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June 1999

With Teachers in
Short Supply
Retirees Can Enjoy
Designer Teaching

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Boards all across the province desperate for occasional teachers and many recently-retired teachers are finding they can enjoy the best of both worlds.

By Frann Harris

The wave of retirements of teachers who joined the profession to teach the baby boomers has hit schools across the province much earlier than expected. The demand for teachers has suddenly outstripped supply, affecting most boards in the province and creating the "year from hell" in the Peel board, one of the province’s largest.

Retired principal Peter Swalwell says that, on a given day, it’s not uncommon for the schools in Peel to be almost 200 teachers short. Like many boards, Peel has recently decided to allocate more funds for supply teachers.

College Registrar Margaret Wilson recently wrote a letter aimed at members who retired last year. She reminded them that almost 50 per cent of the qualified teachers in the province will reach retirement age by 2010, and writes, "I urge you to consider returning to the classroom on a part-time basis ... Your years of experience are invaluable ... By working together, we can ensure that only qualified and well-trained teachers educate Ontario’s children."

Why would a teacher, taking a well-deserved rest from 35 years of lesson plans and forms-in-triplicate, want to head back to class on a part-time basis? Those who have find they reap their own benefits while helping others.


"Designer teaching" is the term Linda Bell uses, because occasional teaching allows her to choose the schools she wants, the days and the grade levels. A French immersion teacher in her mid-50s, Bell took early retirement last fall, only to find she was too young to retire. She felt the change of pace was disorienting and underwent a short "grieving period."

In high demand as an experienced immersion teacher, Bell was soon snapped up for occasional teaching by her old schools in the former East York board. By filling in two or three days a week for colleagues, many of whom she knows, she combats isolation and loneliness, acquires a sense of accomplishment, keeps her mind alert, has time to attend to family matters and pays for her green fees and theatre tickets.

Most importantly, says Bell, her occasional teaching bridges the gap between the 85 factor and the 90 factor, giving her almost as much income as she would have kept after tax if she’d worked a bit longer. At the rate of $140 a day – approximate take-home pay, after tax – she avoids depending on anyone for money, "now or ever."

Bell likes being exempt from the responsibility of full-time teaching: the report cards, staff meetings, yard duty, parent meetings and never-ending preparation. And she likes the luxury of saying no if she needs to, or wants to, when the dispatcher calls.

She advises other retirees to be honest with themselves and not to return to the classroom by default or developmental cop-out. This is a stage of life, she says, when it may be time to try something new and challenging instead of repeating the same old been-there-done-that. Her advice: analyze what you want and why, then take charge.


Ernest Morrison, human resources superintendent of Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board feels that his own board will have to acknowledge the special needs of retired teachers and possibly change a few of its perceptions and policies because they want to be seen other than as the "people of last resort."

For instance, he says, retirees would probably prefer long-term assignments to short ones and advance notice to a last-minute call, especially one that comes at six o’clock in the morning. Morrison’s board will encourage retirees to see occasional teaching as the "thing to do" and will accommodate their needs with new procedures, such as the right of first refusal for individual assignments.

"It’s a whole new ballgame ... a seller’s market," says Morrison, who has just signed a letter to recent retirees, asking them to consider returning to the classroom on an occasional basis to relieve the board’s shortage in the coming academic year. Although he anticipates favourable response to his letter, he knows there’s a "whole range of people out there," some of whom miss teaching and some of whom definitely do not.

When all is said and done, Morrison says, it’s a pretty nice way to supplement your income, especially when it’s over and above your pension.

The extra income is one of the things Bob Greenham likes about being an occasional teacher, even though his new daily rate is less than half what it was before retirement and his terms of employment include no holiday or sick pay.


Since October, he has taught part-time on a regular basis at the Toronto school where he was Guidance head before retiring. He especially likes using the skills he spent years perfecting, the human interaction with students and colleagues, and keeping up to date. A natural-history and cooking enthusiast, Greenham believes students benefit from exposure to a variety of teachers who bring their particular interests and enthusiasms to class.

But he’s not a pedagogical Pollyanna. Occasional teaching can be difficult, he says, especially when the class from hell thinks you’re "just another jerk" or when you show up for the delightful class A but the principal re-assigns you to the notorious class B. Greenham likes teaching. And he wants to keep it that way. Limiting his teaching to two or three days a week helps him to maintain his sense of freedom.

Marcelle Cardinal also likes the flexibility and freedom of occasional teaching. Only half-kidding, she says that doing it is a constant reminder "how great retirement is." A French specialist from Québec with 35 years experience, the retired 64-year-old recently moved to be with family in Peterborough.

For the past 18 months, two or three days a week, she has worked for the Catholic and public school boards in the district, teaching a wide range of subjects, usually in French, from K to 12. Although she doesn’t like being asked to do yard duty on a winter day when sans chapeau, or losing her way in a new school, she does enjoy doing a job she’s good at and the "nice second income," with which she often buys gifts for her children and grandchildren.

Cardinal likes the decreased amount of responsibility that goes with occasional teaching. On the other hand, she misses the long-term rewards of classroom teaching, such as really getting to know the kids and vice versa, and seeing the fruits of her labour as they learn and develop.


For that very reason, Bob Noppe accepts only long-term assignments of at least three weeks’ duration. The retired Mathematics and Physics teacher says that part-time teaching was actually part of his plan for retirement. When he retired in 1995, Noppe was "very leery of having a complete break from teaching" and imagined that it would be traumatic if he did nothing but "sit around (his) property."

Now, instead of sitting around his own property, Noppe buys and sells other peoples’ and combines his career as part-time teacher with that of real estate agent. Noppe thinks the occasional Maths and Physics teaching he has done at his former Peel high school presents few serious disadvantages, with the exception of being obliged to wake up in the morning and, on a more serious note, forfeiting some of his free time. But the loss of time is more than offset by his chance to "keep alive" by maintaining ties with
colleagues, and staying in touch with the values and issues of adolescent development and education.

These four retired teachers spent years cultivating the growth and development of others while having precious little time for themselves. Now they have the best of both worlds, jealously guarding time for their own pursuits while sharing their expertise with the young. If you decide to try your hand at occasional teaching you, too, may find the rewards sweet… for you and the next generation.