Giving Back In Retirement
In this issue we continue our “Learning and Teaching – Always” series profiling teachers
who have decided to use their skills and continue to teach in some way after retiring from
the education system. The positions held by these people are wide ranging and either paid
or volunteer. The decision to continue to teach in some format is not particularly surprising
given that teachers enjoy imparting knowledge and are always eager to learn and
take on new challenges.
Helen Johnson took on several new challenges when she retired. First she moved west and then took on volunteer work that proved to be physically and mentally challenging. After joining the local University Women’s group she learned of some organizations that could make her retirement both interesting and fulfilling. Helen has chosen to volunteer in three diverse organizations that provide her with challenges and give her opportunities to continue to teach, learn and contribute to her new community.
Helen’s answers to our questions provide insight into her decision and her joy in the volunteer work that was her unexpectedly rewarding Plan B.
What was your original area of work in education?
Originally I worked as an elementary school teacher. I spent some time in Early Childhood Education before going back to the elementary level.
Approximately how many years did you teach?
I worked for 31 years as a full time teacher in elementary and Early Childhood classrooms and 6 years as a supply teacher while my children were small.
What type of work/volunteering are you now involved in?
I currently volunteer for three organizations in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, all of which have an education component.
• Camp Quality Puppet Program: One of this program’s main goals is to help children understand the importance of caring for and offering support to one another, especially when a child in their class or neighbourhood has a major illness, such as cancer. camp quality.com
• Canadian Federation of University Women -Nanaimo for the Seashore Unit: The goal of this project is to help grade 4 students learn about the preservation of the marine environment as well as the characteristics of inter-tidal species. Volunteers collect specimens every spring which are housed in tanks at the Pacific Biological Station until a school visit is booked. The specimens are then transported to salt water aquariums at the host school. cfuwnanaimo.org
• Global Village Nanaimo: Teaching my peers about fair trade is challenging and requires that I try to practise what I teach! GVN is a not-for-profit social enterprise, not a charity, and its mission is to promote and practise fair trade as an ethical and sustainable business. GVN sets a strong example of a social organization that successfully puts people and the planet before profit. globalvillagenanaimo. com
What were your reasons for continuing to volunteer after retirement?
I felt that all the children I’d worked with had educated ME so much that it would be letting them down if I didn’t continue in some small way to make the lives of children, here and in the third world, better through volunteerism.
What made you decide on this particular type of work/volunteering?
After I joined CFUW-Nanaimo, in my newly adopted city and province, I was influenced by strong women who provided contacts to so many organizations with volunteering possibilities. From these I chose those in which I could continue to learn while I volunteered.
What challenges did you encounter in your new endeavour?
Each of the three volunteer jobs brought some physical challenges that have been good for me. Being a puppeteer requires good core and shoulder strength, so I make sure I go to the gym or pool most days. Gathering tidal creatures off slippery rocks has led to a few stitches, but yoga has helped with my balance. The GVN store requires lots of interaction with customers, as well as lifting boxes of product.
What have been the rewards of your new endeavour(s)?
I’ve met so many new people from such divergent walks of life. Most of us are new to this community, so all are open and welcoming. The puppeteering brings back such great memories of my husband’s work with puppets both in policing and church settings. The Seashore Unit has taught me so much about the inter-tidal creatures along the Strait of Georgia shores and was a completely new area of learning for me. I now gladly and happily pass on the small bits of knowledge I’ve gleaned. My volunteering at the Global Village has introduced me to new ideas about ways to assist those in third World Countries to better help themselves. Many of these producers are women who are better able to financially care for their children by using new skills they have learned.
What impact, if any, has your choice had on your life in general?
Interacting with other adults from varying walks of life and from many different places in Canada and the world has enriched my life. The fact that all are focussing on giving to children makes it even more special.
Did you have a Plan B in case your volunteering didn’t work out?
My first plan had been to help with language in a neighbourhood school, but I found it difficult to access, so these other organizations just turned out to be Plan B!
Did your new position require special training?
All of the volunteer positions required some type of training. All were done in groups in a fun, but efficient manner. The puppetry had trainers come from other provinces, and then we had to spend time practising. The Seashore unit training is done at a meeting by the expert volunteer staff. There is also a manual to follow and since it is hands-on there’s practice each time out. The Fair Trade store has both a volunteer and a paid manager who do the training, so that the volunteers feel confident in the practical aspects of the store, but we are given lots of opportunities to gain more knowledge in the huge area of Fair Trade as a way to help instead of simply giving aid.
How has your background in education aided you in what you are now doing?
My education background gave me a huge bag of skills to use. I became interested in teaching because of the great teacher I had for all my elementary years which were in a one-room school. My sister, brother and their spouses were teachers, who encouraged my dreams and I just can’t quit teaching and learning.
How long do you intend/hope to be doing the type of work you are now doing and why?
I hope to continue as long as mind and body permit and the organizations need me. If they deem I’ve outgrown my usefulness to them, I’ll find new ways to give back to my community.
What advice would you give to other educators interested in pursuing the same type of volunteering that you are involved with?
I’d say to face your insecurities, and make yourself available, as there are so many needy groups in our communities. You will get more than you give!
Do you have further thoughts or comments about your retirement choice?
Moving across this beautiful country was so good for us, as it forced us to get out and make new friends and connections. Since I don’t golf or play tennis, the gym, CFUW and other volunteer groups have been very important to my retirement contentment. Each of these volunteer groups, and I believe most volunteer groups, understand that you will be visiting family and travelling, so they are willing to work around your schedule.
As you have read, Helen chose three quite different groups to volunteer for, yet in each the varied skills she had developed over her long career in education have been used not only to help her community but also to enhance her retirement. Like the other profiled teachers in past issues, Helen has shown us that teachers are creative in their approach to life once they leave their primary career in education—food for thought for those of you are thinking ahead to your own retirement.