Teachers in Transition: Growing Forward through Retirement
reviewed by Judith Glazer-Raymo - January 30, 2006
Teachers are always learning. In-service workshops, continuing education courses, professional conferences, and summer institutes provide an array of options for expanding teachers knowledge base, strengthening their skills, and maintaining enthusiasm for their work. In her book, Mary McGrath proclaims that teachers should also be thinking ahead; and by midlife, they should be contemplating the economic, social, and psychological implications of retirement. Having completed three decades as a third grade and special education teacher, and now embarked on a second career as a motivational speaker and educational consultant, she has compiled a text to guide these future retirees. She focuses her attention on midlife educators from 4055 years of age who are projected to begin retiring in 2010. For some professionals (including teachers), retirement may seem a distant dream at a time when proposals are being made to privatize social security, reduce pension benefits, and raise the cost of health care. For others, a midlife crisis may occur, involving the need to devise a strategy for rethinking ones goals and taking action to move on to new and interesting challenges.
McGraths book is part of the self-help genre, a growth industry that is gaining a multitude of adherents through television, videos, and the Internet. Her contribution is designed to raise the consciousness of teachers at the midpoint of their professional careers as they deliberate (or choose to overlook) what life will be like for them when they inevitably leave the security of the classroom environment. Her six chapters consist of anecdotes, reminiscences, charts, and guidelines to facilitate reflection about a diversity of lifestyles, workplaces, needs, and resources. Some of the more revealing lists provided by the author are derived from her personal experiences and from a journal she has maintained throughout her career. They also draw on her own religious beliefs and values, and on her decision to leave teaching for writing and consulting after 31 years as an elementary school teacher. Other lists which, at times seem to be influenced by her classroom experience in their use of fill-in-the-blank statements, relate to planning for sabbaticals, changing careers, reflecting on ones hobbies and talents, and coping skills for addressing family issues.
McGrath divides the book into six chaptersWorking, Being, Connecting, Caring, Planning and Arriving, and Becoming Fulfilled and Freefilling its pages with truisms and anecdotes about the process of building staff relationships and maintaining personal and professional connections. She casts these chapters as part of an ongoing educational journey, formulating eight stages of career development from pre-service and induction through career expertise to career exit and retirement. In consecutive sections of her first chapter, she prompts her readers to recall the stages of their individual work lives and to use their personal journals as a conduit for reflection on the external and institutional changes that they have been witness to and have experienced throughout their professional careers.
In her second chapter on Being, she finds utility in Erik Ericksons stage theory, particularly his research on generativity in adulthood. She also refers to Jungian psychology in framing midlife career development as a time of reflection and rebirth and for redefining ones identity. Here again, she draws on Ericksons assertion that in midlife, adults who are creative, productive, and supportive of others as mentors and role models open themselves to professional and personal growth as they expand and reframe themselves through the transition of midlife (p. 35).
The third and fourth chapters on Connecting and Caring analyze the multiple and evolving relationships that occur in building a school community, serving on external committees, and forging alternative identities. She takes note of the convergence of roles in midlife when professional and personal responsibilities invariably conflict, extending beyond the typical three oclock school closing to extensive evening and weekend activities, caring for children, aging parents, spouses, and other family members. Implicit in her statements in this chapter, and indeed throughout the book, is the fact that teaching continues to be a feminized profession and one that involves multiple roles and more than a modicum of nurturing skills. Although she is on the right track in asserting the centrality of individual and civic responsibility in adult development, her argument would be considerably strengthened by acknowledging the work of Carol Gilligan, Nell Noddings (1984), and other feminists who have written extensively on the centrality of the concepts of responsibility and care in womens constructions of the moral domain (Gilligan, 1987, p. 319).
By far the most useful portion (Chapter 5), Planning, Preparing, Arriving, deals with phases of decision making, financial and legal planning, and ones social and emotional readiness for retirement. Professing that retirement [for teachers] occurs around age 55 [although] the life span might extend to age 85, McGrath ruminates on the importance of structuring ones days in uncharted territory (p. 125). Unfortunately, she offers only one organizational resource, the NEA-Retired website, when, in fact, many other professional organizations, universities, and grassroots networks provide useful information on this topic as well. For teachers who are not NEA members, the utility of this book would be enhanced by an appendix listing these numerous organizations. Her final chapter, Becoming fulfilled and free, will resonate for those who concur that identity formation is an ongoing process, and for others who may be at a crossroads, burned out in their current situation, and seeking the courage and support to move on to other pursuits. To her credit, McGrath has taken the big step and embarked on a rewarding post-teaching career, something she wants to share with others like herself, mid- and late-career teachers seeking self-understanding and the motivation to plan ahead. Her goal is to raise their awareness about the many transitions that occur throughout a teaching career and to offer strategies and templates for reflecting on their relationships with parents, colleagues, and friends. Although she touches on the economic and political realities of the challenges of teaching, this is not an in-depth sophisticated treatise on career planning for teachers. Rather it is a middle-of-the-road chronicle primarily directed to those who are seeking affirmation as part of the decision-making process.
Gilligan, C. 1987. In a different voice: Womens conceptions of self and morality. In M. R. Walsh (Ed.), The psychology of women: Ongoing debates (pp. 278-320). New Haven: Yale University Press.
Noddings, N. 1984. Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley: University of California Press.