Miss Haley had earned the licence to be fully herself. She taught in a classroom painted her favourite pink, eschewed punishment in favour of high expectations - "I tell students every day I love them. Everybody needs a little approval" - and threw a cover over the computer in the corner of the classroom.
Going out to lunch with retired friends, she said, was "not my idea of a thrilling life". She preferred to continue to indulge her twin passions, for young people and literature. But Miss Haley was revered for more than longevity, her then headteacher Tom Ray pointed out. "It's amazing to find someone her age still teaching and still effective," he said.
Now aged 89, Miss Haley recently retired from Lakeland high, by agreement with the city authorities. Six hundred people attended her retirement party at the end of April; her local newspaper, the Lakeland Ledger, ran an eight-page supplement on what she wryly calls her "adorable self". The lunches remain on hold, however. Hazel Haley is currently on her summer vacation in London, having already taken in Scotland, Wales and - of course - Stratford-upon-Avon. (The tap-dancing interpretation of Romeo and Juliet was a disappointment.) Her outlook probably keeps her young. Teenagers, she says, do not deserve the bad press they get and are "95 per cent wonderful". She adds: "It's their world that has so dramatically changed, not them. If they had changed, Shakespeare and the Bible would no longer be relevant to them."
When word spread of Miss Haley's retirement, the job offers (three of them) came in. While she may succumb to what she terms "dumb volunteer work" when she goes back to Lakeland, it is more likely she will take up one of the requests to continue to teach.
"I've had the richest life possible. I have been supremely happy. Who can beat that?"
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