The National Council on Aging reports one in three Americans age 65 and older works at least part-time in “retirement.” Like many people, some teachers need additional income beyond their pensions to make ends meet or maintain their pre-retirement lifestyle. Some who miss the daily social exchanges with colleagues hope work during retirement will provide a network of professional connections and new friends. Others may want the mental stimulation and continued personal growth and satisfaction a job provides.
It’s important to reflect on your social, emotional, and financial needs for the future well before your last days in the classroom.
- Know who you are and why you want/need to work.
- Fully understand your financial situation.
- Assess what kind of employment would be most fulfilling for you.
- Consider the level of responsibility and flexibility you want.
- Decide if you are willing to re-train.
- Weigh your interest in starting your own business.
Some school districts provide a phased program to ease teachers into retirement. Many educators move into teaching courses at junior colleges, working at universities, or consulting. But some folks want to try to make earlier dreams a reality by expanding their skills into something new.
You may have to actively market yourself to turn your teaching expertise into a new satisfying, paying job. Hopefully potential employers will view former teachers’ experience, dedication, confidence, work ethic, and maturity as valuable commodities. NSTA retired teachers who have successfully moved into post-retirement jobs offer the following suggestions.
- It takes a strong person with considerable talent and many important skills to be a successful teacher. Don’t be shy about giving yourself credit for your accomplishments.
- Work to achieve respect within your professional community.
- Take courses and participate in workshops to strengthen your knowledge base and classroom success.
- Volunteer for district committees and professional organizations.
- Share innovative ideas at local, state, and national conferences and submit articles for professional journals.
- Cultivate professional networks by staying in contact with people you meet.
- Before retirement, explore jobs during the summer that might be a good fit later.
- Read books and research websites for information on how to parlay your skills into exciting and rewarding new careers.
- Join organizations outside education to branch out and meet people with similar interests.
- Know how to access your transcripts because you may need them.
Retiring from a successful education career can lead to opportunities to redirect and reinvent yourself after examining your talents, passions, and aspirations. One NSTA retiree suggests being cautious about firm commitments before retirement because you may miss other opportunities. He says, “My advice on transitioning to meaningful and rewarding employment after the classroom is to develop your ‘brand name’ before you retire. This is the best marketing approach you can take. Then, help word filter out that you are available, and sit back and watch the opportunities roll in.”
Judy McKee is a past chair of the NSTA Retired Members Advisory Board and currently serves on the board of directors for the Council for Elementary Science International. She has spent her own “retirement” running a consulting business, teaching methods courses for graduate school, mentoring new teachers, and writing.
A visit from Manuela Omari Ima Omene and Moi Vicente Enomenga Mantohue of the Waorani tribe in Ecuador and Carl Ross, director of Save America’s Forests, led science teacher Pete Suchmann to one of his first post-retirement projects. Pictured from left to right are Omene, Mantohue, Suchmann, and Ross.
Pete Suchmann is a model for how to combine passion, creativity, and expertise to lead a dynamic life after his career as an Earth science teacher and department head in Great Neck, New York. For years he inspired and delighted students with innovative lessons using toys, puzzles, and magic to provide what he describes as “magical moments” to teach science basics and problem solving. In 2010, he launched a website, Magic Moments With Class, featuring products designed to help teachers add pizzazz to science. His Perplexing Paradox Puzzle and magic toolkits are examples of innovations that worked in his classroom. He also enjoys presenting his successful Magic Moments workshops.
Near the end of his classroom career, two Waorani tribal leaders from Ecuador visited Suchmann’s school after speaking at the United Nations. Working with Carl Ross, director of Save America's Forests in Washington, D.C., and Carl Flatow, Suchmann and some of his Great Neck students edited a video of the visit. The next year, his interest in the plight of the Waorani people led him to produce and promote the Green Glove Video, an award-winning music video that illustrates Earth Day’s mantra “Act Locally, Think Globally” by emphasizing solar schools and recycling, and raises awareness of the Waoranis fight to preserve their tribal lands and way of life.
Suchmann enjoys numerous other volunteer activities. He served on the National Environmental Education Foundation’s Classroom Earth Teacher Advisory Committee. He has worked with Public Access TV to develop 25 educational series and two pilot episodes of a children’s series called Show Me the Science about “the science of magic and the magic of science.” He is helping to launch both the Long Island Museum of Science and Natural History, opening soon in Freeport, New York, and the first Museum of Mathematics, opening in December 2012 in Manhattan.
He advises, “Take an element of what you did successfully and offer those skills back to the profession. Our experience and skills are needed. I feel it is important to give back to the teaching profession that provided me with 30-plus years of joy and fulfillment, therefore...the TV shows, my (future) book project, and the magic for teachers. It’s what I know—and it’s what teachers need to hear about.”
Without knowing it, Bart Bookman began to market himself when he was a young science teacher in New York City. Troubled by his inner-city students’ lack of interest and achievement, he embarked on an ongoing quest to find ways to reach them. After taking numerous workshops and courses, he risked trying new strategies, resulting in improved student performance . Soon he was presenting workshops for new teachers and others in the city. His reputation led to his appointment as the science department chair of his high school.
Over the years, Bookman, who has always been passionate about reaching urban students, served on state committees and presented local, state, and national workshops. When he retired, he was an assistant principal supervising a 38-person science department. When news of his retirement spread, several superintendents recruited him as a consultant. He is pleased that even in post-retirement, he has helped boost student achievement.
Before retiring from his position as a science supervisor in the Vineland, New Jersey, Public Schools, Wade Anastor planned ahead for a new career. Having served as a volunteer firefighter for 26 years, he decided to train to obtain a fire official’s license. Before his last days in class, he jump-started his new career by working nights and weekends at a local firehouse. Now as Vineland’s deputy fire marshal, Anastor advises, “We preach lifelong learning to our students; it is no different for us. Do something you enjoy. Extending my fire service interest was a perfect fit.”