Tribute to a Retiring Teacher

This is the text of a principal’s farewell speech following the retirement of a long-serving Mathematics teacher. (It is from the last century and all Names have been changed!)

Someone once said: “wear out, don’t rust out.” There are those who think we should never stop working, lest we deteriorate fast! So, we should keep going as long as is possible.

Since our dear friend and esteemed colleague Frank announced his retirement plans a month ago, we all knew that he wasn’t retiring ‘from something’ but ‘to something.’ You just don’t know what that man has got up his sleeve! We all know that there are many years of zest and fun ahead for our Frank and await to see you arrive here some day in an ice-cream van or as a school inspector!

It doesn’t seem that long ago since Mr Harrison arrived here to take up his position in the Department of Mathematics as an Assistant Teacher. Today, we come to express our thanks to you for your vast contribution, not only to the academic life of all the students who were in your care, but for every other aspect of school-life where you were generous with your time and gifts. You shared so much with staff and pupils alike. 

The image we all have is one of an enthusiastic and energetic mathematician who was able to solve every arithmetic problem. Or so we believed!

Such was your mastery of figures that when we saw you reach into your pocket for a pencil (if it wasn't balanced behind your ear), we all knew ‘this must be a tough one!’ 

‘Old school’ was our Frank, never one for a calculator. We watched you scribble a few lines on a page and mutter some gibberish under your breath. As an English Graduate, I was fearful of the alien language I was hearing so often in the staffroom - ‘dy-dx-d2y-over-dx-squared,’ and the only ‘pie’ I looked forward to at lunch-time was of course the chicken one!

For you Frank, the ‘Parable of the Pencil,’ fits this memorable occasion.   

The pencil maker took the pencil aside just before placing it in the box. "There are five things you need to know," he told the pencil, "before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and you will become the best pencil that you can be."

1. You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone else’s hand.

2. You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you’ll need that in order to become a perfect pencil.

3. You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make.

4. The most important part of you will always be what’s inside.

5. On every surface, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write.

The pencil understood and went into the box with purpose in his heart.

The one sum that can never be calculated so easily is measuring the contribution that a teacher has made to a school. Even when we’ve moved from the pencil to the calculator in that time!

Teachers occupy a position of great trust and sensitivity. They are charged with the responsibility to lead young minds into the mysteries of life. Our students have all expressed their gratitude to you Frank for all you have done for them knowing that aside the knowledge you gave to them, you led by example. 

Today, Frank, you have turned a corner in your life. But of course, retirement is not the end of a line. Retirement should be a happy time - a creative time like every other stage of life. It is a period when you have the opportunity to do the things you always wanted to do but hadn’t time to do because of work.

It is a time for enjoying friends and reviving friendships – it is a time for talking and thinking and reflecting. A colleague quipped earlier that “when some people retire, it’s very hard to be able to tell the difference.” And while that may be true – The fellow who can’t figure out what to do on a Sunday afternoon is often the same fellow who can’t wait for retirement.

The Indian philosopher Tagore has wise words which echo and challenge the experience of each of us. "I thought that my voyage had come to its end at the last limit of my power, - that the path before me was closed, that provisions were exhausted and the time had come to take shelter in silent obscurity. But I find that they will not end in me when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders." 

You can tell a lot about a person when you know what his or her attitude to time is. There is no past really, except in our memories. And because the future only exists in our imagination, all we really have is the present. From now on, you can drink your coffee in your own time!

It is the sincere wish of all gathered here today that you, Frank, will have many long years to enjoy the well-earned reward of your work in The Academy.

Life does not begin at 60, - it begins whenever you want it to begin. And today, no matter what age you are, it is the first day of the rest of your life. 

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