I must admit, the first page I turn to when I get my latest issue of Canadian Teacher Magazine, is the retirement article by Enise Olding and Carol Baird-Krul. Why wouldn’t I? Their book, Transition to Retirement: The Uncharted Course, is inspiring and informative for retirees like myself. Just to read the retirement tips and words of wisdom from former educators is truly uplifting. Quite frankly, it was the research by Olding and Baird-Krul that gave me the inspiration to refuse to fade away in my retirement from a 31-year teaching career.
One of the biggest fears I had when I retired was a loss of identity. Unfortunately, in many western countries, identity is intimately linked to occupation. Even though we all know that we are not who we are because of what we do or what we produce, nevertheless, we have a preoccupation with linking identity with vocation. And too many times, when individuals retire from their careers, they also retire from an identity that supported them throughout their careers. The end of a professional career has a tendency to dim the view that a person has of themselves, as well as how they are seen by the active world.
For teachers, the sudden release of all the demands of full-time teaching—the relentless preparation, marking, reporting and dealing with all the stakeholders—can take some time getting used to. This sudden shift away from the high pressure, demanding days of teaching to the mundane of retirement life can make you feel as though you’re living an unfulfilled life with no reason to get out of bed in the mornings.
But I found out very quickly that retirement from teaching is not retirement from life. For me, it was a time to find new goals and rekindle old ones. I’ve been “retired” now for almost three years and I can honestly say, it was the closing of one door and the opening of many others.
Thus far, I have used my time to write a book (in manuscript form and unpublished, I might add) about the First Nations people of my province, the Beothuks. After that I had the opportunity to teach in the high Arctic in Kullik Elementary in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. For my choice of volunteer work, I joined the Gideon International in Canada. I’ve also worked as a security guard with Garda of Canada in Fort McMurray and drove heavy hauler trucks on the Suncor oil patch. My last job in Fort McMurray was teaching orientation and safety courses with Suncor Energy. Meanwhile, I’ve been back in the classroom as a substitute teacher on many occasions with my school district in Newfoundland and Labrador, while I shuttle back and forth between my province and Alberta. The benefits have ranged from being very busy and productive to meeting some wonderful people, while at the same time earning some extra cash (actually earning a whole lot of cash).
Of course, one does not have to do the variety of things mentioned here to find purpose in retirement (doing one thing you thoroughly enjoy will suffice for some). The important thing is that you do something that you enjoy and makes you happy.
It is said that teachers today retire at about 57 years of age (in my province we can go after 30 years of service regardless of age). So, in essence, we can expect to spend 25 years or more in retirement (assuming we can maintain our health and vitality) right into extreme old age with our faculties still intact. Therefore, it is paramount that you do that one thing (or many things) that brings contentment and purpose in retirement. Keep in mind though, the importance of having goals (short and long term) to help you adjust to life after teaching.
In my situation, retirement was a matter of finding my identity in three broad ways. Here’s my advice to you. Firstly, do something productive. For me, it was a whole bunch of stuff. For others it could be only one activity that feels meaningful. Secondly, consider retirement from teaching as the closing of one chapter in your life and a commencement of a whole new chapter where the sky is the limit. I quickly discovered that it’s a whole new and exciting life out there, a life beyond the classroom that I did not envision when I was teaching. Remember, it’s a new beginning—a time to travel, to learn new skills and embark upon new horizons. Thirdly, take control of your life. It’s a time to spread your wings and to venture out into a world waiting for what you have to offer. You’d be surprised at the vast amount of talent you didn’t know you had.
I could go on to tell you more about the wonderful world of “retirement” but I have to go. I’m scheduled to substitute today for an old colleague of mine. It’s a grade 5 class. Yes, my favourite grade.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hector M. Earle
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s November 2009 issue.