Stone Bridge High School English teacher Patricia Land and Spanish teacher Barbara Thede are more than just co-workers, they are friends. The two women met at Park View High School in the fall of 1987, when Thede began to work there.
"We had mutual friends, which is how we got to know each other," Thede said. "Then we realized we had a lot in common and off we went."
Since they became friends, the two women have taught, taken trips, moved to Stone Bridge when the school opened in 2000 and raised children together.
At the end of the school year, both teachers are retiring and at Stone Bridge's June 14 graduation they will lead the faculty into the Patriot Center the way they have done so many other things, together.
"It was such an honor when [Principal James Person] asked us to do it," Land said.
"It was almost a tear-jerking moment," Thede said. "It is very, very special."
Person said that the two women brought something special to Stone Bridge that will be difficult to replace.
"These are teachers who stand up for what they think is right and proper," he said. "They have a great loyalty, which is a value I appreciate."
Besides Land and Thede, Stone Bridge lost two other faculty members this year. Augustus "Gus" Powell was a security and safety specialist at the school for five and a half years before retiring in December.
"He was a perfect fit," Person said. "He was someone who always had a gleam and a twinkle in his eye, but was very professional at all times."
Judy Toland, a bookkeeper who retired at the beginning of the school year, was brought into Stone Bridge by Person to help open the school.
"They don't come any better than Judy Toland," Person said. "She is a person who is just loved and revered by everybody."
WHILE LAND loves teaching, she said she found it somewhat by chance.
"When I went to college there were three things for girls," she said. "You could be a nurse, a teacher or a secretary. I was always drawn to teaching."
After receiving her undergraduate degree from Frostburg State University in Maryland, Land taught for several years in Prince George's County, Md., before going back to school. She earned her master's in instructional technology from George Mason University.
As an English teacher, Land believes she has taught her students much more than just literature and poetry.
"I really think that when we teach the classics we are teaching about life," she said. "The themes are universal to all mankind."
Land believes that teaching English will help her students to become not only better writers and leaders, but better people.
"I do believe that if kids understand life they can understand anything," she said. "We are all people and all people are very much alike."
Over her years of teaching, Land said she has seen many changes, particularly in approaches to education.
"Classes aren't just lectures anymore, there is cooperative learning and [students] are getting to do more," she said. "I think that has been a positive change in education and it is the right direction."
THEDE BEGAN her teaching career in Germany, where her husband was stationed at the time. She taught in an English high school and a German technical college.
"I was teaching courses to soldiers," she said. "It was mainly English as a Second Language [ESL] classes."
Traveling with her husband and family, Thede taught Spanish and ESL throughout the country, including Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia. She earned her master's in ESL at Rhode Island College. When she started teaching at Park View, she began teaching Spanish exclusively, but continued to teach ESL to adults as a volunteer.
"I plan on doing that again in retirement," she said. "I really enjoyed doing it."
Thede said one of the greatest joys of teaching a foreign language is being able to watch her students' progress.
"It is a very tangible thing," she said. "Anything they do or say is because of something you taught them."
In addition to being able to watch her students grow, Thede said that teaching has kept her young.
"It is something different every day," she said. "There is always a fresh start. No matter what happens one year, you always look forward to the next year."
BESIDES MISSING THEIR students and the classroom, both women said they will miss the collegiate atmosphere of Stone Bridge.
"I work with a great bunch of people," Land said. "I have experienced a very supportive family-like community here, as we did at Park View."
"You see each other's children grow up, get married, have kids," Thede said. "That creates your own family unit."
Person said the ability to create a family-like environment was a special gift of Land's and Thede's.
"Patricia has a way to unify people, get them to work together," he said. "Barbara has the utmost respect for everyone and they have respect for her. The two of them are very interchangeable in so many ways for what they have done for the school over the years."
Part of creating a friendly, family-life atmosphere for Land is collaborating with other teachers on school-related issues. She made a point to spend time and listen to the new teachers who came into the school in order to learn new techniques and methods.
"I always tried to listen to what the young teachers were doing," she said. "They learn from us, but we learn from them, too. If they have a good idea, I try to use it."
The very nature of what teaching entails is part of what creates the collegiate atmosphere, Thede said.
"You need to talk to your colleagues; you need to be able to work with your colleagues," she said. "It is very interactive; you can't be off in a cubicle somewhere."
As for their plans once they are retired, both women look forward to traveling. Land wants to see the west and the Grand Canyon, while Thede would love to be able to travel back to Australia, where she was born.
Thede, who only taught part time during this past year, said while she will miss it, she does not regret her decision to retire.
"I think you get to a point where you don't have as much energy as you used to," she said. "But that is the great thing about teaching; you can always come back and do it."
For Land, the decision to retire was not an easy one and, she said, she changes her mind at least "once a week."
"How could I not? I love my job," she said. "I am a very people-oriented person and to leave all of this is very hard."