Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

May 27, 2012

Thoughts on retirement

Mary Hanna
Special to the Journal-Express

Knoxville —  

In a few short weeks I will retire after 34 years of teaching.  When I see people around the community, they ask me what I’m going to do with all of my time.  It’s a good question.  I wish I had a good answer.  I’m embarking on a new chapter in my life; I’m not sure what to expect.  
I have gone to school every fall for the past 51 years.  I went from kindergarten to elementary school to high school to college to teaching.  I’ve had 51 first days of school.  I’ve taught almost every age group of people, either in a formal school classroom setting, a Sunday school class, a 4-H group, an FFA function, or an adult gathering.  When I graduated from college, my plan was to teach for five years, and then move onto a dream job.  I guess I enjoyed teaching too much to move onto something else.  
There are many things that I will miss.  I’ll miss daily contact with so many people:  other teachers, custodians, office staff, administrators, support personnel and students.  I’ll miss the regular routine and organizational demands of teaching.  I’ll miss the ebb and flow of the school year: from fall, when spirits are high and learning is at a peak, to winter when days get shorter and enthusiasm wanes, to spring, when we all anticipate the coming of summer and a break from the regular routine.
I think, on occasion, I might even miss the class preparations.  It is so affirming for me to make plans for a class, get everything organized and set up, and then watch students experience the pure joy of learning.  I know that learning can take place at any time, in any situation, but often the best understanding comes about in a structured, organized setting with some background information and someone around who can answer the questions.
I’ll miss the constant entertainment provided to me by my students.  As you’d expect, I’ve heard some great quotes and questions.  I was asked regularly, during the preparation of no-bake cookies, what temperature the oven should be set on.  One day, in anticipation of a breakfast cooking lab, I handed out a recipe using lemonade, orange juice, and apple juice as the sole ingredients.  One student raised her hand and asked me if this recipe was for a drink.  Just recently an astute eleven-year-old, preparing a grilled cheese sandwich, asked sincerely, “Mrs. Hanna, does it matter which side of the bread I butter?”
I probably won’t miss all of the paperwork demands of teaching:  grading papers at any and all hours of the day and night, at a table or desk, while riding in the car, or while waiting for a train.  I won’t miss all of the data collection that has become an albatross with “No Child Left Behind.”  I often wonder how many good teachers have been left behind.
There is always controversy surrounding our education system.  It seems that since we were all students, we’re experts on what schools should be.  We pass blame from legislators who won’t fund mandates, to administrators who don’t enforce rules, to teachers who don’t work hard enough, to parents who think things should be as they were when they were in school, to students who don’t even want to be in school!  
I don’t have answers to all of the questions that are raised about education.  I just know that it’s important and it takes all of us to work together for the benefit of the students who are our future.  
If I could share one piece of advice concerning the education of children with all parents, I’d tell them to teach their children to care.  Teach them to care about what they’re learning; it’s preparation for their lives.  We’re teaching concepts and facts here at school, but we’re also teaching what’s expected in society.  So many habits are established in school.  Things like responsibility, respect, honesty, loyalty, and trustworthiness need to be taught at home, but they’re lived out at school.  When students come with caring attitudes about their education there are fewer battles and everyone can learn more easily.
I’d tell parents to teach their children, by example, to care about their school. It’s a reflection of their community, but also a contributor to their community.  It provides jobs, gives an identity, and trains tomorrow’s community leaders.  
I believe it’s important to teach children to care about each other; they can learn so much from each other and from trying to accept each other.  Help them to care less about the drama that’s created at school and more about the ways they can work together to learn, to take advantage of all that is offered to them by way of education.
If I could give young teachers one piece of advice concerning their careers as educators, I’d tell them to show that they care.  I’d tell them to think about what they say and what they do.  Remember that children and students look to us for examples.  There are enough bad examples in this world.  Strive to be a good example and if you can’t, then move onto something else.  Education is much too important for less than your best.  Be dedicated.  Be professional.
I know that it’s time for me to move onto the next chapter in my life.  It’s time to give a refreshing change to my school and classroom.  My replacement will have fresh ideas, more experience with technology, some new ways of doing things.  I’m excited for her and what she can bring to our school.  And I think I’ll be okay too.  I think I’m ready for another dream job.