Retirement, and other musings…
Posted by Lisa Hill on February 8, 2014
Teachers in the government system are very rarely publicly acknowledged for the work they do, and nowhere is this more evident when the time comes for retirement.
The Education Department takes no notice at all. Towards the end of a career they have a shabby little acknowledgement of years of service when they dispatch a form requiring authorisation for a certificate acknowledging 35 or 40 years of service: it doesn’t even come with pre-paid postage, the recipient has to attach a stamp advising them if the certificate is wanted or if they wish to attend the ‘ceremony’ where it is presented. The ceremony is, of course, after work, and since it consists of strangers also ’celebrating’ their years of service, it seems a lot like more of the unpaid overtime that teachers routinely do. Because the department knows absolutely nothing about the work done in the years of service, it falls to the hapless principal to research a few details, adding to her workload for no useful purpose at all since none of the other people attending the ‘ceremony’ are, with the best will in the world, likely to be genuinely interested. The proceedings cost the department the price of an A4 piece of paper and minor catering expenses.
When a teacher in a government school retires, there is usually some sort of ceremony at the school, and depending on its resources, there will be some sort of gift and some speeches made. I have been to some rather shabby functions like this: a multipurpose room at the school jazzed up with a balloon or two and some photos. There are nibbles brought by the other teachers; and the resident wit usually makes what is thought to be a comic speech. Very rarely will there be a speech that actually outlines the teacher’s achievements beyond the obvious. These retirement functions were at their worst in the Kennett years, when the premier eliminated 7000 teaching positions and told parents that it would make no difference to the quality of education. 7000 retirements is a lot, and retirement function fatigue soon set in. Many of our best teachers left the service without anyone marking their departure at all.
This week, my old mate Alan retired. On Friday after school, in a hot staff room where I was the only colleague from any of his previous schools, there were generous speeches from senior staff, and it was obvious from the crowd that he was a well-loved member of staff and they were sorry to see him go. But it was Alan’s inspiring speech that made this a special occasion for me and for everyone else who was present.
I’ve known Alan for more than 25 years, and I’ve always known him to be a wonderful teacher. We taught together for five years, and have kept in touch with regular social gatherings of staff from that school ever since. But it was not until Alan rose to say his farewells that I had the opportunity to hear him articulate his reasons for sticking with the job.
It was because he had once heard someone say that the kids who end up in gaol are the ones who can’t read. Because they can’t read, they can’t get decent jobs and they lack the skills to make a success of their lives. Alan determined there and then that he would always do his very best to see that any child who came into his care would learn to read properly.
A modest man, Alan admitted that he didn’t always succeed. But he tried. He never gave up. It was his mission in life, and he gave it his best shot.
If the Minister for Education had any idea what the profession has lost in the retirement of my mate Alan, they would have been there with a gold watch, at the very least.