The Changing Role of an Educator

This is not a post on how technology is changing life in the classroom. There are already way too many articles on this topic and I am really not all that interested in how Flipgrid is revolutionizing education.

This more about a different path for an educator – me.

I retired as an active educator, a principal almost two years ago. I didn’t retire because I couldn’t do the job anymore. I loved the chaos and energy that came with being an elementary principal. I retired because of the unrelenting pressure put on me by a vindictive school board that was committed to turning me out any time I tried to do something different. The last straw for them had to do with my efforts to update lists of eligible FSL teaching candidates for principals on a Google Doc.

In my last year, I was called into the superintendent’s office for a little ‘talk to’ even before the year started. My resignation letter was a defence against senior officials who were set on intimidation.

This, however, is not the main subject of this post. While I am still angry with the school board, there is nowhere to go with this so I just bury it in a dark place, unresolved.

More positively, I am finding my life as an educator continues. Now I have the wonderful responsibility of looking after my 91-year-old mom who moved to Ottawa from  Montreal at the end of the summer.

mom celebrating her first day in Ottawa!

What a wonderful situation. I am freed up from the day to day struggle of being a public (separate) school principal to focus on the woman who raised me and formed me. What a gift this is.

My mom’s residence is just five minutes from our house. She loves it there. One day I arrived to see her sitting on their lovely broad porch sunning herself in the early autumn sun. Eyes closed, big smile, she was so happy and at peace. She said ‘I just love to be outside’.

After a month in the new wonderful residence, she had a series of falls, one resulting in a fractured hip. The hospital was just a few minutes from the residence and I was able to be there within a few hours of the fall and sat with her as she went through all the preliminaries leading up to an operation to fix the hip.

We were at the Ottawa General, and I can’t say enough about the level of care and respect we receive there. I met at least four doctors before the surgery who carefully explained the procedure to me. The chief of emergency medicine talked to me about a procedure they were about to perform. He was a former student I worked with at Holy Trinity High School when I worked on the school’s leadership camp program. Now, many years later, he is a wonderful kind, gentle man who reassured us that my mom would be ok.

Now a month later, I go to the hospital almost every day. I am meeting with care providers, nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. They have become our happy medical family and they treat my mom with beautiful dignity and loving care. They have even set her up with a radio she can listen to in the hallway so she doesn’t miss any of the action.

Mom at the Ottawa General. She loves this place and the care she receives is first rate. We love it too!

This is my new life as an educator. Now, I am focusing on just one person and doing my best to support all the medical and health care workers who are helping my mom. It is far from the roles I played in the school system, but I am part of a system and I can see how all these people work together for the care of the elderly.

Family dynamics still play a role in all this. All the members of our family here in Ottawa help out. They visit mom when I need a break. But families are strange. While everyone here is a great help, my one brother living in Toronto refuses to have any contact with any of us and has shut himself off from any information on my mother’s condition. Again, as an educator, this is something I saw when working through difficult family situations. The only difference now is that this is happening within my own family.

Today there are lots of meetings to attend and phone calls to make as we arrange the transition of my mom back to her residence. We have a great, effective team working through this. I was getting emails about the transition as late as 8:30 last night – how great is that!

I am learning lots. We are so fortunate to have such an excellent health care system here in Ontario. We are doubly blessed to have a system that shows so much respect for the elderly.

I love my new role as an educator. I retired into a new role as a caregiver and I feel like I am doing something special.

That deep, dark place recedes more every day. There is so much good out there when you have the opportunity to look for it.

 

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What happens when we are not defined by work?

This is a topic I am learning about.

A year and a half ago I retired from a very active job as an elementary school principal. It was a good decision and I don’t regret taking it.

For the first time in 31 years, I am learning and experiencing lots of new things. I have trekked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro through the Western Highlands of Scotland and most recently the Ausangate Range in Peru.

I am much fitter than I was when I had a regular job. Before I was just too busy to keep in good shape and I am a bit shocked how little real exercise I got. My moods were really affected by my work and it took way too long to return to a calm state after the strains of a long school year.

My pace is not so crazy anymore. Apart from my training, I write a lot more, I read and listen more too. I listen especially to lots of podcasts on VoicEd Radio and I really enjoy the work I am doing to help Stephen Hurley and this wonderful venture into the world of internet radio.

There is another side to this which I find interesting. I saw someone last week that I used to work with when I was a principal. She asked what I was doing these days and before I could answer, she made the reply.

Nothing?

I didn’t really bother to correct her, there didn’t seem to be much of a point. When you don’t have a regular job people sometimes don’t know what to do with you.

This is an interesting part of retirement, or it might just be the result of getting older. It is easier when you are not defined by your job to be discounted by others. It is easier to disappear.

It is interesting how quiet things can get. I volunteered to act as a supply principal for my school board when I retired – silence. I have volunteered and applied for other jobs with the same result.

A school in our neighbourhood doesn’t have a regular principal or VP, but because I am from a different school board I can’t even offer my services. I used to do lots of work for the local faculty of education here in our city – that work dried up as soon as I was no longer an active principal.

Other things just don’t make much sense. I visit my mother in the hospital almost daily, but my brother won’t answer my notes to him on how she is doing. It’s almost as if this work is unnecessary and irrelevant.  Friends, many of them retired as well, don’t reach out. Opportunities seem to dry up. It is a little like you begin to disappear.

This could go on for a while, as long as I define myself by who I was. At 60, I doubt that I will ever be actively employed again. This is a world that is dominated everywhere by youth – there is still little value placed on the older ones in our society.

To counter this, I need to find my new value. I need to look for the positive opportunity whenever it comes up. I don’t think conventional employers like school boards and universities will change. In some ways that is too bad because I think I have a great deal to offer – especially when a school has no administrators!

Instead, I need to find meaning and value in my own projects or in projects where the door is still open. VoicEd Radio is terrific that way and the creative work within this growing community is wonderful.

some of the wonderful podcasts that are available daily on VoicEd Radio

The work we are doing with Christie Lake Climb for Kids is a challenge and has the potential to channel more financial support to children who really need a positive change in their lives. This project was started last year when we took our first group of trekkers into the Peruvian Andes up to 5200m. The group trained and fundraised for a year and we made almost $28,000 for Christie Lake Kids programming.

So the future will be defined by the projects that work and the people who are open to what I can still offer. This is a new path.

I am no longer defined by a job I did for 31 years and how I define myself now has to be based on other factors, many that were not all that important when I was working full time. This is a work in progress, one that I don’t often read about but one that is probably worthy of further discussion.

It is interesting with more and more people retiring all the time that this doesn’t seem to be a topic that gets much attention. Do we have any sense of the social capital out there that still has great value?

Maybe this should change. Maybe we should talk more about this.

 

 

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