We were out for dinner with some friends and the conversation turned to retirement. Some of us were fully retired, some were semi-retired. And we were all just plain tired, which is how most of us feel after a big meal. The issue of pensions came up and I explained that when I left teaching in 1978 in New York, I was just one year shy of when I would have been entitled to any retirement benefits. Mary Ellen suggested I call the Retired Teachers Association to be sure. My wife is interested in my welfare, but I think all I’m entitled to is a pension.
The woman who answered the phone had that familiar New York inflection. I felt at ease because I knew I could say the words “garage” and “drawer” and “mother” without someone making fun of my accent. Sadly, I had no way of working those words into the conversation.
I explained the situation, and to move things along, I said, “I know I am not entitled to benefits, but my wife made me call … so you have a happy holiday.”
“Hold on, sir. I have some good news for you. A law was passed a few years ago vesting teachers after only five years. It’s retroactive, so you should qualify for that pension.”
“That’s very good news!”
“But the bad news is that you are no longer a member of the Retired Teachers Association because you have been inactive for 35 years.”
“Well, I do hit the treadmill twice a week, but I understand, so thanks for your time and have a Merry … .”
“Wait, Mr. Wolfsie. Now I have some good news. You can rejoin the Retired Teachers Association if you want.”
“Wow that is good news. Just send me the papers.”
“Not so fast; now for the bad news. In order to be reinstated after all these years, you must teach one more day in the state of New York. Then you can rejoin. That’s the law.”
That night I e-mailed the current principal at my old school requesting that he hire me for one day, maybe as a substitute. In my note to him, I explained that I was a former alumnus of the teaching staff, but I then realized that the term “former alumnus” is redundant, which pretty much ruined my chance of getting to teach an advanced placement English class for the day. I also told him that I would happily take a homeroom, lunchroom or study hall assignment, which I had experience with as a teacher. And, coincidentally, those were my strong suits when I attended that very same high school.
The principal didn’t think there would be any problem making this happen, but to be sure, he referred my request to the head of human resources, who, in turn, is going to talk to the attorney for the Retired Teachers Association. Yes, when you want things to be easy and simple, what better way than to get a lawyer involved? Stand by for the decision.
Will I be as comfortable in front of a class as I am a TV camera or an audience at an after-dinner speech? How much have teenagers changed? What will I talk about? Yes, my brief return to the classroom will require some preparation. I’ll just have to work the words “garage” and “drawer” and “mother” into my lesson plan.