Stories of Caledon

You Can’t Retire From Being Great!

Thank you teacher cake
Written by Kay MacDuffee

JSC Publisher’s Note:

My friendship with Kay MacDuffee began approximately 2 decades ago when our youngest son, now 26, started school at James Bolton Public School. I have never known anyone like Kay. She has educated, inspired, and motivated, more people than any one else I know. Now, in her eighties, she remains a constant source of inspiration, hope and love. This story is reprinted with her permission. It appeared originally on her blog Open Heart Press.

The name Lu Mao is ficticious, to protect the privacy of the individual in the story.


Full disclosure here: I began to write this piece as a bit of writing therapy. It’s a practical way to let feelings out, march them by, and have a look at them. That’s all this was meant to be until it became more than that and, I hope, worthy of sharing. k.m.

Last week I ink-scrawled across the top of my April calendar: This month I retired after 50 + years of teaching.

What prompted this need to get it on the calendar? I wondered. What drove me to want to preserve my momentous decision?

The answer came crystal clear – ‘Attention must be paid.’

Earlier that day I paid a visit, to announce this, to the school where I had spent the last decade and a half teaching everything from kindergarten to grade five, phys ed to music, to ISSP, to library. Wherever I was invited, I accepted, sometimes for a day at a time, sometimes for months at a time.

James Bolton School felt like my second family in those years. A supportive, nourishing and fun-loving family. We nourished each other, my ‘family’ and I.

But that chapter is over. And I think the ‘being over’ was part of my very emotional reaction that day and the next. We must grieve what is gone from our life.

It’s not that it defined me; it’s more that I shall miss that life that I embraced: the bubbling, playful energy of young children; their openness to honesty; seeing the light go on when they ‘get it’; sharing the thrill of a beautiful, read-aloud storybook; and of course the camaraderie of staff.

What I will not miss: the early morning calls to teach, hitting the floor running, grabbing lunch on the go, sub-zero yard duty, or unruly students in bunches.

I was a ‘career occasional teacher’. That’s one who does not wish to teach full time, enjoying instead, choosing the days when I would work and taking a month’s vacation when I felt like it. The ‘burn-out’ within this regime is fairly non-existent and that’s the reason I was able to keep on teaching into my eighties. I had the energy and drive . . . until I didn’t.

And there is the other ‘rub’ – I must admit to myself that my notoriously high level of energy is diminishing. Ouch! The ego doesn’t like that one.

HOWEVER, all of the above is only happening in my mind. Don’t believe your mind.

My mind told me I needed some recognition, some kind of ‘marker’ to indicate or celebrate even, this momentous occasion. The uncanny thing is that the Universe seemed to agree, and the most unlikely candidate showed up to do just that.

A parent of two students whom I had taught, and who had just signed on with the Peel School Board as an occasional teacher, contacted me last month. She was looking for guidance. Should she continue teaching on the occasional basis for the Toronto School Board as well or should she drop the TDSB and stay up here in Peel. This conversation was happening over lunch at her home in the company of her children. I threw the question out to the kids, knowing how they would answer, and we all agreed that Mom should skip the two-hour Toronto commute and spend the time with her family.

I mentioned then that I was planning to retire the following week and Lu Mao was aghast. She quickly found my name on the Peel Board website and showed me my teaching seniority in the system. I gasped and then laughed. I was number seven. I never thought to check because it didn’t matter to me; I had no desire for full-time teaching. However Lu Mao, who numbered in the 2200s, could not believe that I would walk away from this.

I tried to explain that I had been teaching for a very long time, but it wasn’t until that moment that I stopped to count the years. They came to 51 – 45 with Peel and 6 as a full time teacher with the then North York School Board. The first of four babies terminated that career.

Lu Mao wanted to meet again. This time we chose a restaurant where she insisted on buying me lunch. It was two or three of the best hours I could have spent. She thanked me for all the ‘tips’ I had given, but honestly I think that I came away far the richer. Not only did she present me with a lovely rose plant (to plant outside when the weather warms up) but she and her charming children composed a card for me saying, “You can’t retire from being great!”

How about that for timing? For recognition? For the exact prescription my psyche required? The great and knowing Universe by whatever name we call her/him/it was on it right from the start. I simply had to trust. And ironically ‘trust’ is the concept that I was trying to help Lu Mao to open to and allow.

       The Universe Has Your Back

— Gabrielle Bernstein

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About the author

Kay MacDuffee

Kathryn (Kay) MacDuffee thinks of herself as a learner/teacher/seeker after truth.  She’s lived in Caledon before it was Caledon. A retired educator and journalist, her brimming energy keeps her active still in both. Her secret? An attitude of gratitude.

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