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Cover Story: Once an Educator, Always an Educator

How to retire without really retiring

By Kristen Loschert

For many people, retirement is a welcome change from the workaday life that offers them time to do the things they truly love—travel, pursue favorite hobbies, discover new ones, or simply spend more time chasing their grandkids around the yard. But for others, retirement becomes an extension of their working lives, the next chapter in an already satisfying career, the chance to keep doing the things they truly love.

For educators, that means connecting with schools and students. After spending 20, 30, or even 40 years in a classroom, some still haven’t had their fill. Teaching is a way of life, and retirement isn’t the final exam—it’s the beginning of their next lesson. Some have remained in the classroom for years after officially “retiring,” while others have taken their skills around the world.

Why do they stick with it? Read for yourself. 

Taking It on the Road

Jaswant Singh understands the value of a good book. And that’s no surprise since Singh, a former librarian from Grand Ledge High School in Michigan, spent 30 years developing and managing libraries in the United States.

The public library represents “the most important institution in a democratic society,” says Singh. But it’s one the citizens of his native Punjab, India, cannot access.  (Only 12 of India ’s 29 states maintain public libraries, and Punjab isn’t one of them.) So Singh decided to bring a library to the people himself.

In 2003, Singh introduced Punjab  ’s first bookmobile, which now provides weekly library services to 50,000 people in six villages across the state. Villagers can register for a library card and borrow books, magazines, and audio/visual materials from the service or read inside the bookmobile during a visit.  

“Every Punjabi child has a birthright to have access to books,” says Singh. “But it’s an effort because in Punjab there is no book culture.”

Singh spends about six months a year in India supervising the project. In his absence, the program’s librarian, clerk, and driver organize the operation. The program also provides free board and lodging to travelers who volunteer with the bookmobile effort during their visit to India.

“I’m very lucky to have dedicated, educated individuals [working with me],” he says. “They don’t think of themselves as employees. They are contributing to the cause of children’s literacy and adult literacy.”

But literacy efforts aren’t cheap.   The first year the project cost $80,000, which covered start-up expenses such as purchasing the bookmobile and reading materials, as well as salaries for the employees. Although subsequent annual costs will decrease, Singh estimates expenses will reach $180,000 by the end of the project’s first five years, paid for by Singh’s retirement savings and donations to a foundation he created. 

All that effort is paying off. The number of readers visiting the bookmobile increases with each visit, Singh says. Roughly equal numbers of men and women come to it.   The project finally has enough materials to rotate the books and publications offered on the bookmobile each week. 

Ultimately, though, Singh hopes his bookmobile service will encourage the Punjabi government to implement a statewide system of public libraries, a project for which he and the Punjabi Library Association have lobbied since 1993.

For more information or to support the Punjabi Bookmobile Library Service, contact the Anant Education and Rural Development Foundation, P.O. Box 414, Grand Ledge, MI 48837.

Teacher’s Pet

Taking early retirement from her position as an elementary school music teacher may have been one of the hardest things Carol Bardo ever had to do. But her husband had to move to Singapore for work and she decided to go, too. They returned several years later.

“Teaching was my whole life. I always wanted to be a teacher,” says Bardo of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. “I would still be teaching had my husband not been transferred. I hated to leave.”

Fortunately, Bardo wasn’t away from students for very long, thanks to the help of her four-legged teaching assistant, Misty the Dalmatian.

Last summer Bardo and Misty, whom Bardo had trained as a certified therapy dog, started a program called Paws for Reading  . Each month, children between the ages of 5 and 8 meet with Bardo and several other handlers at the local library, where the children practice their reading skills by reading aloud to therapy dogs. 

“The children are so relaxed around the dog. It brings out the best in them,” says Bardo. “When they read in school, sometimes the other kids get impatient or laugh if they mess up a word, but the dog is calm and patient. It just relaxes them.”

Bardo estimates the program has served more than 100 children, with as many as 50 attending a single session. Many are repeat visitors.

“We have kids who come back every month,” she says. “Their parents say they can’t wait for the day to come.”

One of Bardo’s regulars is a 7-year-old boy who has attended the program with his sister and mother since the beginning. Early on, the boy struggled with even simple stories, but he still came back each month to read to Misty.

“I’ve noticed such an improvement in his reading each time he comes, and his mother has noticed too,” says Bardo. “This project keeps me in touch with the children I dedicated my life to teaching.”

Still Making Sweet Music

Betty Lou Cummings no longer teaches for the Flagstaff  (Arizona ) Public Schools, but that doesn’t mean she’s left the classroom. After spending 42 years teaching elementary and gifted students, as well as instructing beginning teachers, Cummings taught piano and organ at Northern Arizona University, a full career by anyone’s standards. 

But Cummings didn’t stop there. In 1993, her work at the university attracted the interest of the then fledgling Coconino  Community College, which invited her to implement a piano program for its students.   

“I agreed to do it for one semester, and that was nearly 14 years ago,” Cummings says. “It was such fun I am still doing it.”

Today, at the age of 81, Cummings teaches beginning, intermediate, and advanced piano classes to college students, who range in age from 17 to 80. She also provides private lessons. 

“I need to keep contributing, and I don’t think I could do that if I stayed home,” she says.

“Too many people retire to nothing,” she continues. “You have to be out among people to be involved and teaching is a good way to do that.…I hope I can always teach better tomorrow than I did today.”

Her teaching draws praise from her students and fellow faculty members and earned her the title of most outstanding adjunct faculty member for the 2004-2005 academic year. This fall, Cummings started her 60th year as a teacher. 

She says she often reads about people who retire and then do volunteer work, which she thinks is an excellent idea—but not for her quite yet. “I’m too busy,” she says. “If I ever retire, then I’ll volunteer.”

Around the World in 145 Days

If you ask her students, Joan Price has been a world traveler for a long time. Each year, Price took her special needs students around the world, without ever leaving their classroom. Through art, music, drama, literature, and even cooking activities, the class crossed the continents learning about different countries and cultures. 

But after 31 years of imaginary trips, Price decided it was time to see those places in person. So when she retired this summer from her teaching job in Sandusky, Ohio, she embarked on a five-month trip around the world with her colleague and friend Bev Bartczak. They left in September and are due back at the end of January.

“Bev and I taught together for 20-plus years, doing the imaginary trip with our students,” says Price. “When we got ready to retire, we thought how neat it would be to do a real trip around the world, but keep the kids involved.”

Through a Web site dubbed “Where in the World?” students can track Price and Bartczak’s journey across six continents and 17 countries through their online journal entries and photos. The Web site includes classroom activities themed to each destination, along with maps and other teaching resources.

“We want to stay connected with schools and children,” Price says of the project. “[As an educator] you are always thinking about how you can use this, how you can pass this on to other students, even if they aren’t your own.”

At the same time, Price and Bartczak hope to share their experiences as American educators with teachers and students in the countries they visit. By working with travel and home-stay agencies and by using ePALS Classroom Exchange, an online service that connects teachers in different countries, the pair identified educators willing to host them. In Uganda, for instance, Price and Bartczak will visit two schools and an orphanage, thanks to a local teacher. They also will visit schools in France, India, Vietnam, and Egypt and hope to arrange additional school trips once they arrive at their other destinations.

Follow Price’s journey.

Keeping the Classroom Connection

Being a retired educator doesn’t mean you can’t still be an active one.  If you’re not ready to say goodbye to your students, but you still want a change of pace, try one of these suggestions:

  • Work as a substitute teacher
  • Tutor students who need extra help
  • Volunteer to read in a classroom
  • Help beautify a school through a local community outreach project
  • Collect school supplies and books for needy students
  • Support adult learners as a literacy volunteer
  • Consider teaching night classes or in a G.E.D. program
  • Mentor a beginning or student teacher.

Contact your state NEA/Retired affiliate to see how you can get involved in an existing mentoring  program or start a new one. An NEA intergenerational mentoring manual will be sent to all state affiliate NEA/Retired offices early next year.

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