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What It's Like to Retire From Teaching During a Pandemic (Video)

No hugs goodbye. No parties with cake. No school assemblies with applause and thank yous. 

For teachers who are retiring at the end of a disrupted school year, there is no big, in-person celebration. And many of them say that they are lacking closure as they end their career over Zoom instead of in the classroom. 

"I think that's what's hard about retiring in this age of the coronavirus," said Kristi Kucera, a retiring teacher in Portland, Ore. "You're not celebrating. You're not having some sort of milestone to show that you've transitioned from this identity to another. You're just kind of fading out."

Kucera is one of 64 teachers in the Portland school district who is retiring this year. On June 10, her school, Vernon Elementary, honored her—and all the teachers—with a car parade. The moment was a bittersweet celebration of Kucera's decades of experience in the classroom—she waved from a truck at students who cheered from a distance.

Throughout Kucera's career, she's had her students sign their names on a T-shirt and a rocking chair on the last day of school. Since her students couldn't do it this year, she added their names herself and showed it to her students on their last Zoom call together. She wore the shirt and sat in the chair during the car parade. 

Education Week video producer Kaylee Domzalski spoke to Kucera, who taught 1st grade for more than 20 years, as she cleared out her classroom for the last time. 

Similar car parades have been happening across the country over the past month as school and district leaders work to provide a sense of closure and accomplishment for teachers while maintaining social distance.  

In the Niagara Falls City school district, for instance, retiring teachers sprayed their superintendent with Super Soakers as he drove by. And in Sheldon, Iowa, retiring teachers were tapped to be the grand marshals for a car parade around town that also honored high school seniors. Cory Myer, the superintendent of the Sheldon Community school district, said the educators will also be invited back to a celebration on campus in the fall. 

"We want to make sure we recognize them as much as we can," Myer said. "I think they do just feel that they're missing something—it's the end of their career." 

The pandemic—and its effect on schools—has caused some teachers to consider taking an early retirement instead of going back into the classroom in the fall. They say they're concerned about possible health risks and dissatisfied with how teaching will look in a socially distanced school building. Even so, many teachers can't afford to retire early, especially in the middle of a coronavirus-inflicted economic downturn. 

For teachers like Kurcera, who had already planned on retiring before the coronavirus outbreak, retirement will look a little different than originally planned. 

"You envision the day that you finally get to retire and that's a big milestone," Kucera said. "I had all these travel plans. Now I'm going to have all this free time and you can't travel, you can't do a lot of those things. So I don't know what it's going to be like, but I've been through a lot in my life, and I can just roll with the punches. I'll figure out something."


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