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My Turn: Time to take another whack at retirement

On a sunny September day in 2005, I stood up at a meeting to be introduced to new colleagues. Asked to say a few words about myself, I said: “Hi, my name is Joanne, and I was a failure at retirement.”

With those simple words, I had returned to the workforce as a high school social studies teacher. Just two years earlier, I had retired from the Half Hollow Hills school district after a rewarding 20 years. I had taught more than 2,000 teenagers and raised my own three daughters. My days had been busy, and now my mom was battling cancer. I needed more time to take an active role in her care. I was eligible to retire, but I’d had little time or energy to investigate the ramifications.

My story really began one June day in 1967, when, as a 21-year-old recent college graduate, I was interviewed by the Baldwin High School principal for a position in his building.

As he looked at my résumé, he jokingly said, “From this, it appears you have been teaching for 10 years already.” I had included both the Bible school and Sunday school classes I had taught as well as my Town of Hempstead recreation counselor jobs for three summers — and various tutoring work. Not to appear pushy, I had omitted the Fun Club I ran for my neighbors’ kids on Windmill Lane in Levittown, perhaps because I was only 9 and 10 and my little “students” were 3 and 5 years old.

I got the Baldwin job, where I spent three memorable years teaching. Along the way I got married, and many of my seniors attended my wedding. (By the way, those Baldwin seniors will be attending their 50th high school reunion this year!)

After becoming a mother, I would devote the next decade to being at home and volunteering at church and Scout activities. I also completed my master’s degree at Stony Brook University, knowing I would soon be back in the classroom.

My career has spanned 50 years — 1967 to this school year. Changes and additions to curriculum and amazing new technology have kept me on my toes. When I started, averages were done by hand since the calculator hadn’t yet made it into the schools, and typing for handouts meant using a mimeograph and ditto paper. Carbon paper, typewriters, ink pens, phonographs and film projectors were the tools of my trade!

Now I’m amazed that I can type on my iPad and almost magically print copies of student materials. From the same iPad, I can project movies and films onto a large flat screen mounted in my class. My grade book and lesson plans are, you guessed it, in my iPad.

If you’re wondering where I went after my first, brief retirement: Our Savior New American School in Centereach has been a great place to work. Mom had passed away, and I missed the routine of my former teaching career. At the Lutheran school I have taught teens from China, Uganda, Nigeria, Vietnam, Mali, South Korea, Germany, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Long Island.

Because Our Savior has an outstanding basketball program, I’ve worked with NCAA compliance and have former students I now watch on TV as they play for Division 1 schools. Our drama department presents an outstanding production each year, making a yearly highlight out of dinner and the play with my much-younger-than-me colleagues. I’ve also attended baby showers, weddings, 30th birthday celebrations and a host of great school functions.

But in my heart I know it’s now time to turn my classroom keys over to a new teacher. I will leave my handy whiteboard to be replaced by a SMART Board — which I don’t know how to use. My colleagues will be able to enjoy a full lunch period without me calling on them to help with my daily computer glitch.

Much has changed in 50 years, but teenagers really haven’t. They are on the cusp of adulthood and need support, guidance and respect, things I hope I’ve provided to the nearly 3,000 students I’ve taught. This time I’m ready for retirement — maybe!

Joanne Fraser

Holbrook

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