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Retirement Stories

​For many working teachers, retirement can seem very distant—more like a concept than a future reality.

But ATRF knows how important it is to encourage teachers to start thinking about their retirement options sooner rather than later. It also helps to hear stories and experiences from retired teachers who have made the transition and are now enjoying the fruits of their labour!

So, this summer ATRF created a postcard campaign that asked retired members to share their stories. We also asked active members to tell us what they thought their retirement stories might look like.

ATRF received dozens of submissions from both active and retired members, with themes about travel and volunteering, starting new businesses, and spending time with loved ones. We also heard that members, both those who are new to their careers or approaching retirement, recognize the value in thinking early, and often, about their pension and retirement options.

Below are four profiles from retired and active teachers who submitted stories for the contest. Among these profiles is our ontest winner, retired teacher Tom Dirsa, who took home a $50 Chapters gift card. A big thank you to Tom and everyone who took the time to share their stories!

Writing his legacy

 A steady pension income during retirement has allowed Tom Dirsa and his wife to travel, write, teach and raise awareness about children with ADHD through a book series. 

 "Being an educator doesn't stop when you retire from the classroom," Tom Dirsa wrote in his retirement story.

If anything, Tom has become both student and teacher again, as he explores his various interests. Since he retired in 2005, Tom has taken several writing courses, written sports content for local newspapers, and published a number of articles in national magazines. He has also been awarded a writing contract with Alberta Distant Learning junior high school summer program in social studies.

Thomas Dirsa-350.jpgIn 2014, he began publishing a series of children's picture books about a child with ADHD—a series that continues today.

"I wrote the series for two reasons: I thought these stories would be of interest to other ADHD parents, but I also wanted to leave something for my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren," Tom explained.

Tom and his wife have been working with the City of Leduc to write historical articles for the various city parks named after early pioneers. They are also developing a history book about Leduc.

They have also had the opportunity to do Skype and Facebook presentations to classrooms about being an author.

"Doing the presentations is the best job yet," says Tom. "It combines my skill as a teacher and a writer."

Tom credits his diverse experiences and interests to his lifelong curiosity. Whether it's politics, science, the outdoors or his love of teaching children, he never stops learning or being fascinated by the growth process. 
"Especially when it comes to children, my greatest joy is watching a child's face when they have that 'lightbulb' moment."

To read Tom Dirsa's submission, click here.

Preparing for her future

 Kristin Lapierre is already planning ahead when it comes to thinking about how to make retirement work for her and her family.

"I like to think I'm actively planning for retirement," said Kristin. "Actually, what prompted my interest was a professional development session the ATA was hosting. ATRF was there and talking about your retirement options, and I thought 'This is going to happen, I might as well pay attention.'"  

KristinHigherRes-350.jpgKristin has been teaching since 2007, and is currently a substitute teacher with Sturgeon County. Her husband has a career in the military and they have had to move often, which unfortunately makes securing a continuous contract challenging. But Kristin and her husband make it work. Not only does she invest in the ATRF pension plan when she has enough teaching hours, but she also invests in other external pension plans, trying to ensure that her family is prepared for retirement. 

Once retired, Kristin is looking forward to continuing her current routines, but in a less rushed, more mindful pace.

"Along with being more attuned to the present, I would also like to travel more since my schedule would be more flexible and my daughter would be out of high school," Kristin writes in her submission. "As one who loves teaching history and French, I would travel to places that I have talked about in my classroom and actually see the sights and experience the culture firsthand instead of obtaining it from a book or the internet."

Kristin would like to travel to Europe, Asia and Central America to take advantage of some of the historical tours available. Although she travels now, she is looking forward to extended stays once she's retired.

"One thing I've noticed is that school boards are starting to do more retirement sessions. They are trying to get us thinking about this earlier in our careers. And honestly, it shows people that there is something to look forward to after teaching!"

To read Kristin's full submission, click here.

Looking forward to giving back

Calgary teacher Carolyn Maber is excited about her future once she retires. She plans to continue what she's been doing when she's not teaching: traveling and volunteering. And she knows her pension income will play an important role in helping her achieve these goals.

DSCN6608-350.jpgIn 2007, Carolyn took a year off and volunteered in South Africa with an NGO (Non-governmental organization) called Edzimkulu. She volunteered as a kindergarten and high school teacher/advisor for students and staff in a rural township school.

"This time in Africa was one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences of my life to date and that's how I'd like to continue to spend my time—giving back to young people, our future leaders and stewards," Carolyn writes. "With my teaching pension, I would be able to live comfortably and give of my time and expertise to deserving children in need."

For Carolyn, thinking about retirement is an important, and deeply personal, matter.

"I guess I have a different perspective about retirement than most people," she explains. "I lost my father at a younger age and he had some pretty huge plans for retirement. Unfortunately, he never made it that far. So for me, I try to do as much as I can now, while still connecting everything to teaching and giving back."   

One piece of advice Carolyn would give to anyone who would like to volunteer with an NGO: find an organization that really understands the importance of providing skills and assistance to local people.

"Find an NGO that will teach the local people, instead of just swooping in to fix things and then leaving. Then you've left the community with no skills. Work with NGO that is willing to teach the necessary skills and you will be providing something invaluable to that community."

To read Carolyn's retirement story submission, click here.

Finding her new purpose

After being an educator for 28 years, Dianna Shimbashi retired from the Calgary Board of Education in 2011. She loved every moment of her career, and she encourages all teachers to retire while they still love teaching.

"Sometimes we feel like we have to keep teaching, even when our hearts are no longer in it, but your last class should get just as much out of you as your first," says Dianna. "You have to love it. And your kids should love learning and coming to your class, even if it's your last one."

dianna_lyn (2)-350.jpgOnce Dianna retired, she almost immediately began working on her memoir. This was something she had wanted to pursue for years, but never had the time. After five years, she completed it and tried to find a publisher. After approaching every publisher in Canada, she finally found a company in Boston, Massachusetts. The company published "Weigh on the Wind" in 2017.

Dianna says one of the best parts about retirement is having control of her time again.

"Teaching is very structured, so it's nice not to have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to commute to work. I really don't miss the driving," she chuckles. "But I do miss having new students every year and seeing their faces."

 Dianna retired when she almost 56, and was very pleased with her retirement income.

"The pension has been wonderful, it's enough to live. And with the other income I have, it's like, 'No problem. I don't have to work anywhere else and I can have a great life. I can do what I want.'"

Besides publishing her memoirs in 2017, Dianna started a blog where she shares her insights about the Me Too movement, gun violence in schools, and abuse and healing.

"My life continues to have purpose and I have more time to enjoy the simple beauties of life on this planet with fewer commitments," Dianne wrote in her submission. "I urge you to find your purpose after retirement, either big or small and just enjoy life every day."    

To read Dianne's submission, click here.

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