A retiree returns to teaching: What explains pull of classroom?

What draws retired educators back to the classroom?
What draws retired educators back to the classroom?

Credit: LIsa Bernheim

Credit: LIsa Bernheim

Rick Diguette is a local writer and recently retired college professor who writes occasionally for the AJC Get Schooled blog.

In this guest column, he examines his short-lived retirement from the classroom. It’s been a little more than a year since Diguette retired, and now he is back teaching college classes.

I often run into educators in similar situations. They’ve retired and are enjoying it, but an opportunity emerges for them to teach again and they happily return.

It seems the classroom tugs at a lot of educators who have left, despite all the challenges.

By Rick Diguette

Fifteen months ago, I exited my Georgia State University campus office and happily embarked on early retirement. I was “fed up” with many of the students who populated my class rolls: they seemed to spend every waking hour trying not to be students.

I was also uncomfortable with the idea, routinely promoted these days by almost everyone in higher education, that classroom technology would lead those very same students―cell phones firmly in hand―to the promised land of a four-year degree. Then last week, after attending my first faculty retiree association meeting, I accepted an offer to teach two classes in the fall.

When I retired last May, I did so fearing that a month or two into my Golden Years I might wake up one morning and wonder what in the world I had done. We’ve all heard stories of recent retirees succumbing to a heart attack whilst completing their fourth crossword puzzle before noon or mixing a second cocktail when their working brethren are still stuck in the morning’s rush hour traffic. Surviving retirement takes planning, and I hadn’t done any of that. But after 15 months, not even one second thought or unforeseen reality had arisen to trouble my mind. I was happy, relaxed, and staying quite busy doing things I enjoyed, like tutoring students in writing a few hours a week at a local technical college and spending Saturdays supervising volunteers on Habitat for Humanity build sites.

Although that retiree association meeting wasn’t the only reason I began to think about teaching again, I suspect it may have acted as a catalyst. I was cordially welcomed into the fold, provided information about an upcoming book discussion meeting, given access to the retiree association Facebook page, and then listened to an hour-long presentation about healthy, affordable, and delicious meals.

But did I really need to be reminded that reading the labels on packaged foods is a good idea, or that it is best to taste what you’re about to eat before deciding it needs salt? Sometimes good information, particularly when you’ve reached your so-called dotage, is so obvious it can also be a little disheartening. I left the meeting early claiming to be needed elsewhere, got into my car, and being mindful of what happened to Lot’s wife did not look back.

Rick Diguette
Rick Diguette

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

Now that I’ve rejoined the faculty ranks as an adjunct―vague term used to describe the woefully underpaid people who teach at least half of the classes college students and their parents struggle to pay for―there are sure to be things I won’t like about what I’m doing. For one, students can’t have changed all that much in the past 15 months. Some will still expect “at least a C” for turning in an assignment on time, while others will remind me that anything less than an “A” will jeopardize their HOPE Scholarship. The university administration can also be expected to let me know that while my contribution as an underpaid educator is valued, my considered opinions are not.

In case you’re wondering, I have not changed my mind about retirement. Go for it as soon as this is financially feasible, and make sure you give yourself plenty of things to do that take time and require physical effort. Solving crossword puzzles―I’m still doing them in ink―promotes mindfulness, but it’s also a sedentary activity. Get up out of the chair and move around as much and as briskly as possible, and as often as possible. Your heart will thank you, and so will your legs.

And don’t be afraid to rejoin the ranks of the employed if only on a part-time basis. Change is good, especially once you’ve retired.

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