An article in the Wall Street Journal today prompted Steve and me to talk about how we knew it was time to retire.
In 1998, our daughter had another year of high school. Retirement from teaching at Moyer School hadn’t entered my mind. But the next fall, as we were adjusting to our empty nest, an unusual thing happened in my classroom.
In the social studies class I was teaching, I mentioned an important concept and wrote a word on the board for the students to take notes on and remember. A child raised her hand and asked, “Do you want us to write what you said or what you wrote on the board?”
I looked at the board in horror. The word I’d written wasn’t even close to what I’d said and meant to write. I made a joke of it and corrected it, but, in my mind, the damage was done.
I’d never wanted to be one of those teachers who is so over the hill that students are aware of it and make fun of her. I didn’t want students to have to deal with my “senior moments.” I was just 54 years old that fall and it was my thirty-fourth year of teaching. (Yes, I started teaching when I was 20. Feel sorry for those students I had that first year!)
About that time, the state education department decided schools would have more money if their “older” teachers retired. Since school salaries are based on education plus years of experience, this would free up more funds to hire younger, less experienced teachers. So they made a special offer for anyone fifty-five and older to retire: Instead of retirement giving us 80% of the average of our last five years of teaching, it would be the average of our last three years of teaching. Since we’d gotten better raises recently, this would strongly impact how much retirement income we’d receive monthly.
I called the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System and got information about retirement, and especially about buying the seven years I’d taught in other states. I’d done the paperwork years before, so they had all the information they needed. I’d taught in Kentucky for 27 years. The other seven would make 34, the tipping point at which teachers would take home about the same amount they’d make in retirement—in other words, they’d be “teaching for free.”
The next Saturday, Steve and I took a drive out to Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. We’d heard of it for years and never visited. We enjoyed seeing the little general store there and the “mayor of Rabbit Hash,” a hound dog.
We sat at a picnic table by the Ohio River and went over our financial situation. Steve was still teaching, preaching, and conducting seminars and speeches, so we knew we could live on his income. We figured out that if I bought the seven years for $48,000, which we’d have to borrow, I’d get it back in income in eight and a half years. We decided to do it. It would free me to write, and I could manage his business since his part-time office assistant, our beloved Aaron Ellerbrock, had given notice because he was finishing his Master’s degree.
I started staying late each day after school to clean up files and get rid of materials that were significant only to me. By the end of the school year, three other friends had also decided to retire, two of them also 55. When the four of us went to the principal’s office to tell him he’d need to replace four experienced, respected teachers when he was only expecting one retirement, his mouth fell open in shock. Of course he recovered and was very gracious about it. Moyer School would soon be in my past.
I loved that last year of teaching. I had a very challenging class. The year before, our daughter’s last year in high school, I’d had an ideal class. I could still remember what fun it was to teach those children, but this class showed me how exhausting—though lovable—a class could be. A good way to go out.
How does God’s hand enter into this? I can explain, but that’s for the next installment of this story. Clearly God knew even better than I that I needed to stop teaching and attend to those near and dear to me. For 34 years, I’d missed some special occasions and times of need, but now I was ready to fulfill any of those opportunities that came my way.
For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths. Proverbs 5:21