‘Continuing my lifelong learning has put my retirement on pause’

Nov 30, 2019
Not one to sit idle in retirement, Ian embarked on further study. Source: Getty Images

I still remember the sigh of relief as I concluded my teacher training course in 1979. I probably scoffed at people who professed a love for ‘lifelong learning’, but I soon realised that we are all learning, all the time. As daunting as tertiary education can be, I did actually enjoy the process.

Classroom teaching was a hard slog, especially crowd control! I’ve always been the ‘glass half full’ guy, but would I ever get better at teaching? Some days I wasn’t so sure. A few years later, with the added encouragement of a pay rise, I enrolled in a part-time course, a graduate diploma in Educational Studies: Expressive Arts in the Primary School. I chose well. It was highly practical, with engaging ideas to try out on my class between lectures. My career became more satisfying and my students appreciated the improvements.

Unexpectedly, my school had an unfilled vacancy for a teacher-librarian. I volunteered. That first day in the library, I knew I had finally found my niche. Surrounded by books, and with hourly rotations of student groups, everything stayed fresh and exciting. The situation was tenuous: any trained teacher-librarian could have challenged my temporary position. The answer, of course, was more study.

In 1990, I completed a full-time cadetship, retraining as an information specialist. Instead of returning to my previous school library, I was appointed to a new one. The next seven years went by fast. There was always a new learning curve to negotiate, but when passion is synonymous with the job, it doesn’t feel like work.

Next came a stint as editor of a professional journal, Scan, which went out to teacher-librarians and information specialists. Again, a steep learning curve, this time consolidating my educational knowledge and strategies with the contributors and departmental consultants who worked with me on each issue. Those 4.5 years at Scan were life-changing.

Returning to the classroom, I enjoyed making practical use of those successful teaching strategies. Eventually, in 2007, I was back to my niche: 10 more stimulating years as a teacher-librarian. So much had changed in my absence. Students used the internet daily and teachers had to embrace ways to incorporate email, blogs, wikis, book raps and interactive whiteboards into their lessons. I was suddenly the tech whiz, although I often felt like I was only 10 minutes ahead of the students in my own learning.

This year I officially ‘separated’ from the New South Wales Department of Education. Retirement. It was … surreal. It came too fast. Strangely, although I am quietly satisfied that I made a difference in the lives of many students and colleagues, I haven’t felt a burning desire to do casual teaching or library work. Instead, I renewed my efforts on some neglected writing projects.

I also found myself considering more full-time study, this time as a massage therapist. In July, I enrolled in a diploma of Remedial Massage course at Endeavour College. With massage, my tools of trade are my hands and they always travel with me. It feels so right, and the college is only a few blocks from where I studied in the 1970s. Full circle, or part of a spiral?

During my first term there were days that hardly felt like study: give a massage, receive a massage, break for lunch, give another massage, receive another massage. Now that’s the way to study! Finding my way around the LMS (learning management system) was an interesting challenge. Submitting all assignments online was a whole new experience since my last full-time tertiary course. That old learning curve is back.

While studying for my diploma, I have connected with like-minded individuals: my fellow students and lecturer, Anthony Turri. It’s a small, intimate class of professionals: learning and working together, and feeling passionate about helping others to achieve a sense of balance in their lives.

Homeostasis is a term that has arisen often in my massage studies. It has become my new mantra. Balance. I think I have always searched for it. In the future, I plan to convert part of the house into a massage studio. Last weekend, I bought my first pile of matching towels on special.

I often get asked, “Why not just sit back and enjoy retirement?” Sure, I could stay at home and fill my time with daytime television, sorting and reading my book and comic collections, or working on my latest manuscript. But, I was recently described in an article on the college’s blog as “a sociable person who loves a chat and meeting new people, which are great skills to have as a remedial massage therapist”. Wow! I guess I have found my new niche.

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