Back to School...After School
“Even though we’re glad to be retired, we know we have something to offer.” —Kelly Wigmore, Retired Oregon Educator
By Cindy Long
“We like feeling useful,” says Wigmore, a former eighth-grade language arts teacher. “We miss the kids’ energy, we can get a little lonely, and even though we’re glad to be retired, we know we have something to offer—especially with so many budget cuts,” she says.
Wigmore began substitute teaching at the same middle school in the Oregon City School District where she taught for more than two decades. She was able to see old colleagues and be around the students she loved so much. But she didn’t stop there. She took her services all the way to the front office.
When a district budgeting decision moved all sixth graders to Wigmore’s middle school—one that had previously served only seventh and eighth graders—the student population swelled by 300. Teachers were added, but there were no additional custodians, cafeteria workers, or school secretaries. Wigmore knew the front office would be busy, and told colleagues working in the administrative office to call her if they became swamped.
They did call. A lot. Now, Wigmore helps out with duties like stuffing envelopes headed to parents.
Wigmore is also active in her community. Weekly, she works as a literacy volunteer with the Gladstone Center For Children And Families—an early childhood education center.
“What I mainly do is talk to kids,” Wigmore says. “Families are so strapped financially trying to hold down two jobs, they just don’t have time to just sit and talk.”
Talking with children also boosts their language skills, and Wigmore’s friendly face helps them to appreciate the idea of going to school. That way, when it’s their turn to enter the classroom, they’ll think, “Hey, school is happy, it’s fun.”
“We’re hoping to set them up to feel more successful, which is really important,” Wigmore says. “I taught middle school most of my life. I saw so many kids who needed to be remediated. The Gladstone kids, from the beginning, are going to feel like they can do school, and they won’t end up like so many of the sad eighth graders I’ve worked with who still had trouble reading.”
To encourage other retirees to join the Gladstone Center’s program—Babies and Boomers—Wigmore contributes to its newsletter and interviews potential volunteers. When they ask why she does it, she says, “I’m hooked!”
Back at the middle school where she taught, Wigmore enjoys seeing old colleagues and friends, but she also feels it’s important for the children to see her and feel that continuity. Many families have been with the school for a long time. For them, Wigmore was a fixture.
“Kids come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I think you taught my brother, and now he’s 25!’” she says. “They like that they get to know me, too. It’s really almost like a family.”
She says the other teachers appreciate that there’s someone who knows the building, the philosophy, and scheduling. And she has a new understanding for situations faced by her colleagues, which are different from what she encountered in the classroom.
“Now that I’ve subbed, I know that in kindergarten it’s crucial to have extra adults,” she says. “Trying to have literacy circles in small groups, you simply can’t do it without help. They’d be spinning out of control!”
What’s the best thing about being a retired substitute or volunteer?
“You don’t have to take home papers or do any lesson planning!” Wigmore says. “There is something so wonderful about completing a finite task that everyone is so grateful for—and then you can walk away.”
Until the next volunteer or subbing opportunity brings you right back.
How are other retired educators going back to school?
We asked them on Facebook.com/NEAToday
I still go into my old colleagues’ or friends’ classroom and volunteer every year. I do science with their students. I also volunteer at a science museum and speak to second graders who visit the local historical society. —Nancy Perkins
I sub—so students get a qualified teacher and the day is not wasted! —Susan Goben-Adams
Just as my daughters always helped me set up and take down my room each fall and spring, I now go to help them with room basics so that they can concentrate on new lessons plans and other more important matters. —Karen Whitney
I am an art docent in my granddaughter’s second-grade class and support her school in many other ways. After 40 years of teaching it is fun to be a part of my grandchildren’s education!—Shirley A. Nell Fickert
I’m serving my first term on the school board! I have the time to visit schools, see programs, and play an active role as a former teacher and school board member. —Eileen Halling
I mentor band/orchestra students and prepare them for future auditions. —Wilhelmena H. Sapp