.

Her first class, which was actually a split class between second and third grade, had 20 girls and just seven boys. “The seven I had made up for the ones I didn’t have,” she said.

Her largest classes were in the early 1980s, when there were easily 35 children in her classroom. More recently, her classes usually have fewer than 25 students.

“You couldn’t do 35 kids now,” she said. “Children have changed drastically.”

She said the amount of respect shown to teachers from students has dwindled during the last four decades.

“Every class has their own personality,” she said. A good teacher will identify that personality early on and adapt teaching techniques to better control the class, she said.

“I think children should be treated like little adults and be respected,” she said. Doing that, Taylor added, helps create a sense of independence.

Honesty is important, she said. “They eventually tell on themselves,” Taylor said of her young students.

Friend and colleague Yvonne Patton said Taylor is a great friend to the staff, and often shares tips and wisdom gathered during her 40 years of teaching.

“She always comes off as being very tough, but fair,” Patton said, describing Taylor as “a commonsense teacher.”

She said Taylor knows how to earn the respect of her students.

Technology, of course, has changed tremendously over the last four decades. Taylor has an interactive white board that is tied into a laptop computer, but admits she only knows the basics of how to use it.

Lessons are now more advanced in the early elementary grades, so children are learning things at a younger age. Taylor attributes a lot of that to the expansion to full-day kindergarten several years ago.

“They were grasping for this stuff,” she said.

Taylor was born in Cambridge; her mother picked crab meat and her father was a barber.

“I decided I needed to do something else,” she said.

She came to St. Mary’s straight out of college after graduating from Morgan University, thanks to a tip from a cousin who lived here at the time. William Burroughs, who worked in the human resources department at the time, hired her and later was her principal. She lives in Lexington Park, and said she has never really minded the 25-mile commute during her 40 years.

Still, she said, “Forty is enough.”

Teaching takes up a lot of time, and she is ready to take some time to herself. She said she plans to visit friends who live in other states, including Florida, Texas and Kansas.

“I’ve walked this walk a long time,” she said.

She has many fond memories of her four decades at Mechanicsville, she said, and a few not so fond ones, too. She recalled a poorly scheduled fire drill that occurred during lunch once, and a couple real fires, including one in the boiler room in the 1980s, one in the media center and the time a squirrel was fried.

She also remembers having no heat at the school for about a week because maintenance staff had a hard time finding a replacement part for the school’s furnace.

She said she does get accolades when she runs into former students.

“They tell me, ‘Mrs. Taylor was strict, but I learned in her classroom,’” she said.

She admits to being very strict during her years of teaching fourth grade. As for second grade, she said, “that’s a different kind of strict,” since most of the children are eager to please their teachers.

“When they walk through my doors, they become my children,” she said. Taylor said she is a strong advocate for her children and will always stand up for them, even to their own parents.

“It’s been a blessing,” Taylor said.