Retired Educators Still Fighting for Public Schools
By Edward Graham
All across the country, retired teachers and educators are continuing to take a stand for public education and their active colleagues. Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of statewide retired education associations, where retirees play an active and important role in supporting students, teachers, and future educators.
There are retired National Education Association affiliates in all 50 states. These retired associations work hand-in-hand with the active teachers’ state and local associations to ensure that the collective interests of all teachers—current and former—are protected.
“Many of our retired affiliates are working to support the legislative program of their active affiliate while fighting to protect the retirement security issues that many active members will enjoy when they retire,” says Todd Crenshaw, the NEA’s Retiree Director.
Nationally, the NEA has been able to mobilize many retired teachers to support both their interests, and the common interest of ensuring successful schools for students and educators alike.
A critical component of this mission is to engage retired educators to become activists for change. That’s the idea behind the NEA Retired Rapid Response team, a network of over 3,000 retired NEA members who live within a 50-mile radius of downtown Washington, DC. Members of this team attend congressional hearings on public education and retirement security issues, have opportunities to mentor younger NEA members, and participate in social activities with like-minded NEA-Retired activists.
A similar effort is currently being implemented in Florida, where the NEA-Retired Florida M.O.R.E (mobilize, organize, recruit, engage) Program is working to create a network of statewide retirees who will continue the fight for public education in the political arena.
But retired teachers aren’t just activists for political change—they’re also mentors, caring colleagues, and still very welcome presences in classrooms.
In Illinois, the Illinois Education Association-Retired has established a successful mentoring program that pairs retired teachers with college students pursuing a career in education. Both mentors and mentees also have access to the “Living Library,” an online collection of resources to support student mentoring, as well as a Facebook page that helps to further the reach of the program. Some retired educators are so eager to impart their wisdom on the next generation that they even take on multiple mentees.
“Our program works with college students all across Illinois who are members of the IEA-Student Program,” says Linda Walcher, the Mentor Program Coordinator. “We have about 22 colleges and universities who have student programs on their campuses. The students are told of the Mentor Program when they sign up for the Student Program and they have the option of taking advantage of this Mentor Program. Currently we have 91 mentees who are assigned to 47 active mentors this year.”
Retired teachers volunteer to take on a mentee and provide them with professional support to set them down the path towards a rewarding career in the classroom. Whether it’s face-to-face or through emails, phone calls, and texts, the mentors are always ready and available to support the next generation of educators.
In times of disaster and tragedy, retired educators and their associations also frequently come together to help out their colleagues in the face of overwhelming adversity.
After the devastating tornadoes in the Moore and Oklahoma City areas of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Retired Educators Association (OREA) created the OREA Disaster Relief Fund to support retired teachers in the state who were affected.
“Every dollar contributed will be given to retired educators and their immediate families who suffered a loss of a loved one or property loss,” says Elaine Dodd, OREA President. “It is a privilege to support fellow educator retirees in their time of need with so many challenges still to be faced.”
And then there are the local retired associations within states that continue to help out in area schools and districts.
For the past 13 years, the Jefferson County Education Association-Retired (JCEA-R) in Jefferson County, Colorado has taken an active role in planning and supporting local schools in their annual Read Across America (RAA) festivities held at the beginning of March.
This past year, JCEA-R volunteers purchased books for local school libraries, read to students in the classroom, and helped to coordinate celebrations at the area schools. Four volunteers even dressed as The Cat in the Hat and visited 17 schools in the county.
“Our committee is always excited to work with new schools and teachers,” says Lorraine Bowen, President of the JCEA-R and chair of the JCEA-R RAA Committee. “Whatever they choose to do, we are there to support them with volunteer readers, a visit from the Cat, and a free book for their school or classroom library.”
There are associations of all sizes across the country where retired members are continuing to give back. Whether it’s through local or state scholarships for talented college students studying to become teachers, or volunteering for food and clothing drives to support the needy, retired educators are always finding new ways to help others. It’s that continued dedication to students, colleagues, and their profession that shows that being a teacher is more than just a career—it’s a lifelong commitment.