Teaching after Teaching
A Lifetime of Caring
by Carol Baird-Krul and Enise Olding
Do teachers continue to teach after they retire? If the retired educators we have profiled to date are any indication, the answer is a resounding yes and is particularly true of our current subject, Patrick Ross. Caring about students, regardless of their age, was Pat’s credo from the very beginning and it continues today in the interesting and diversified work he has chosen to do in retirement. Although Pat’s decisions and criteria for making them are very much his own, we hope that reading his answers to our questions will let you see how your skills, as well as asking the right questions of yourself, can lead you to a fulfilling retirement.
What was your original area of work in Education?
I began my career in education by teaching elementary school. During the first six years I taught all subjects, coached, led outdoor education classes and various extra-curricular activities for my students. Most of my classes were for Grade 7 students, which was a grade level I really enjoyed teaching.
How many years did you work within the educational system?
I had a wide variety of roles during my almost 40 years in public education.
What did you do throughout your career in education?
During my career I did several things from classroom teacher to a senior administrator at a university. After my classroom teaching I decided to return to school and did a Master’s Degree in counselling psychology because I wanted to work as an elementary counsellor which, in the 1970s, was a rare position. This new focus brought me to the west coast and Nanaimo Ladysmith School District.
Eventually I was seconded to the Ministry of Education as a Provincial Coordinator of Special Education. This position allowed me to work on the implementation of Special Education policies and procedures throughout the province.
When I returned to Nanaimo Ladysmith, I had a series of administrative positions within the district, eventually becoming Assistant Superintendent. During this time, I completed my Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership followed by a second secondment to the Ministry as a Field Services staffer facilitating professional development for Vancouver Island teachers. I ended my career in Education at Vancouver Island University (VIU) as the Dean of Student Services and finally Vice President of Student Services.
What type of education focused work/volunteering are you now involved in?
I have been retired for seven years and remain active in the community. Initially I started retirement by opening a private consulting practice that focused on assisting individuals and organizations to enhance their leadership capacity. I have also volunteered in several agencies where I offered my time and skills to assist those organizations to achieve their missions. Currently I am the President of the Nanaimo Ladysmith School Foundation which raises significant funds for both vulnerable and accomplished students in the school district, as well as supporting a variety of special programs.
Due to my interest in a healthy lifestyle I am involved with the Bastion Running club, an organization dedicated to healthy living though an active lifestyle for both competitive and recreational runners. I also give annual lectures at VIU’s Faculty of Education and do public speaking in different forums, so in a way I continue to teach, collaborate and learn.
Why did you decide to continue to work/volunteer after retirement?
Before I retired I was worried about what I might do to fill up the time. Somehow I realized that was the wrong question to ask and what I needed to do was ask, What are my values and what do I believe in? So I clarified my values—such as my belief in continuous learning and holistic health. This clarification allowed me to focus, be positive and re-fire my engines and try new things rather than negatively move away from work and the things that I’d valued throughout my career.
What made you decide on this particular type of work?
For me, it was because I get energized by serving the community. I especially like the idea that I get to choose who I volunteer for. I also really enjoy working with other people. I have always loved being with folks who are passionate about something because their determination motivates me to get involved. I also know that I feel good about participating in activity that is aimed at assisting others to maximize their own opportunities. For me, I really find life is much more worthwhile when I can be engaged in something that I think is service oriented.
What challenges did you encounter in your new endeavour?
I did not expect to be this active! I honestly perceived retirement to be a calm place where I would have so much free time! That is not the case. My days are full and finding free time is probably the biggest challenge for me. My wife retired last year and that has been wonderful, but now I find it even more difficult to commit time to organizations because we want to travel for extended periods and explore the world. Also, I did not expect health to play such an important and influential role in my life. At this point in time a number of my friends are or have been ill, and that reality is perhaps something I should have been more ready for.
What have been the rewards of your new endeavours?
For me the rewards are both intrinsic and extrinsic. I love the positive outcomes of some of the work, for example when a student expresses appreciation for the work the Foundation is doing, or when students share that my teaching has made a positive difference in their lives, or when a colleague thanks me for my contribution. This feedback motivates me to do more, but I also enjoy the work I do and the sense of accomplishment I get from it, and the occasional cheque helps too!
What impact have your choices had on your life in general?
I believe my choices have allowed me to having an active and productive retirement that I am pleased with. I remain fit, engaged and full of ideas. My relationship with my wife, my family, and my friends is strong and resilient. I still look toward the positive side of life and I have few, if any, regrets. I love every day and feel that my choices to date have largely been positive ones that feel right.
Have you ever worried that you might have made a mistake in your choices?
I do not worry too much about making mistakes. Indeed I expect them as the precursor to learning life’s lessons. However, when I have made mistakes—and I have—I try to move forward and change something. I do know that simply repeating the same strategy to solve a problem that is not going away is really not too bright. So, I do work hard at trying new ideas or asking for help. Both strategies have helped me get through some of the harder times.
How has your background in education helped in what you are now doing?
Someone once told me that educational training was good for many professions. I believe that now. Teaching, speaking, team work and problem solving are part of an educator’s curriculum. My educational background has really enabled me to prepare, plan and deliver lessons in a myriad of environments. I still see myself as a teacher. I am very proud of the skills I acquired as a result of being in the classroom. It remains my best time when I am standing in front of a group of people sharing ideas and teaching.
How long do you intend to be doing the type of work you are now doing?
I hope to continue serving the community till the end of my life. However, I am already aware that the pace is different now from when I first retired. I will continue to monitor my capacity and my ability to volunteer. I suspect my weekly hours will lessen over time but I always want to be available for someone or something if the phone rings!
What advice would you give to other educators nearing retirement?
I would encourage others to clarify their values before they retire. If you discover that you genuinely value service you will find lots to do! Also, remember this is your time and your decision. Of course others close to you need to support you, but the decision is still primarily yours.
Do you have any further thoughts or comments about your retirement choice?
Someone once told me the best way to learn something was to teach it and I suppose that’s what I have been and am trying to do. I am content and happy—not a bad outcome after all these years. In fact, when I look back, I wouldn’t change anything!!
It has been observed that educators never really retire, rather they keep on teaching, learning and caring throughout their lives. As you’ve just read, that can bring rewards that can’t necessarily be measured. Our research has shown that retirement is a journey whose course only you can chart. As discussed in our book, Transition to Retirement: the Uncharted Course, the most important thing you need is to be clear about your hopes and dreams both with yourself and those who will be sharing your journey. If you do this, you too, like Patrick Ross, can say after retirement that you are content and you wouldn’t change anything!