After years in education, decades spent saving up for retirement, and countless hours invested in colleagues and students, this year may be anticlimactic for retiring teachers. Some are even being pushed into retirement earlier than they’d like because of the possibility of an unsure environment of physical safety in the fall, huge budget cuts, or an inability to keep up with the tidal wave of changes being caused by a pandemic-affected system.
No matter how you got to this point, one thing is for sure: this year definitely did not go as planned.
Whereas there were likely some retirees who used the time of remote education as a bonus time “off” with which to blissfully slide into retirement, there are some for whom the upheavals have been distressing.
This latter group of retirees are the folks we hope to address in this article.
For some, retirement means spending more time with family and friends, traveling, and enjoying hobbies. For others, it’s an opportunity to go back into the classroom in another way, drawing retirement while substituting, or even while taking a new type of educational position.
Whatever your plans are, change is the common denominator.
In normal circumstances, retirees are typically honored in some fashion depending on their years of service and how connected they are to their community. Often, former colleagues, administrators, students, and friends will join in for the celebration, and it becomes a sweet time of reconnection and mutual appreciation.
With the perfect storm of unique circumstances, community exhaustion, and social distancing, retirees may not be getting the farewell they’ve looked forward to, sending them off into their new adventures or responsibilities with little to no ceremony.
Psychologists recognize that there are mental and emotional elements to these social constructs. People need celebrations and ceremonies to bring an appropriate feeling of closure to the past, which then makes way for new experiences in the future.
Without that social nod to shifting circumstances, retirees might have a hard time feeling that they can “move on”. They wake up the next day, and there’s been no real signal that change has come, so they get stuck in a holding pattern.
If you find yourself there, here are a few suggestions that may help you foster that sense of validation, accomplishment, and completion of a job well done, signaling that there is change to embrace, and that it is time to welcome something new. We’ve decided to focus on things that might help you reconnect with people from your past and get reacquainted with individuals who truly matter most to you.
Give Yourself a Virtual Sendoff
Although we know for most, virtual crisis learning was a bust, virtual celebrations and get-togethers can have some significant pluses.
First, set up and tear down of the “venue” is pretty easy (open laptop, go! Close when done.)!
Secondly, they require less prep time and planning, and you can have several “parties” at different times and on separate dates so you have the opportunity to see all of your near and dear ones. And because it’s on social media, you can get away with inviting people a lot closer to the time of the event than you would with a more formal get-together.
Third, you can throw yourself a virtual party or allow others to throw one for you. It’s sometimes a little obnoxious if you throw a party for yourself. With this format, you can focus on reconnecting with the people who have been truly influential and instrumental in your success, thanking them for their contributions and friendship, and allowing them the opportunity to show gratitude in return if they would like to do so.
In the way of refreshments (because can it really be considered any sort of party without refreshments?), it’s perfectly fine to ask people to “byo” snacks and refreshments to a virtual party, but you may also be able to send a cupcake or some other delivered treat in time for a virtual get-together. Having something to share can be a lovely way to visit virtually - if everyone is also eating, no one has to be “muted”
And if the very idea makes you want to hide in a corner and cry, a postponed retirement party is better than no party at all. You can still gather in small groups with friends or online with loved ones to celebrate immediately, and still have your cake and eat it too… later!
Social media is a great way to connect and find old colleagues and students. One of our writers puts photos up on his social media and gets people he’s already connected with to look for others from their class or the school they worked in. It’s a great way to catch up with each other and chat about fond memories!
Letting go and moving on can be difficult at any point in life, and one of the greatest ways to combat that is to find someone else to invest in.
One of our teachers was moved by her students who were supposed to graduate this year because they were in a similar situation as that in which our retirees find themselves. To help everyone, she found all her students from that year with the help of one or two she found first. She was able to send them each a little individual gift and a personal note letting them know they weren’t alone and that she was proud of them.
Sometimes investing in our former students and, if we’re invited, participating in their lives can help us carry over the good memories from our time as teachers. It’s always so good to be able to watch your students as they are successful in life. It’s an amazing feeling to know you were a part of that person becoming who they are today, or who they will be in the future. It’s incredibly rewarding.
Another way retirees usually invest is to “bequeath” certain items to newer teachers. Some leave precious books behind, tools that were valuable or held special meaning to them as a teacher, or even files.
Sometimes saying goodbye to your career means you have to find a whole new house to put all your classroom stuff in! That’s not always practical, so passing things on can really help you let go of some of your treasures. If you don’t have any former students who are now teachers, or relatives who teach, you may be able to find someone on campus or in the district who is in charge of mentoring new teachers. They may be able to find someone to “regift” much of your material to.
ONE WORD of CAUTION:
Let’s face it: teaching is a hoarder’s paradise of a vocation! We, as a whole, keep things far longer than necessary, and part with a lot less than we should each year. So there is one rule when reinvesting or regifting your items to a newer teacher.
Once it leaves your hands, it leaves your heart.
If you let it go, you need to trust that it will find its proper place in the education universe.
Without trying to hurt any feelings, we have to accept the fact that occasionally, that proper place is File 13 (ie: the trash can).
Don’t ask what happened to your gift. You can share an intention as you gift it, but life is too short for you to go back hunting for your item and having hurt feelings if it’s not proudly displayed as a centerpiece in the young teacher’s new classroom!
Let. It. Go. If you hold on too hard to the past, your arms will be too full to embrace the future.
A Final Note
We know this year hasn’t been ideal, but that doesn’ mean your future won’t be.
On behalf of all of us still fighting the fight, thank you for your time and service. Thank you for your legacy. Thank you for caring and giving. We will miss you, and when we think of you, it will be fondly.
Don’t forget to come back and visit. You will forever be a part of us.
What you did here matters.