The Retired Teacher

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I most recently found myself engaged in an interesting conversation with a colleague and friend who teaches at a New England boarding school. The topic that emerged is one that I never considered: What happens to the faculty member once he/she retires? Sure, I have some time, but the extent of a faculty relationship to his or her campus once retired is an intriguing one. I realize that in most areas of employment, the worker moves on; however, I hope the climate of education and academic work never draws the same comparison; folks teach because it is not the real world, nor should it be. The real world sucks!

Though I do not have the miles under me when it comes to teaching and being a faculty member, I have witnessed over the years how some schools treat highly devoted faculty members once they decide to retire, or are forced to retire. My New England friend stated that a measure of treatment toward the retired faculty can be found on a campus at any given moment. Case in point: she mentioned to me that she desires boarding life at her school because she will be assured a place on campus once she retires; she will have access to its library, archives, athletic facilities, an office to work, and an act of involvement with decision making and mentoring new teachers.

However, it is this point that caught my attention: if your school cannot hold on to faculty members or if there is no desire for them to stay, then by time a faculty member approaches retirement, one might not know any of the surrounding faces (his or her colleagues). She went on to state that a measure of the retired faculty and its relationship with the campus can be seen in age; how often do you see older retired faculty members on campus and participating in campus life? What role does a school hold for those who are no longer actively employed, but who seek to contribute to the growth and tradition of the school?

I must confess that I have never considered any of this. I believe the topic of the “retired faculty” is one that all schools need to visit. At one of my previous schools, I watched them destroy its relationship with one of the most respected and legendary faculty members there. Its focus was on the now. There was no “sense” of tradition or legacy for the position of the “faculty member.” Though I promised I would not mention my New England friend or her school by name, she told me that her campus at one point was very cold; it operated too much like a Fortune 500 company instead of a place seeking to expand its intellectual and cultural vitality. It took their faculty senate to showcase why her campus needed to change. In the end, there has been a greater shift toward the position of being a “faculty member” rather than a mere skeleton. Thus, making retirement worth seeking.

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3 thoughts on “The Retired Teacher

  1. Great post man! This is different. Honestly, I have given this topic some thought. I think it is because at the day school I teach at, everything is centered around the faculty. As you know, we never have turnover. We have not added nor have we had to replace a member in my history department in 12 years. We have a great deal of tradition. Though we do not offer faculty housing, we have this cool program to help teachers buy a home due to the expensive nature of Seattle. Retired members still teach in an adjunct role, or fill temporary needs. They continue to serve on committees and are a vital part of our culture. We have a number of endowed faculty positions, named after former teachers. And, they serve on interview committees and work closely with advancement and admissions. This is a serious issue.
    I think that teachers too often see themselves as being to nomadic. Schools must focus on this. Teachers must commit more to being a part of a campus. Young teachers want to move or change gears too much. My department is aging, but I see this as a great sign. We will be able really mentor our next hire well in the traditions of our school.

  2. Carson browbeat me because I hadn’t read this post yet. I’m glad I did.
    When I was interviewing for teaching positions in Houston, I was fortunate to go through an extremely extensive process at one of Houston’s most well-respected private high schools (I got second place for that job…wah-wah). During this interview I noticed something about the school: all over the walls were plaques commemorating various scholarships, endowed teaching positions, etc. I asked one of the administrative assistants if these were all named for donors. “Some,” she said, “But most are former teachers.”

    When I was in graduate school, one of my mentors was a fellow named Helmut Koester. Dr. Koester serves as a professor emeritus at Harvard Divinity School. He is now nearly 85 years old and the university seems to have treated him very well.
    Seeing these two institutions and how they treat their faculty has caused me to long for that campus community experience. What an honor and what an opportunity it would be to work hard and well for a campus and have them thank you by allowing you to continue to be a part of the community.

    Interesting thoughts, Eddie.

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