Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I had never intended to retire this early.

I had never intended to retire this early. I thought I would go on forever. The original plan was to hang in until age 70, maybe a little earlier if I detected signs of burn-out. I wanted to stop teaching before I was totally burned-out. It's a matter of professional pride. I don’t want to be a burned out teacher, a spectral presence creeping along the hallways, the ghost of my former self.

Well, I may have miscalculated. I think I am burning out ahead of schedule. I will be 64 (4 months shy of 65) at end of this academic year and the signs are accumulating that it is time for me to go. In my case, these were the warning signs.

No interest in doing anything new:

Although I have been teaching at the same community college for 35 years, I managed to reinvent myself a few times and keep going by developing new courses, new programs. I started as a teacher of remedial education, but I lost the faith. I could no longer ignore the enormous gap between what I was doing in my classes and anything remotely resembling college level. So I focused on developing college level courses—a revamped composition course, an inter- disciplinary humanities course which was a lot of fun. What kept me going was a service learning course which allowed me to draw on my second (and most rewarding albeit non-paid) career as a community activist. But the best reinvention of all was as a Women’s Studies teacher 13 years ago. Now that's starting to get same-old, same-old. I’ve run out of the energy to create something new. So it’s time for me to go.

Increased depression, ( anger?) at students’ worsening language skills:

I know all old folks complain that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but the skills decline is real. I believe passionately in the mission of community colleges and I have some wonderful students. But I can’t deal with flunking 50% of my students, which I would have to do if I were maintaining anything approaching reasonable standards. My standards get lower and lower with each passing year. I started to wonder how low can I go? I decided I didn’t want to find out. So it’s time for me to go.

Not wanting to go out on cold, snowy days:

Maybe this sounds trivial but I have heard it form other 60 something teachers. Driving in bad weather has become harder for many of us. One of my colleagues arrived one day with her retired husband. I asked him what he was doing at the College and my friend said she told him he had to drive her in; she just could not handle it that day. Another said that circling about looking for a parking space was too much and she gave up and went home. I have a bad ankle and worry about slipping on the ice. So it’s time for me to go.

I could go on and on, but what’s the point? I want to look forward to something different. I decided to start this blog to chart the next stage and maybe spark a conversation with other women entering retirement. When I am actually retired, I’ll have the time to develop an interactive web site with links to a range of resources available to women in retirement.

Anyway that's the plan—along with finally finishing a research project on second wave feminism in Philadelphia, learning Spanish, doing a little traveling ( if our retirement funds don’t completely melt away), staying involved in the feminist/ social justice movement which gives some sense of purpose to my life, getting my garden in shape, reading all those books I want to get to before I check out, and hanging out with my wonderful husband. (After 2 disastrous marriages, I finally got it right the third time around.)

The plan depends on not being totally broke, my health, my husband’s health, but it’s time for the next stage. It’s really time.

I have until March 15 to withdraw my intent to retire. Will I chicken out? Sure hope not.


  1. It sounds like you have spent time and energy to set standards for yourself to know when it is time to retire. I don't think that you have to worry that you are retiring...perhaps it is retirement from a position that you have had at the community college for 35 years but I can't imagine that you will not take time to see where your gifts will be best used in the future. After all you, at only 64 years old you are a "younger" woman for these days and times.

    I think if we are lucky and we listen to our inner wisdom, we will know when it's time to leave one life situation and be open and waiting for the next adventure. I wish you a wonderful time of walking through this period of transition.

  2. Thanks so much for the encouragement.

  3. I am envious and happy for you. As a private counseling practioner I do not have a vision of retirement. Teaching is such a grueling profession, I wonder how my two daughters who are in their twenties can teach thirty more years! Great idea for a blog/web site.

  4. I recently was sent a YouTube piece that told the story of an older woman who chose to travel aboard a cruise ship as an affordable alternative to a nursing home. Despite the fact that it provided a good laugh, it gave me pause. Unfortunately, I can't find it at the moment. I thought of it because of your comments about travel.

    I can certainly relate to the questions that you pose as they relate to retirement. So many of us are thinking along these lines. Congratulations on taking the plunge!

    I am hoping that at the end of the 2009-10 school year I can retire from full-time employment. The next step is finding a part-time job that will allow me to get by - since I have no pension and I don't want to collect of Social Security until age 65.

    Your comments about being sick of the daily challenges of getting to and from work also resonate with me. The winter weather is particularly daunting. There have been too many days driving mountain roads through ice and snow.

    I will look forward to hearing how you adjust to retirement.