I am retiring this year after more than two-thirds of my life as a teacher.
I first started teaching as a 20-year-old with a Teaching Certificate as it was in those days. I then went on to get a Science degree followed by a Masters in Education. I’ve raised four children. I have 10 grandchildren. But now, what’s pushed me to retire, is not any of them or my age (I’m 64) – but my dad.
A World War II veteran, he’s been widowed and alone for 12 years. He lives 1,200 kilometres away from me and, over time, my siblings and I have become more and more concerned about his capacity to live alone. Yes, he has home help via the Department of Veterans’ Affairs but he also become increasingly forgetful and vague with each passing week. So forgetful and so vague that he doesn’t know who I am sometimes and he certainly doesn’t remember my husband or our children.
He has Alzheimer’s Disease; and he had a stroke few months ago (which is why I’ve been quiet here). But he still has flashes of lucidity and, through the wonderful work of the doctors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and others, he is still physically active and able to communicate. In his demented state, this can be a disadvantage as much as an advantage.
So now is the time for me to pay back my dad for the first 18 years of my life; for the investment he put into me; for recognising that education was a good thing for his two daughters as much as his son. Back in 1968, that was quite an enlightened attitude for a man of his generation and for a country Queenslander with little-to-no formal education himself.
We also intend respecting his wishes to stay in his own home as long as possible. We can do this by ensuring there is a trusted carer with him at all times, as well as supplementing this with other external care services. This means that I will be away from my home regularly to take my turn to be the family carer at his home – so no more teaching.
It will be very different not spending the second part of January preparing for the year ahead, but I am also comfortable with my decision (I will go on the relief roster though). It's also the first major change in my life for a very long time.
As I sign-off as a teacher and transition into my semi-retired, carer life, I have one word of advice for the much younger parents who may be reading this. You might think it’s strange coming from a teacher but it is simply this: nurture your child the way he or she is today, don’t fret about what’s going to become of them tomorrow or in five years or 10 years time.
Whoever said ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ got it absolutely right. It’s just as applicable to parenting as it is to life in general.
It’s good to encourage children to be the best they can be at school, but it’s more important to foster their individual strengths, their self-esteem and their values. Raise kids who are confident and respectful – and their lives will unfold at the right pace and in the right place for them.