After many years teaching elementary school, I have decided to retire. It really was not an easy decision. Realizing I was finishing my thirtieth year finally hit me after the holidays. Just out of curiosity, I wrote to our public employees’ retirement system to see what kind of retirement income I would have if I retired at the end of this year. After looking at the figures, I realized if the church wanted me as a part-time priest, they would be getting quite a deal since I did not need that much additional salary to bring me up to my current teaching salary.
In February, I approached my rector with the idea. We did have a full-time priest in addition to her when she arrived, but that priest was hired into a rector’s position back east quite awhile ago. We also have a part-time priest shared between our congregation and another. For the past four years, I have simply acted as what we jokingly refer to in Nevada as a “gas money priest” since the small monthly stipend we receive usually pays for the gas. I presented the idea of the job initially, and then she called me back for a more serious talk a couple weeks later. Once she decided it was a great idea, it went to the executive committee, and then needed vestry approval. The hard part was knowing all this was underway, but having to keep track of who knew and who did not know, so I did not say something I shouldn’t. Finally, with the mailing of our May newsletter the whole congregation knew – what a relief! The congregation has given me a warm reception – odd statement since I have been there for thirteen years − and I am looking forward to starting formally in July. I am thinking of it not so much as “retirement” (I’m only 52 – a tender age), but as “Act II” in the unfolding play that is my life.
It is an odd and somewhat unsettling feeling to think of myself not teaching school. When I pause to consider it, in one form or another I have never really been out of school: Grammar School – Middle School – High School – College – Grad School – Teaching. My entire life has been lived among schoolchildren. When I am asked what I do for a living, the answer has always been, “I’m a teacher.” Rarely does the priest thing come up. Now, the correct answer is, “I am an Episcopal priest.” That is going to take some getting used to.
The standard questions I am asked on almost a daily basis are, 1) “So, are you counting the days?” and; 2) “What are you going to do?” That first question is beginning to get on my nerves. Yes, I am ready to move on, but I still love my students, and am going to give them my all until we have to say good bye in June.
The second question is easier to answer, except most people seem a trifle disappointed I am not planning to sail around the world with only my cats for company or something equally extreme (We teacher/priests are a dull lot.) To be honest, there are a few things I am really looking forward to in my retirement: not grading papers every evening, not having to wait for a bell to go to the bathroom, and not being afraid of those icons on the evening weather report. I want to just watch the evening weather report without my stomach clenching if there is snow or rain midweek. If I see the rain or snow icon it means I’m going to have a rough commute (only 35-45 minutes, but lots of hills and mountains), and probably the kids are going to stay inside all day.
It is public knowledge at my school that I am retiring, and even my students are beginning to know. One boy asked today in a hurt tone of voice, “Why didn’t you tell us you were retiring?! We would have treated you better.” I just laughed. I will miss the kids.