Back in the Classroom

“Why are you tired?” he asked.

My new 6 year old friend was curious. We met 20 minutes earlier when my former colleague introduced me as the substitute teacher who used to work at this school.

He tapped my arm again as I attempted to engage the 3 children on the remote computer screen with the yellow worksheet I had passed out to the kids in the classroom.

Being back in the classroom was fun and even a bit challenging with all the masks. The kids fidgeted as they wrote their names on the paper behind plexiglass desk shields and students at home looked eager to learn in the zoom-like frames on the laptop in front of the class.

“I’m not tired,” I absently smiled at his sweet face. I didn’t think I looked tired.

Then it occurred to me. His teacher had introduced me and he wanted to know why I RE-tired! At that moment I couldn’t think of an answer.

What do you do in the First Year of Retirement?

Can a Retired Teacher teach again?

After a teacher retires, what to do? Can you go back to teach again or is there another option?

A retired teacher is open to a variety of opportunities to teach again, but it may not be the same situation as before.

In many states, a retired teacher receives a pension after working a set number of years. In New York for example, a teacher can go back to the public school and work some hours, however after a certain amount of income is reached, the pension is jeopardized.

So what is a teacher, who still wants to teach, to do?

Private Schools

Teaching in a private school may not have the same salary that 20 years on a pay scale can provide, but the income earned will not affect a public state pension. My dad was a chemistry teacher and retired at 55 years old. After a year of staying home and engaging in an extensive stamp collection, painting the outside of our house and my brother’s house, and vacationing for a month in Florida with my mom, he happily went back to the classroom in a Catholic private high school and enjoyed the lack of administrative duties and pure teaching of well behaved students immensely. Some people just can’t relax around the house and find that they enjoy teaching as a calling. The extra income never hurts either.

Tutoring

For many years when I worked full time, I also took tutoring jobs once a week after school for children struggling with math and language arts. I helped with homework and as a certified reading teacher, with reading skills. I often had children come to my home in the summer for tutoring as well. Tutoring centers are always looking for qualified teachers to work with their clients. Tutoring children at their home or in the local library is always an option as well.

Continue reading “Can a Retired Teacher teach again?”

Should you Retire during COVID? I did.

How do you know when it is time to retire as a teacher? A lifelong love of learning may help you know when the time is right.

How it all began

When I was six years old, my dad set up a school in the unfinished basement of our new house in Rocky Point, New York. The blackboard was fixed to the cement wall. A scratched up, wooden teacher desk was near the board and an old gray couch and rug were set up for the students. Most importantly, my dad brought home a grade book from his work so I could write the names of my students, record their imaginary grades and do averages for their report cards.

Some days I was lucky and recruited my 3 year old brother and his friends to sit on the couch so that I could use my blackboard to teach them math facts or do a show and tell. I remember vividly the day I decided to pick up my black cat, Fluffy, for show and tell. As I lifted her out of the box, several little black furry objects fell off her. I called up the stairs to my mom that mice were eating the cat!

Mom came down and explained that Fluffy must have been a girl cat and that these were baby kittens. It was always an adventure to play school!

Over the years I continued to play school with stuffed animals and Barbies. Dad continued to bring home a new grade book from his job as a high school Chemistry teacher and I loved making up names for the kids in my class, which generally resembled names of my classmates that year.

As expected, my first jobs were babysitting for neighbor’s children. I liked kids and I was pretty good with them I guess, but what I recall most were Saturday nights after putting them to bed, watching The Love Boat, followed by Fantasy Island and then Saturday Night Live with the not ready for prime time players. It was the late 70s and that was the best night on TV.

After taking horseback riding lessons for years and working at the local horse farm to afford those lessons, I was hired as a riding instructor for the summer day camp. That was my first official teaching job and for 2 summers I was responsible for a group of horses and children who came to the ring. I taught them how to walk, trot, canter and basically steer the horse. On rainy days we went to the indoor ring or had lessons on grooming the animals and cleaning bridles and saddles.

On to College

By the time I was 17 and ready for college I anxiously searched to try something different. I had wanted to be a teacher since I was 6, but suddenly I switched course and planned on studying to be a dietician. After a year of science classes, I realized I really was destined to be a teacher and took all the appropriate courses. Even if I worked in the travel field for a little while first, my dad convinced me that having a teaching certification in my back pocket couldn’t hurt. Good advice dad.

During college, I student taught 2nd and 4th grade in upstate New York and my most memorable lesson was the sunny fall day I took the 4th graders onto the outside field to act out the solar system. Each child wore a costume and I placed the child planets an approximate scaled distance from the sun child. I knew even then to make the most active little boy Pluto (it was a planet back then) so he had the most distance to run when given the command to begin their revolutions.

I commuted with the supervising teacher and 2 other student teachers the 30 minutes from my college town to this rural school. On the 3rd day of student teaching, the teacher took the day off to play golf and I was the substitute teacher – they didn’t even hire anyone else that day! Can’t imagine getting away with that today.

After college I was in no rush to be a teacher. I knew it was something I would do, but I was 20 something and after spending a semester in England and backpacking around Europe I had the travel bug. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be Julie McCoy, the cruise director on the Love Boat.

I never heard back from the cruise ships that I applied to, but I did get a job with American Airlines as a ticket agent the first summer after college. I commuted to JFK airport each day from my parents home, put on a uniform and traded boarding passes for luggage. Some days I even got to work in the first class lounge and sit at a desk.

I was let go after the summer due to cut backs and soon took a job at a firm in NYC that booked hotel reservations for Europe and the Caribbean. We answered the phones from travel agents reserving hotel rooms that we represented. The bonus of this job was the promise of a free trip and I did get my all expense paid trip to Bermuda thus becoming an expert on the hotels we represented there.

After a year in NYC, I drove out west to live in the resort town of Aspen, Colorado with a friend. We made great memories waitressing and even a few days I substitute taught at the local high school. After the ski season, I reunited with boyfriend Mike, who I later married, and moved to San Diego. I still had the travel bug and was not quite ready to work in a school yet, so I worked at the front desk of a big hotel chain. Mike got hired as a bellhop and the benefits included discounted hotel stays as well as the occasional restaurant meal and tickets to touristy things that we could talk up with visitors to the hotel.

Life as a Teacher

It was 1989 when Mike and I got married, bought our first home and settled into a more secure lifestyle with health benefits and a decent salary, so I threw my hat into the teaching pool. But it wasn’t that easy to get a job. My first teaching job in San Diego was part time as a Chapter One assistant for kids struggling with reading and math. I also substitute taught in several different school districts waiting for that 5am phone call to tell me where I would be going.

Finally after months, I was hired as a computer lab teacher at a school for 4-6th grade students near the border of Mexico. I taught all the classes how to insert a floppy disk into a stand alone Apple IIe computer and play Oregon Trail and other such programs. The highlight of this job was the partnership I formed with the USS Bagley, a Navy battle ship. Each month I brought our citizens of the month on a field trip to have a guided tour and then eat lunch with the sailors on the ship.

The special funding for my computer teacher job ended so it was back to job huntingl. I had just finished my masters degree at SDSU in Reading Education, but of course I wasn’t hired as a reading teacher. I was hired as a resource room teacher so it was back to school for another masters degree in Special Education. For 3 years I taught K-6 reading and math in a trailer located out on the playground. I had almost completed my certification in Special Ed when Mike was accepted to law school back in New York, and after 8 years in California, we moved home, with our 22 month old son.

Teaching jobs were still hard to get so I was very fortunate when I was hired as a reading teacher in the Copiague school district. I taught reading at 2 different schools every day and was trained as a Reading Recovery teacher, a specific individualized program to teach first grade students. After 4 years the school district felt the program wasn’t benefitting enough children so planned to eliminate it.

I looked for another job in the local newspaper and found a school district looking for a Reading Recovery teacher who would teach kindergarten for half of the day. I had never had my own classroom and pictured myself handing out mini water bottles to 5 year olds on field day and discovered I had found my dream job!

That was 20 years ago. What a run I have had. After 9/11 we moved to the same town as I taught in so I could be closer to my own kids. My younger son went to kindergarten, first and second grade in the same building as me. I loved the flexibility of teaching reading for half of the day and always enjoyed the affection and amazing amount of learning I witnessed from my kindergarten students. My passion for reading was contagious and I loved that I could excite children for the fun and enjoyment they would get from books.

After thirty years as an educator I am ready for a new chapter in my life. I was fortunate to be able to stay in my house and keep my job after the sudden death of my husband. My children had gone off to college, but they still came home to a familiar place on their breaks. I even provided a safe and newly renovated home for us to all be together during those first weeks of sheltering in place from COVID-19 this year.

Last year I married Pete, a new love in my life who keeps me smiling every day. As newlyweds, we are stepping into our future together. He retired and has nothing but good things to say about it, so I am now convinced. I am retiring!

Why Retire now?

I originally expected to teach one more year, but this is a year like no other. When I walked into my classroom in August, the rug where I had shared read aloud stories with children had been removed. The blocks and the kitchen area had disappeared into “storage”. The tables were spread out awaiting the plexiglass barriers that my masked 4 and 5 year olds would be sitting behind. I felt an ache in my heart. I couldn’t breathe. I knew that I would not be good at this.

In addition, the day I went into the classroom was 5 years to the day that Mike had helped me set up my classroom, 3 days before he died. Grief overwhelmed me that morning in my room. I thought of the man who was ripped from our lives and I grieved for the children who could not sing or play in my class due to COVID restrictions this year and it erupted into what I now discovered could be labeled as a STUG: Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief. The physical effects were intense and the unexpected wave of emotions forced me to exit the room and take a medical leave from starting the school year.

As I watched from home, news reports of students and teachers adjusting to social distancing in schools with some children in class and some home, I considered going back to work. Some schools offered teachers the option of teaching virtually from home. My school district would not consider that. Due to our age and some health issues, my husband and I are considered to be at risk for complications from COVID. This makes me nervous and I am very careful about going out in public. I discussed returning to school with everyone in my family and made lists of pros and cons. Was the stress, anxiety and health risk worth it?

Ultimately, I was given a choice. Come back into the classroom, take the year off without pay or retire early with my pension.

I chose to retire!

I respect my colleagues who go in each day doing their best to make a safe and happy learning experience for the children. They are the heroes of this pandemic now and we should be sending them trays of food for lunch and putting up signs thanking them for all the extra work they are doing while putting their own health in jeopardy.

Knowing loss like I do, my late husband Mike and both my parents are now gone, I understand that each day is a gift. We are not guaranteed tomorrow so some decisions are better made now.

I am excited to see what will come next. I enjoy traveling and hope that will be available again soon. Snowbirding to Florida like my mom did and skiing with my sons this winter would make me happy.

Using the pandemic to take long walks outside in nature and some quiet time to reflect on my life so far has been good. I finally have the time to just be. Maybe Runawaywidow was running away from herself in the busyness that is life and work. Now I have the time to get to know who I am, and figure out where I’m going next.

I trust I am being led to where I need to be. Everything comes to me at the right time and place.

I can’t say that I never will teach again. If I miss the smiling faces of little children or need some extra income, I am sure to put my name on the list of substitute teachers once a vaccine for this virus comes available.

My dad retired at 55 years old. He spent a year making a very detailed stamp collection and doing projects around the house. A year or so later, he was back in the classroom teaching Chemistry at St. Anthony’s, a private catholic high school. He always spoke so highly of the students at that school and how much he enjoyed being back in the classroom after working as an administrator for his last few years in public schools.

Retirement sounds great but I won’t say that I’ll never work again; in fact I do have some ideas stirring around in the back of my mind. In the meantime I will dream about post pandemic travel opportunities. And who knows? Cruise director or guest, I may still make it to that Love Boat yet!

When should a teacher retire - during or after COVID?

I Don’t Want to go to Kindergarten… This Fall

Moving forward this Fall with schools leaves many questions unanswered. Safety for students and staff is uncertain. Remote learning may be better for now.

This will be my 31st year as a teacher, and maybe I should have quit at 30.

Sometimes I stay too long at the party and considering how school, especially kindergarten is supposed to look this year I will admit it. I don’t want to go.

Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love teaching and I especially love teaching kindergarten. We have so much fun in the classroom and those little ones are not only adorable, but they learn quickly like little sponges. They always amaze me how much growth is made in 10 months.

One of the reasons I love kindergarten so much is that I enjoy teaching kids how to read, and I’m pretty good at it. My master’s degree in reading education and experience teaching Reading Recovery and resource room for many years honed my skills. I use that knowledge every year to help kids learn to love reading as much as I do and that brings me such joy.

Our hands on science experiments done with partners keeps the young ones engaged in learning as they negotiate the process of building “sunbrella’s” for their ice cubes or observing seeds grow in different conditions. Using a variety of manipulatives in the classroom to learn counting, patterns, adding and subtracting with the guidance of a trained teacher helps build math concepts that can be difficult for many children at this age.

I also love to see them learn through play. My classroom always has the most creative structures built with blocks and legos and imaginative dramatic play in the kitchen area with pretend food, dolls and dress up clothes. The research behind children learning self regulation skills through play is impressive and I have always sought to guide my students to the next level of child development.

So, if I love it so much, why don’t I want to go back?

The Pandemic

That is my first reason. Seriously! I’m not getting any younger at 57 years old this September. My age puts me in an at risk group for having complications if I should get COVID-19. Watching the news here in New York back in April and daily broadcasts from the governor and president was frightening. I saw the photos of bodies in trailers waiting to be taken to cemeteries. The haggard faces of health care workers under layers of personal protective equipment including face masks and respirators to help them breathe. And many of them got sick. Some even died.

Until there is some way to control this virus which is contagious even on people with no symptoms, I am scared to spend the day in a building with poor ventilation, and 400 other humans who may or may not be carrying this virus.

The Classroom

No one has confided in me what my classroom will look like in September, but judging from the CDC guidelines, it seems it may look quite different.

Sharing will no longer be a problem since it won’t be allowed. Everyone will have a desk in kindergarten. In my 20 years in the kindergarten classroom, we have never had desks. Children always did their projects and work at tables with their friends. Masks will be worn all day to protect us from each other’s germs. They won’t know when I am smiling at them.

The blocks, legos, easel and kitchen areas will be tossed out to make room for more desks that need to be placed 3-6 feet apart, depending which guideline we decide to follow. The handwashing station will need steps up to the sink and probably a mat under it since I know that area always gets wet and we will be washing our hands constantly.

The kids won’t be leaving my room at all for lunch, recess, gym, music or art anymore. Maybe the gym teachers will come to our classroom so the kids can do exercises at their desks. I can’t imagine how 20 five year olds are going to stay in one room for six hours with no free play time and that just makes me so sad.

And another thought: what about fire drills and lock down drills. Keeping six feet between boys and girls as we line up to go outside and stand on the grass will be hard, but practicing for live shooters in the building by locking the doors and hiding in a corner of the room is probably not advisable.

The Risk

The CDC announced last week that it is critically important for schools to open this fall. They stated that school closures have disrupted normal ways of life, had negative health consequences on our youth, and can lead to severe learning loss. That is pretty bad.

The CDC also goes on to say that young children seem to handle this virus pretty well and don’t get as sick as older adults.

Maybe that’s because on March 13th we closed down schools across the country and parents kept their children home, sheltering in place for months, and those kids have had little exposure to anyone with the Coronavirus.

We know the young adults who decided to go back to bar hopping and beaching became infected. When people get together, this virus spreads. That is what happens.

According to a USA Today poll 1 in 5 teachers surveyed will not return to schools if they reopen in the fall. I know that remote learning is not the best. We teachers were learning how to do it as well. Parents who work will have the hardest time with schools not reopening, but do they really feel comfortable sending their babies off when this virus is still so unpredictable? Even if schools do reopen, what is the policy when a child or staff member is infected? Do we close for 2 weeks and then try again? Or do we just accept that it is a risk and continue on hoping for the best.

Most of the big school districts in the USA have determined to begin the year with remote learning. In New York the numbers of new cases are down so pressure is on to open schools. A hybrid system is being developed where children would only come into school a few days per week and the other days would be virtual. Maybe half the class comes on Monday and Tuesday, then the other half comes Thursday and Friday. But this proposal doesn’t make it any safer for the adults at the school or at home.

I believe we should begin the year with remote learning. Using all the building staff to provide some one on one support with the children in new learning could help parents at home.

I don’t have the answers. Improving the way we administer virtual lessons to the students is imperative to their education. We will figure out how to get through this.

Worrying about the future has never helped me much. If my mom were still here I know what she would say. “Put it in God’s hands. He will figure it out.” Thanks mom. While you’re up there can you please let him know; I don’t want to go.

What can we can control during COVID?

Week 9 sheltering at home – life as we know it has changed and much is out of our control. School life is different and changes are inevitable. What can we control?

“I haven’t been practicing social distancing “ said one of my 5 year old students this week.

I can’t control what she does at home, or how her parents are dealing with this situation.

How do I respond to this one. I’m her kindergarten teacher, not her parent.

I changed the subject which I have much experience in and the little Zoom type meeting went on as expected. Girls shared their unicorn stuffed animals. Boys showed cars or lego constructions. I encouraged everyone to keep reading on the computer reading program that I can monitor on line.

And that is how work goes these days.

There’s plenty of behind the scenes issues being discussed in on line meetings with colleagues. End of the year procedures including how to send home the children’s belongings has been established this week.

Teachers will go into school, equipped with their own masks and gloves, sort all the belongings, including February art work still hanging on the walls, into individual bags. In a few weeks, parents will drive by at assigned times to collect the bag of supplies and student work. The End

Well, not really.

Continue reading “What can we can control during COVID?”

%d bloggers like this: