As mentioned in my last post, I am opposed to retired teachers taking up supply positions, assuming the supply exceeds the demand. What follows is an article I wrote about a year before I retired, stating the reasons for my position. It appeared in a local teacher publication, and the response I got was, shall we say, spirited.
What I am about to write, I know, will not be well-received by many colleagues of my generation, i.e., those who are planning to retire in the near future. Indeed, were it not for the fact that this is my last year of teaching, undoubtedly I would lack the moral authority to assert the following: in my view, doing supply work in retirement, with one notable exception, is wrong, and does a grave disservice to recent graduates in education.
How did I arrive at this conclusion? I’m sure that if we think back to the dawning of our own careers, many of us will see parallels to the situations that new teachers face today: a dearth of opportunities, except in select disciplines, and the very real prospect of having to relocate far from family and friends. That was certainly my experience, and it is not one that I am particularly keen to see young people face today.
Since stable employment eluded me in Ontario, I moved to and taught in Manitoba for many years, returning in 1988, one of the most compelling reasons being that my wife and I did not want our children growing up with almost no contact with their grandparents and other extended family members. It was only after toiling in supply work that I was able to secure full-time employment as teachers, especially department heads, got to know me and my work; as well, I was able to see the job postings in staff rooms, thereby giving me an edge over outside applicants.
Today, our young people are being denied such opportunities. When was the last time a new teacher did supply work in your school? It has been more than two years at my place of employment. To remedy this situation clearly will require retiring teachers to adopt a new perspective and be prepared to make sacrifices. Certainly, I know many anticipating retirement who say they will need the money that supply work pays to augment their pensions. My response to that is simple: either defer your retirement, be prepared to live a little more modestly, or begin a second career. Do not fall into a comforting rationalization about how students will be especially well-served because of your vast experience. The bald truth is that the vast majority of supply work entails babysitting or monitoring, not actual teaching. Nor should you feel that you somehow deserve to teach after retirement because you have paid your dues. What would make any of us think we are owed anything by the system?
I mentioned at the outset that there really is only one exception to the opinion I have expressed. That is when a teacher, either through maternity leave or illness, will be off the job for the remainder of a semester. Assuming the illness or leave occurs sometime after the semester has begun, it is, I believe, highly desirable to have an experienced (presumably recently retired) teacher assume duties to ensure continuity in the classroom. It would simply be too difficult for most new teachers to master the curriculum in a short time and provide that continuity. Indeed, last year at my school two of my former colleagues, whom I hold in very high esteem, did exactly that, and the students were indeed well-served by their conscientious professionalism.
The sentiments I’ve expressed in this article will undoubtedly strike some as either harsh or cold-hearted. I think they are neither. It is only when we admit to ourselves that we’ve had a pretty good run that we can begin to recognize it is time to yield to the younger generation who, once they attain full-time employment, undoubtedly will acquit themselves in the job with honour and vigor, just as we did when we started out, so long ago.