Why I Will Never Retire. Can you spell F.R.E.E.D.O.M?

Almost every day, whether I am playing tennis, giving a speech, or to taking my grand daughter to track practice, someone asks me if I plan to retire. ” No, I tell them, I plan to keep working as long as my health holds up and I still enjoy going to work.”

Most people find my answer puzzling. At a time when many teachers are leaving the profession, why do I plan to keep teaching till I’m 80? It’s not because of financial considerations- I have made such large contributions to my pension plan that I can retire at full salary. It’s not because I lack interesting and enjoyable things to do off the job- I have standing invitations to join the boards of 3 Bronx organizations the day I retire and I have a wonderful time playing tennis and golf and helping my grand children launch their own athletic careers.

It’s all because I love teaching, whether large lecture classes, small seminars or one on one tutorials with undergrad and doctoral students. Having great students and supportive colleagues certainly helps. But the main thing that keeps me going is that I have complete freedom to shape what goes on in my classes. No one reviews my syllabi. No one observes me. No one requires me to document what students learn in my classes. Because I went through an arduous and demanding tenure process, people at my university trust me to give my students the best possible experience I can offer. And I try to do just that. Every day. Not because I will be paid more if I am effective-since merit increments at my university are almost entirely based on research- but out of professional pride and a love of watching students learn and grow and teach me things I didn’t know before. To me, nothing can match the thrill of using lectures, readings, films and music to get students excited about history, and then to giving those students the power to reshape the class by introducing ideas of their own. Because I am given freedom, I extend that freedom to my students and as a result everyone learns a little more than they expected, and has fun doing it.

I wish the people that are running education in the US would learn something from this experience. They act as though the only things that can motivate people to teach well are fear, and hope of a financial reward. They micromanage teachers, require them to produce endless paperwork documenting what students learn, and evaluate them based on student test scores, with the fear of termination, and the hope of merit pay allegedly providing motivation.

What they don’t realize is the greatest motivation for teachers may be things hard to quantify – professional pride, creative freedom, and the sense of excitement you get from helping students learn new things and find their own voic