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Make the Connection

Retirees flock to Facebook to keep up with friends, family, former students—and their Association.

By Collin Berglund

Pam Taverner gets up in the morning, fixes breakfast, and then checks to see whether any baby animals were born at the local zoo—on Facebook, of course.

As Taverner neared her retirement from teaching high school language arts in 2007, students from years past began encouraging her to get on social media network. She decided to go for it. After all, the account is free, and she could control both the amount of information she offered about herself and who would be able to see it.

Soon after, the “friend requests” started rolling in, sometimes from students who walked out of her classroom for the last time 30 years ago. She says she accepted those requests without hesitation, which allows them to see her updates, write comments on her wall, and send her messages directly.

“A few of them weren’t necessarily the happiest kids in the world when they graduated,” Taverner says. “Now I’ve heard good news that they’re doing well.”

She’s also discovered that some students followed in her footsteps. “I have been so pleased that a number of my students became teachers,” Taverner says. 

One thing she does not do on Facebook is seek out former students. Instead, she lets them come to her.

“Students have a right to privacy,” Taverner says, “and they might not feel comfortable with a former authority figure seeing their profiles.”

Dan Rudd, a former middle school social studies teacher who retired in 2005, created a Facebook account last year at the request of several friends who wanted to keep in touch.

“It’s a great way to contact people you haven’t heard from in years,” says Rudd, who logs onto Facebook every day, and has “friended” about 25 former students.

He is part of Facebook’s fastest growing group; in fact, the number of Internet users age 50 and older joining all social networking sites nearly doubled between April 2009 (22 percent) and May 2010 (42 percent), according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Like Taverner, Rudd also enjoys playing Facebook-based games such as the enormously popular Farmville and Mafia Wars (in which players manage a virtual farm or establish a virtual criminal empire, respectively).

But don’t be too quick to write off Facebook as merely fun and games—it is also a powerful organizing tool. NEA regularly uses Facebook to communicate with members, and it was central to NEA’s successful Speak Up for Education & Kids campaign.
NEA-Retired has its own Facebook presence.

John Jensen, a member of the NEA-Retired Executive Council and former educator from Nebraska, is an administrator of the group, which already has nearly 500 members. 

Jensen believes social media can be an effective way for members across the country to exchange ideas. “If all active NEA members started posting stories and pictures about what they are doing in their states, it would give everyone else great ideas,” Jensen says.

“Facebook has a lot of value for retirees,” Jensen says. “Once it’s set up, I think you’ll find a lot in it.”


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