Is being retired from education any different than being retired from any other job or profession? I must confess I have thought quite a lot about this state that people call retirement, but I haven’t questioned whether my retirement is any different from other people’s. Retirement is retirement isn’t it? Well, that’s clearly not true, retirement means so much (good or bad) to so many. Maybe it’s different, for example, for those of us who have spent a long time in education. From my point of view one thing to say is that I did it (work that is) for a long time – 12 years as a teacher and 29 as an educational psychologist – so that may make a difference. 41 years in roughly the same area is bound to make an impression that may be harder to leave behind.
Might it be, whisper it quietly, retiring will be hard because we’ll miss the kids. Some people will, not me though. I never worked directly with children, I worked with the adults – parents, teachers, teaching assistants etc. who worked with the children. In my view, with limited time available, it was the most efficient way of doing my job. Add to this my motto which I shared with others through my presentations – I would tell them I got my motto from a bottle of bleach – always keep upright and keep away from children. But that’s just me.
Certainly my job or profession, take your pick, defined that ‘me’ as a person. I always knew what or who I was even when my values were obscured by consultancy, Ofsted, DfES or UNICEF work, I knew what I did, what I was good at and what not so good. I knew my job or at least the job as I had defined it. At the few parties we went to I had a ready answer to the ‘what do you do’ question. I was my job. It can be hard to put that kind of certainty aside when we retire.
Also, despite all the irritations, I liked most of my job right to the end. It was a vocation, to resort to a cliché. I always believed in the power of education to improve the life chances of all children. After all it was education that got me to where I got and, at my grammar school, I was by no means the brightest star in the galaxy. So maybe another reason to slightly regret leaving it all behind is that education, our chosen occupation, still, mostly, felt like a good thing in this world. Intellectually it worked for me.
There was an increasing part of the job that I didn’t like – being told what to do, I never liked that very much – being required to do something by the needs of the client – the child, parent, teacher or school that was fine. That’s the job; you’d be a fool to think otherwise. Being told what to do by an increasing bureaucracy, a, sometimes, irrelevant bureaucracy driven by an agenda that I did not respect, that was not fine. To be truthful, accountability and I were uneasy bedfellows. It’s my opinion, on little evidence, that most people in education operate on much the same basis, they care about the job but it’s their definition of the job that counts. But the point is that it’s a job that the majority of us care about which I guess makes it again a bit harder to leave behind. Emotionally it largely worked for me.
Of course there are parts of the job that we’re delighted to leave behind – the difficult client, 2C on a Friday afternoon, but the absence of something is not enough for a happy retirement. A lack of accountability can simply feel like nobody gives a damn what you do or are planning to do. That can be hard, harder perhaps than leaving those jobs that do not engage us intellectually, emotionally, even physically as education typically does. Incidentally, I haven’t included ‘socially’ because although the staffroom is a great social bastion for teachers it does not exist for educational psychologists, particularly in a spread out authority like North Yorkshire (for whom I worked latterly), because you don’t see your colleagues from one day to the next. But yes, for teachers, the camaraderie, often under pressure / under fire, is not always easily replaced in retirement.
It is said that nature abhors a vacuum and so it has proved for me in retirement and I’ve done what most retired people do (I never had any hobbies or passions just a number of fairly shallow ‘interests’). I’ve developed more ‘interests’. The tabla rasa, the blank page, can be scary when you’ve worked in an area as engaging (for better or for worse) as education; whatever our roles, education was rarely boring. Although, of course, in the words of Del Boy, the world is our lobster, Rodney. Question is, can we find something equally as engaging? If we can then this retirement business will be a piece of cake.
My effort to reinvent / redefine myself is tied up, in part, in this blog. I have decided to call myself a writer. What do you do? I’m a writer. Do you get published? Oh yes, all the time (the truth-I publish myself) Maybe there is fulfilment after a life in education. Certainly I’m working on it. But overall, and, in summary, I do think that it’s a bit harder to retire from a career in education although I would not care to argue the conclusion with retirees from other professions.