Backwards from Retirement

   At this time of year, some of us say good-bye to teachers who have been in the profession for years. Usually they leave 25 to 35 years worth of materials, books, posters, conference notes, binders from in services, and supplies behind, taking only a few personal items as they turn off lights and leave the building for the final time. Some may take materials with them if they plan on tutoring or being involved in a literacy program. But all hope that they have made a difference, that their countless hours after school, on weekends, and during breaks has had an influence on someone who walked through their door. To those teachers who have dedicated so much of themselves, I give you a standing ovation. May each of you be awarded a ‘Teacher of the Year’ award to offer a smidgen of recognition and validation for a job well done.

   Whether this is your first or twentieth year, if you’re approaching retirement yourself, or wondering if you can stick it out, if anything you do makes a difference, try this activity. Imagine yourself on your last day. The end of the school year, the final day that you are required to show up to your building and your room. Maybe you stand just inside the door, or sit for the last time in your chair. You look at your posters, your bulletin boards, the American flag and the Constitution, the hooks for backpacks and coats, the desks in rows or clusters, the green or black of the chalkboard, or perhaps the white of a Smartboard. Filing cabinets, pencil sharpener, a globe, all remain still, silent, and you’re unsure if it is in anticipation, resignation, or respect. Will you shed a tear? Remember all the kids that made you laugh, pointed out your math or spelling errors, the ones who were absent and you missed them and the ones who were absent and you blessed them? The memories that fill the hall, the copy machine room, the Teacher’s Lounge, and the office, were they pleasant? Boring? Distasteful? Make you think of respect and education and bright futures, or dislike, overwhelm, and obligation?

   It has been said by famous persons, that our lives are what we make of them. Each day can be great or horrible, productive or boring, overflowing with camaraderie and progress, or smothering with overwork and stagnation. The choice is ours to make. So, when you step into your classroom, is your intention to create a learning environment for everyone, or to get through to May? Even through budget shortfalls, RIF’s, higher class sizes, no field trips or updated technology, there are students who learn because of the teacher, and students who miss an opportunity because there was no leadership in the class. Sure, kids may still be disrespectful, the administration may give the staff more duties, take away money that has always been there for supplies or awards, parents may still blame you for their child failing the class, though they had 35 absences and never completed an assignment. But your attitude, your willingness to stick by the principles that you developed when completing your teaching degree, perhaps even amongst strong objection from friends and family, are what will set you apart. Not only in the classroom, for however long you remain, but in your years of retirement.

  Begin now. The summer months are used to rejuvenate and refresh. Classes might be taken, books read in preparation for the following year, new experiments and projects could be planned. Determine how those final moments will play out in your classroom. Will there be relief? Sadness? Joy? Do what needs to be done to set yourself up for the first day of retirement. How will you want to be remembered, and what memories will you choose to take with you? My web site has some Tips for Teachers that might be helpful if you’d like to check them out at Leave a comment if you have suggestions for others on how they might see their final day.