Retirement from teaching prompts reflection on a 58-year journey of joy
No surprise that retirement is one of the major concerns among all Americans. The year I turned 65, I dutifully made the trip to my local Social Security office to meet with a very kind and helpful woman who talked me through the benefits I would receive.
I had no intention of retiring at the time, and, for most of the past 16 years I have joked that I wanted to die lecturing on modern poetry or teaching an adult Bible class on Job.
I have only recently begun to consider what it would be like to retire. I have loved being a college English teacher since that hot August day in 1956 when I completed my first day of teaching composition to three sections (75 freshmen) and Old English poetry to 18 sophomores.
My back ached, my legs were stiff, and my head was pounding.
But I had never been so happy. I loved interacting, thinking with, listening to, and prodding students to think — students who were only slighter younger than I was.
I was infinitely blessed when the president of the institution now known as Oklahoma Christian University invited me to return to the junior college that had so enriched my life to teach English. Throughout my college and graduate studies I was unsure that I wanted to teach. Reading and writing has been my passion all my life, but teaching literature and composition was a different thing. One day with bright, inquisitive students with Christian views made me sure I was doing what God wanted me to do.
Fifty-eight years later, my stomach still gets tight, my mouth dry and my nerves rattled before I go to meet a new class for the first time. Students — whether brilliant, ordinary or dull — are still the greatest opportunity of my existence. When the light of understanding comes on for a student struggling to understand a great idea or a simple poem, life is sweet for me.
Through the years, some of my closest relationships have developed with people younger than me — at first young enough to be my siblings, then young enough to be my children, and now young enough to be my grandchildren. I have thrilled to see thinkers, leaders, godly people develop from their educational experiences. Every morning as I prepare for class, my mind races over material, text, ideas and concepts I will get to share with students.
I always have assumed God would take me before retirement time came. Since I turned 70, I have been giving up responsibilities — editorship of The Christian Chronicle, leadership at church, directing OC’s Honors Program, full time teaching.
Now I am retiring. Even though I have good health, no aches or pains, an adequate mind and a love of teaching, it is time.
For the past 10 years I have been trying to grow closer to God and to become more pliant so that he could mold me into his image. I feel the need to have more time to reflect and meditate on a world that is totally different from the world which shaped my early life.
My family worries that retirement will be a difficult adjustment after so many years of having nearly every hour of the day committed. Friends who have recently retired have counseled me not to make too many commitments so that I don’t experience the relief I should enjoy.
Reading and writing will still be central. As Chronicle readers know, we never have enough time to know the Bible, the Word of God. Now I can undertake a serious study of Isaiah, Jeremiah and other Old Testament books I want to understand. I have volunteered for two projects, and I have at least 500 books I want to read. I will write two days a week on projects I committed to long ago.
Although I’m retiring, this isn’t goodbye. I’m thankful for the opportunity to continue to share my insights here. This column keeps me searching my soul and testing my faith.
From those pursuits, may we never retire.
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