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Every day is Saturday now

Apr 21, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

Which is good, because Saturday always was one of the busiest days of my week.

A question has come up often since last June when I "officially" took early retirement after 32 years in Wyoming K-12 education. "What do you do with all your time now that you're retired?"

Rather than elaborate on my activities the reply is usually, "Well, I don't know how I had the time to do all the things I do when I was working full time."

It's a statement a lot of "officially retired" people can relate too.

What do I really do? Well, I look at most days like I used to look at Saturday. Teaching and coaching nearly every day of my adult life since age 22 didn't leave a lot of time for after school activities. Saturdays -- those without a game several hundred miles from home -- were a precious commodity packed with a week's worth of activity.

Many times my co-workers and I lamented that by the time we were back in town all the stores were closed. There was even a brief spell when you could schedule a doctor or dental appointment on Saturday, but those quickly filled up with appointments just like any other day in the medical profession, and that practice quickly ended.

Now that every day can be packed with as much or as little as my heart desires, it's still a full schedule.

It's an interesting paradox in public education that the only way to improve your salary is to get older. Whether you're a gifted teacher doesn't matter. It's all about descending that salary scale until you bottom out. Hang around long enough and you'll get to the rule of 85 (when your age and experience in the classroom reach that magic number) and can retire at about 65 percent of the average or your three highest-paid years.

For a few years teachers and a handful of administrators "double dipped." They retired and then were rehired to teach again with their original teaching salary augmented by their retirement. No one did this for more than three or four years, and you had to trust your administration and school board -- not the easiest thing to do in some communities -- to actually hire you back. When it worked it was definitely an economic boon to a career choice that rarely came down to dollars and sense.

This bothered the Wyoming Legislature so in its infinite wisdom the door on "double dipping" has been closed, but not quite locked. You can still do it, but you have to take a full year off before being rehired now. After a year of retired freedom, it's a rarity that someone would go back to the chaotic abyss that public education is becoming.

Many retired teachers do what retired military personnel have done for decades -- start another career. "Lifers" in the military sometimes retire as early as age 38, but the youngest teachers are at least 53 when they hit the target.

I have retired friends who work as cabinet makers, carpenters, house painters, student teaching coordinators, gardeners and consultants, and each of them excels at the second career.

It's been impossible to sleep past 6 a.m. since I turned 40, and lately 4:30 has become the magic hour. Those early morning hours are a perfect time to write in a variety of venues. Writing in the wee hours of the morning is usually done on a curriculum project I've contracted to do for a school district or online entity. I teach a variety of online classes from high school to graduate school level each morning as well. The online world has beckoned since I taught my first class in that form back in 2003. Add wood-working, farming and writing for this publication, and it's a full day, even for a Saturday lifestyle.

A few retired teachers just can't leave the classroom, so they return as substitutes. Being a substitute teacher is one of the most difficult jobs a person can choose to follow, but good subs are such a rarity that when there is a teacher up the to the challenge, the phone rings every day. The patience gleaned in a lifetime of dealing with unruly children and their growingly self-centered parents is evident when an experienced former teacher returns to pinch hit in the classroom.

One area that retired teachers choose to continue is coaching. With all the constraints and ridiculous expectations that parents, administrators and boards place on coaches, it's hardly worth the effort for a classroom teacher to pick up a whistle and spend a few more hours with the students each afternoon.

But a retired teacher doesn't carry the baggage of an exasperating school day into practice. To the coach who spends the day in another vocation, practice is just practice. It is an approach that was once common to teachers who chose to coach after school but that has largely vanished with the advent of the outside harassment that has taken academic freedom away from the classroom and replaced it with the cold, largely useless standardized test.

This little sojourn into retirement should answer the second most common question directed at me, "Aren't you bored yet?"

I'll speak for the group and say, "No, but when I have time I'll think about it."

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