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How to Retire With Joy: For Carolyn and all of my friends who have walked away from the classrooms they loved.
First, have no plan.
I know how hard that will be for you, given that for almost forty years of your life, you not only had a plan but were the one who created and implemented the plan for everyone else- wrote the daily, weekly and monthly lesson plans complete with the behavioral objectives and specific learning outcomes ( this during the decades that Bloom’s taxonomy and behaviorism held sway) or posed essential questions and developed student-centered collaborative projects ( back in those hopeful years when constructivism provided the epistemological framework for thinking about how humans learn and policy makers actually believed that urban children should be treated as human beings.)
There is one caveat to the “have no plan” plan. You must plan to be elsewhere the week immediately following Labor Day- some place where this particular week means nothing to the people where you are, preferably a place with no children. It will ease the emptiness you will surely feel as school begins anew – the way a school smells on a crisp clear autumn day, or how the floors gleam with varnish before scraped and scuffed by children’s sneakers and teachers’ high heels. ( Did I ever tell you about the time there was this huge roach varnished into the floor of my classroom at Harding Junior High School? Ah- the memories.)
Instead, think about the crushing heat and the sickening humidity, the odor of unwashed socks and sweaty adolescent bodies, redolent and dripping after a lunch period of running ball on the rooftop yard. Or remember the broken elevators and the lack of supplies, the irritable secretary who will scold you for misplacing a memo, or the misogynistic roster chair who will take out all of the frustration and anger he has felt for every woman who has disrespected him from his mother to his daughter not to mention his three ex-wives – on you – who for some reason reminds him of all of them. So, because he could, he scheduled you into ten different classrooms on five different floors. None with air-conditioning.
If you are still feeling even a twinge of regret, picture the same said roster guy,( did you notice they are almost always men even when the faculties are primarily comprised of women?) standing outside of his classroom ( note he NEVER floats) snickering as you drop your book bag because your shoulder gave ( the one with the unrepaired torn rotator cuff) because it hurt so much opening the door to the stairwell ( remember, the elevator wasn’t working!) that you practically collapsed and dropped everything while no one came to help you re-gather your belongings, your books, your self.
It will feel a like a death, but know this. So will staying. Remember our colleague who once joked with a false bravado, “I’m going to die with a piece of chalk in my hand.” It was after hearing that that I knew. I was not going to die that way. And neither are you.
That’s not dedication or commitment.
That’s lack of imagination – a failure to believe in the power of re-invention – a cynical disrespect for possibilities – those same possibilities that you have always believed in so fervently for your students.
Let life surprise you. Lower your defenses. Wear clothes you’ve walked past for decades in stores because a teacher would never wear THAT!
Get the keratin treatment for your hair.
Go to the Omega Institute and take that course in Yoga and Writing as Spiritual Practice that you’ve circled in the catalogue every year for the past five years but could never take because it was only offered in October and we all know that you were never the kind of teacher who would miss a day of school. Even when you were deathly ill, wheezing and sneezing you dragged yourself through 8 successive classes with one prep and a fifteen minute lunch.
When you retire, you will be paid back for those days with a small percentage of your highest per diem rate. Here’s how crazy I am. At my retirement, that amounted to nearly fifty thousand dollars!
You will get a pension for the rest of your life and in time your social security will kick in. What a delicious twist that you’ll get your dead ex-husband’s because you were married to him longer than the floozie he left you for.
Enjoy that too.
It’s a passage, this thing you’re about to do.
We all stop what we have been doing, one day and one way or another. We all leave behind the work we once did in the world, our hearts filled with memories. You will leave holding onto the stories of the lives you touched, the children you believed in supported and nurtured and the ones who frightened you, when they held up that mirror and showed you the best and the worst parts of yourself.
There’s never a “right time” to go. There will always be that one homeroom class that you want to stay to see graduate or that one boy who needs you and only you to guide him or he will never go to college.
Or, he won’t.
With or without you.
So, here’s what to do. Give your old books away ( you only think you’re going to read them again – there are so many new books to read!!!! ) Pack up your memories the good and the bad, and leave the chalk that has been in your hand this whole time on the ledge at the bottom of the chalkboard.
Say good bye to the kids, farewell to the school and hello to yourself.
Your colleague and friend,
( me, saying good-bye, June 23, 2008)
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Marsha–I feel honored that my retirement is a topic you chose. I can see much of both of us in your words. Being still early in my journey–I still wake up and think, "Oh, 11-3 is going to first period now." When I let that go, I will have made a solid step into my new life.
I am so grateful the I CAN retire and reinvent myself, do those things that I simply ignored because, of COURSE, I had no time for them. My book group was thrilled last night that they have seen me at two consecutive meetings, and they weren't in the summer! I have the opportunity to be with–in a much deeper way–those lovely women who also love books and find value in sharing ideas.
I am still full of love and want to share it; yet, I recognize that this is a time to explore loving myself as I love others. I have the TIME now. (I also have no excuse now–but that's another story!) Time is such a precious commodity; certainly it's been marked off in periods–8 in a day for these 40 years. Now I can mark my time–or not–in a way that works for me personally and for me as I explore what gives me what fulfills me.
Thank you for reminding me of some of the difficulties of teaching, of existing in an unhealthy environment. It's easy to remember the warmth and excitement of the kids and easy to forget all that we have to deal with to have those experiences.
TIME–how I love it. How freeing it is. Having worked since I was 14 and while teaching–during the summers–and for years two and three jobs at a time. Oh, how wonderful and luxurious this TIME feels.
However I use it, I know it will be used well as I move forward to explore the adventure of life and have the TIME to savor it.
Thanks you for the generous reading of and response to this blog entry. Your retirement, coming three years after my own, spurred me to reflect on the journey. So glad to be friends and have the opportunity for dialogue and shared growth.
I really enjoyed this post and I never taught at least not after my semester of student teaching. I hope your friend enjoys her days of doing whatever she wants. Both of you have certainly earned your retirement.