39: Unexpected Changes

39: Unexpected Changes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Unexpected Changes

Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.

~Harry Emerson Fosdick

“You aren’t going back to work,” my husband Jeff stated as we left the doctor’s office. I’d been feeling miserable since September when I’d returned to teaching. Now, at the end of October, my doctor had said that I’d better walk out of the school before I needed to be carried out. My blood pressure was dangerously high. It was time to terminate my twenty-eight year teaching career.

“I can’t quit now,” I argued weakly. “I only have two more years to go and I can collect my full retirement.”

“You heard what the doctor said. You won’t be around to get any retirement if you don’t get out now. I know it’s hard, but there really isn’t a choice. You have to leave.”

That night I thought a lot about my life. Teaching had been all I’d ever wanted to do. My first job was as an elementary special needs teacher in a small town in the western part of the state. I drove nearly an hour each way through back roads to get to the school. But I’d enjoyed my work. On weekends, Jeff and I would often pick up some of my students and take them to Fenway Park or some other attraction.

Life went on. We bought a house. I began working on my master’s degree. With the arrival of our first son, Eric, I quit teaching. Second son, Greg, arrived three years later. Another teaching job would come along at the right time, I was sure.

With the help of a friend who was home with her own children and willing to babysit, I did some substitute teaching while the boys were little. Eventually, they were both in school and I found a job at a local junior high school. From there, I moved on to a high school. I’d just received my twenty-five-year pin from that high school a month before we received the news from my doctor.

Of course, teaching had changed during those years. But I really enjoyed working with the older students who had learning disabilities, preferring classes of juniors and seniors. It wasn’t easy. Special education teachers are certified to teach all areas of the curriculum and I had fourteen classes of various subjects and various students over each two-week period.

Often, students questioned the contents of lessons and would ask, “How will this help in the REAL world?” I felt comfortable that what I was teaching was applicable to the daily life of an adult and answered them with confidence, giving them relevant examples. I enjoyed spending time with these young adults and felt that I was making a difference in at least some of their lives.

But big changes were on the horizon. The state stepped in. Our lifetime certifications were revoked and had to be renewed every five years. Vacations were spent at workshops, taking courses or rewriting curriculum to meet state specifications. Unfortunately, most of the course and workshop content was exactly what I’d learned years earlier and curriculum revisions were merely, to me, an exercise in semantics and an extensive waste of time and paper. Meetings became more frequent as more special needs students were placed in mainstream classrooms but still needed extensive help. There were times when I was literally supposed to be in three places at once! The paperwork on students I had in class and those being monitored increased considerably. I was spending as much time on secretarial work as I was on teaching.

Mandated state testing on material I considered irrelevant to daily life was the proverbial last straw. I no longer believed in what I was doing each day. I knew that what I had to teach to students with limited learning abilities so they could pass the test was not what they needed in the real world. They needed to know how to balance a checkbook before being taught how to solve algebraic equations. They needed basic reading and writing skills, not daily repetitions of questions and unfamiliar words that were basically useless but had appeared on previous tests. Now when they asked me about the relevance of the material, I could only answer that they needed to learn the material to pass the test. I thought I was handling the situation, but obviously my body knew differently. My teaching days were over.

The next day was difficult. Jeff and I went to school and arranged for my early retirement. I signed papers. I was in such a state of shock about the change in my life that I felt like I was watching someone else sign them. Jeff had retired the previous June after more than thirty years of teaching. He’d planned his retirement for a year. I’d had less than a day.

I stayed home for the next few months, following the doctor’s orders and taking medication. Jeff found a part-time job booking rides for the elderly at our local senior center. Our son and daughter-in-law moved in with us for several months while their house was being built. While they were all working, I was taking care of the house and cooking meals each night.

Eventually, Kim and Greg moved into their new home. My blood pressure returned to normal, even without medication. I was now faced with a challenge. What was I going to do with the rest of my life? I began painting again, something I hadn’t done in years. I redecorated the house, did some reading, had an occasional lunch out with friends or spent weekend time with family. And I started writing again. But I needed more. I wasn’t ready to completely retire. If teaching was out, then where did I go from here?

I decided to volunteer at the Fitchburg Senior Center where Jeff was working. I began by offering a writing class once a week. The response was good and I soon found myself involved in teaching once again. But this time with a much older, and more appreciative, group of students.

A few months after my volunteering began I was offered the job of program coordinator. I accepted immediately. This was an entirely different type of work than anything I’d ever thought of doing. I was responsible for scheduling the activities for the center, advertising, coordinating events and writing a monthly newsletter of eight pages. My computer skills improved out of necessity. But there was so much more!

The huge building which houses the senior center is a former armory located off Main Street, across the street from City Hall. Part of the building had been used to house vehicles during training in WWII. Because of its size and location, the center is a perfect place for large group meetings and entertainment. I soon knew the area entertainers and politicians. I even had the opportunity to meet the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

Advertising was done in local newspapers. I began submitting stories and pictures of the senior center members to one local newspaper along with the schedule of events. The editor invited me to write a regular column, usually humorous, about my own life. Strangers recognize me from my newspaper picture, and I’ll admit that I am extremely happy when I’m told how much my column is enjoyed.

At the center I’ve met some wonderful people, many of them from the WWII era. I enjoy hearing their stories and spending time with them.

I started a craft shop called the Closet Boutique. All items are handmade and it is an ongoing fundraiser for the center. My writing group still meets every Tuesday. We are about to self-publish our eleventh book, with proceeds also going to the center. These two ongoing fundraisers have provided money for everything from new coffee pots and furniture to helping with a new sound system in the large hall. Most importantly, the programs have given people a worthwhile purpose. Many dedicated, hard-working people have made the success of these programs possible.

Bingo is played at the center. I found that, while I don’t enjoy playing the game, I do enjoy being the caller. Health and wellness fairs are scheduled along with many other informational meetings. The list of activities is endless. There is something for everyone.

And so the end of my teaching career wasn’t the end of my working life. I’ve simply moved on and the move has been a good one.

~Jane Lonnqvist

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