Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Season of Endings and Beginnings

It is June, and this is the month for high school graduations and commencements; the beginning of individual retirements punctuating the end of long careers; and the closing of the academic year for most of the school divisions in Virginia and around the country.

In short, it is a time for endings and a time for beginnings. The young people who are graduating this month will be moving on to new and, hopefully, exciting chapters in their young lives, embarking on new experiences in the world of college or university or work as the case may be.

Their teachers, who have decided that they are ready to move on by retiring after long years of service are also beginning new life adventures. Many of them are still young enough that they have whole new careers just waiting for them to pursue. Some of them will be following their hearts and pursuing their non-teaching passions for the very first time.

I have traveled the state in the last few weeks since my May 24 posting, speaking to VEA members who are retiring and moving into the next phase of their lives. I have shared some thoughts with them regarding how they might want to approach this new phase.

Research shows that those individuals who really thrive in their retirement years are the ones who have a "plan." They know what they plan to do, and it isn't just sitting around the house and watching TV all day--as much fun as that might be for the first few days.

Those who really thrive have something to do that they enjoy, and more importantly than having something to keep them occupied, they stay connected with their community. As human beings, we need to have a sense of contributing to the well being of our communities. It's in our DNA. If we become too isolated from one another, there is a tendency to become withdrawn and even depressed. It isn't unheard of for people who are transitioning from one phase of their lives to another to suffer a mild depression anyway. It can be exasperated if they don't have something to which to look forward and something which will keep them engaged and involved.

This is also a period of transition from a school year that is closing down and the break before the starting of a new year. I have long observed that ours is the only profession where we get a chance to start over fresh every year. As we close down school for the summer, we get to put a punctuation period on it. Whether it was a good year filled with happy memories or a bad year to which we say good riddance, we can put it behind us as we move forward into the possibility of a better year next year.

This year has been a particularly painful and difficult one for many of our members. Lay offs, RIF's, reductions in pay, salary freezes, increases in health care, and more demands for accountability with fewer and fewer resources provided are just at the beginning of the list of troubles we face. Our legislators have asked us yet again to do "more with less." We are approaching the point, I fear, where we will not be able to do more because we have so much less to do it with that the job is going to be a totally impossible one.

For me, the hope is that during this transition period between now and September, we can position ourselves to build our membership numbers so that we can build our collective voice and prepare together for the challenges that lie ahead of us. The economy is recovering too slowly to have a great effect next year, so many of the problems that we faced this year will continue. We must prepare ourselves by being stronger than ever.

Like those who are graduating or retiring and transitioning into a new phase, the VEA is likewise in a transition period. We are preparing to hire a new Executive Director. A decision is to be made and announced soon. This decision will help to lay the groundwork for a new phase in the life of our organization. We are on the brink of being able to either pull ourselves together in a significant way and grow and build our strength or we will suffer a loss of power because we have suffered so many setbacks we have collectively lost hope.

I vote for pulling ourselves together. I wrote in my last posting about the excitement I felt when I spent time with our new local presidents at Wintergreen. This week I spent a day with local leaders in the Piedmont region, and we made some exciting new plans for organizing and preparing for a major membership drive in both Martinsville and Henry County. Our leaders are ready to step up, and I am ready to support them in any way I can. The picture below was taken at the planning meeting that took place at the Spencer Penn Community Center on Thursday, June 10.

As I bring this posting to a close, I wish to send out congratulations to all of my readers who may be in transition, whatever that transition may be. I hope that you will tackle the new projects you undertake with enthusiasm and energy and that you meet each and every new circumstance with only the greatest of success.

Happy end of the school year--or end of your school career--as the case may be. I wish you all health and prosperity no matter what paths you may choose to pursue.

Until later,