Editor's note: This is another in a series of stories on retiring teachers in East Contra Costa.
PITTSBURG -- It's the last day of school, and Mary Britton looks up to see a handsome young man wearing something shiny around his neck.
Turns out it was one of Britton's former students, who had just won Pittsburg High School's academic gold medal. "He wanted to tell me he was headed to Stanford on a full scholarship. I was so proud of him."
That's one of Britton's favorite memories from her 30 years of teaching. The Heights Elementary educator has spent her three decades of classroom instruction in Pittsburg, and come this June, her long career will end.
Her first teaching job was at Highlands Elementary, where she stayed a year before heading to Heights, where she teaches special day classes.
Her career path was determined, in part, by a less-than-stellar teacher. Britton was in third grade at a time when teachers were allowed to spank students for bad behavior.
"One of my friends did something bad, and the teacher grabbed her and turned her over her knee. I was so angry ... I remember thinking, 'When I'm a teacher, I'll never do that.' I didn't even realize I wanted to be a teacher until that moment -- I surprised myself.
"Then in fourth grade, I had the best teacher in the world, and I wanted to be just like her."
Many think Britton is the best, including Heights Principal Laura Francis.
"(She) is one of the most caring and compassionate individuals I have met. As a veteran teacher, she has established lifelong relationships with many of the staff, students and community.
Teachers often ask Ms. Britton to observe and advise them on how to better serve students who are struggling.
"(Her) expertise with special-needs students, coupled with her giving nature, makes her a wonderful staff member who will not be easily replaced."
Colleague Sandi Lavik-Brennick, who has taught with Britton for nearly 30 years, said "Mary is a kind and caring friend and teacher with a poetic soul. She could write a poem about any event that has happened at our school."
Britton, 58, said she's ready for her beloved hobbies, such as baking, sewing, knitting, reading, writing, taking long walks and a little driving.
"My husband and I love to go on car jaunts in our little old 1967 Triumph sports car."
She will miss her "very dear friends at Heights, some of whom I've known for (more than) 30 years. And, I'll miss this old building that's been my home away from home."