In October 2000, I decided to leave my rewarding and successful forty-two year teaching career at the end of the school year. Like most, I looked forward to traveling, seeing more of my grandkids, and sleeping in late. However, those opportunities were not paramount in my decision-making process. My primary reason for wanting to leave the classroom at age 62 was a desire to go out while I was still on top of my game. I wanted to be remembered as effective, energetic, inspiring, and fun. I did not want to end my career as a crotchety old biddy that fell asleep at her desk during sharing time and waddled to her car at 4:00 in order to “rest up” for another day. It had been a glorious ride, but it was time to dismount and move on.
After making my decision and presenting a tear-stained letter of intent to the Board of Education, I started preparing for the end. I applied for and received a grant to plant a Butterfly Garden on our school playground. I gave my teaching colleagues most of my personal materials and artifacts that related to units of study. I allocated some of my treasures to former students who were preparing to enter the teaching profession. I supervised my last student teacher – number twenty-four. I served as a mentor for a beginning teacher. And, I cried.
What would I do with all my free time? Because my husband had recently suffered a light stroke, extensive travel was impractical. I enjoyed golfing, but Iowa weather didn’t make that a year-round option. Reading was a passion, but I didn’t want to do it nonstop. (I knew what would happen to my waistline if I sat in the recliner with a book in one hand and a Hershey bar in the other.)
I had to face facts. Retirement meant Going Out To Pasture. My days would be filled with reminiscing and regretting. Life would never again provide the same pleasure and satisfaction that teaching had. I just knew it!
If you think I was having my own “pity party”, you’re right. And to make matters worse, nobody was giving me the gift of empathy. Parents of current and former students, colleagues, family, and friends all thought my elevator had gotten stuck on the way to the top. Past retirees told me how much they were enjoying life. Many who were still in the workforce shared their feelings of envy regarding my pending “opportunity.” None of it helped. In my mind, the pasture was adjacent to the school building’s door marked EXIT. It was home to brown grass and ugly weeds, and I wasn’t looking forward to grazing there!
Then, during the last week of school, I happened to participate in what turned out to be a life-altering discussion. We were in the faculty lounge when someone mentioned a recently adopted piece of legislation that would (in my opinion) be harmful to kids and to schools. After spending more than my fair share of time expounding on what I’d like to tell ‘those politicians’, one of my colleagues said in jest, “Why don’t you write a book about it?”
AN IDEA WAS BORN! I would write a book about education in the public schools. I would include the good, the bad, and the ugly. Never mind the fact that I didn’t even know what a query was. (I later learned it’s a one-page letter where the writer attempts to convince a publisher or agent that he has a unique topic to write about, and that he is by far the most qualified to do it.) Neither did I know the first thing about agents, editors, publishers or contracts. But who cared? I was on a mission.
Three months later I had completed my proposal (the step used to convince a publisher you have written the next Oprah’s Book Club selection), and the first three chapters of the book. I sent queries to a multitude of publishers and waited for the bidding to begin. (I subsequently learned that an unpublished writer should first get an agent, and then look for a publisher.)
Two months later I received form letter rejection number twenty-eight. Included was a handwritten note that said, “I believe a book of this nature will sell only if written by a BIG name, but I still wish you success. Perhaps another publisher will feel differently.”
Well, phooey! Twenty-eight letters of rejection had filled my pasture with horse “doo-doo.” If I wasn’t careful, I‘d step in it. Enough was enough.
And then I remembered. Thousands of times I had implored my students to keep trying and never give up. I would often go on to suggest that the rainbow might just be hiding behind a cloud. If that advice was good enough for kids, it was good enough for me. I would not give up. Not yet, anyway.
I called the editor of our local newspaper and requested an appointment. I said I would like to discuss the possibility of writing a weekly column on educational issues and parenting issues that affect the educational process. Thankfully, he liked the idea. My column would appear under the caption, “From the Teacher’s Desk” and I would be paid a whopping $15 for each piece. (I was glad I wasn’t in it for the money.)
Three years later. My weekly essays continue to be published in our local paper as well as in two daily newspapers from nearby cities. Five of my pieces have been published in national magazines, and several on the Internet. A piece on ADHD kids was selected for inclusion in the anthology, In the Face of God. There were definitely signs of life in my pasture! In December, those signs of rebirth exploded into full bloom when BookLocker.com published my first book, From the Teacher’s Desk.
I pay what I consider to be “rent” for my space in the world by mentoring, volunteering, and substitute teaching. My days are full, my heart is happy, my soul is at peace, and I have a couple of coins in my pocket.
I have finally learned that there is life after retirement, and it’s pretty darn good! My pasture is covered with grass as green as the finest emerald, and yours can be, too. You only need to look for the open gate, and watch where you step.
“When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
–Alexander Graham Bell
Jacquie McTaggart lives with her husband, Carroll, in Independence. She has two sons and eight grandkids. In 2001, Jacquie retired as a first grade teacher from the Independence public school system. Her retirement was the culmination of a 42-year teaching career. For the past three years, she has written a weekly column called “From the Teacher’s Desk” for two area newspapers. Many of her articles on education and parenting have been published by national magazines and on the Internet. Her book, titled From the Teacher’s Desk, was released by BookLocker in December.