Dear retired teacher,
You've been thinking, dreaming even, about this for years. Now that the days of your final school year as a teacher are dwindling, you're not so sure. As you pass your colleagues in the hall or sit with them for a few minutes at lunch time in the lounge, everyone reminds you how jealous they are of you. Some ask you why, and even gasp very effectively when you remind them of your chronological age and the number of years you have served your profession. It's time. But how could it be? You are just not ready to believe it. If they think you look too young to retire now, just tell them to wait a year. Girl, you will look fabulous when the stresses of daily teaching are erased from your face! You will glow!
You've given some thought to your interests and how you'd like to spend your time in retirement. You've had no choice about that. People will ask you that question over and over. No answers? They will tell you what you should try. Have you been to Paris? Ever try skydiving? Hawaii? Scuba? Why not take up painting? Train for a marathon. Sit on a beach and drink something. Things each of them longs to have time for someday. But maybe you've been longing for something else.
You will have to be the one who decides how you will spend your retirement years. You. No one can decide that for you. You have just left a profession in which the wiggle room got slashed a little more with each new directive, standard, and shift in government. 99% of your job was pre decided for you. Your schedule was pretty rigid. You couldn't take off on an impulsive scuba diving jaunt if you wanted to. Heck, I'll bet you couldn't even take an unplanned jaunt to the rest room, no matter how loudly nature was calling! 7:45 staff meeting, kids arrive at 8:16. (Really. Not 8:15.; Not 8:20. 8:16. You can't make this stuff up.) From there, you teach math first because your whole grade level (or even school) teaches math first for exactly sixty minutes. Next, ELA for exactly 43 minutes, so it fits around the ridiculous lunch schedule, and so on. And now, you are about to be the author of your own schedule. How to decide?
This is the hard part...
You finally have time to do what you want when you want. You can even spend that time with whoever you would like to include in this new life of yours. That would be a fairly easy transition if teaching had been just a job. I'm guessing that it was way more than that to you, and those memories, most of your colleagues, and those kids are forever alive in your heart. You will probably always be able to call them up, have a laugh, or shed a small tear, and then get on with your day.
The memories live inside you. You will have to learn how to override them. It takes a little time. You may find yourself sleeping a little later that first year out, maybe even letting the sun wake you. Don't be surprised if you panic a little because you have totally slept through morning meeting! Oh wait, you don't do that anymore! I have even found myself in an early morning yoga class on the first day of school, hoping they'd at least give us a little time to work in our rooms. Breathe. Redirect your thoughts. Be free! Free to think about whatever you'd like, or nothing at all.
At first, you may have to make yourself think of other things to do. Plan a breakfast meet up with some other retired or work at home friends for the first day of school. Plan a vacation for the beginning of the year. (I've found the start of school to be the hardest time. Need to practice deep breathing and refocusing when the back to school ads start in Target, Staples, and Office Max.) Drive to a beach or nature trail and refocus. Stay away from the mall for a couple of weeks.
Volunteering in the schools is another great way to spend some of your time. No more than 20%. I think beyond 20%, it feels like work. Being with kids is rejuvenating and happiness inducing! Get back in there. What teacher doesn't need an extra pair of hands? What kid doesn't love to have another audience to read to or a cheerleader for their efforts at whatever is hard that day? Win-win-win!
Take some time for yourself. Read whatever you'd like, whenever you'd like. My new favorite author is Dorothea Benton Frank. Finished all of Elin Hilderbrand. Beach reads. Finish a book, plan a trip to see the settings that inspired it. Just got back from exploring Charleston, SC and Sullivan's Island because Dotty Frank brought the lowcountry to life for me, and because I could. Still planning to read the latest Heinemann release and Fish in a Tree? Of course, but when I feel like it!
Clean your closets. Give stuff away. You don't have to save so much anymore because you might need it for a lesson someday. You won't.
Stay in touch with your students and their parents. (You can choose which ones, or let them choose you!) Facebook is great for that! Tuning into their celebrations and stresses over events and obstacles you've experienced before will keep you young, and also make you very glad to have reached the stage of life where you find yourself now.
What you'll remember...
I hope you'll always remember the successes and the happiness your career brought to so many over the years. If you keep in touch with former students, they will remind you of some of those things. It's an incredible feeling to see so many of them grown and building wonderful lives beyond your classroom. If your classroom and you had not been there for them, who knows? Always remember that you made a difference.
And now, this is your time! Get out there and have the best retirement ever - one tailored just for you! Make it up as you go along - no lesson plan required, and no evaluation by anyone other than you! You've got this!
This post is linked with posts from teachers at every stage of their careers!
Click on any of the links below to visit the blog post about each of these other teachers. Chances are you'll be in one of these shoes sooner than you realize!
An Open Letter to a New Teacher
An Open Letter to the Teacher in the Prime of her Career
An Open Letter to a Teacher in a Rut
An Open Letter to a Teacher Toward the End
Open Letter to the Retired Teacher