The Speech I Never Gave at My Retirement Party

I am so grateful for having been able to celebrate my retirement from middle school teaching with more than eighty friends, family, and colleagues recently. I did not plan on giving a speech. The party was a short two hours and I wanted everyone to have fun, eat delicious food, drink, and enjoy each other’s company. In that respect, it could not have been better. Even the weather turned out to be perfect.

The success is due in large part to Cinder, where we held the party, including several former students who manage and work there. Thank you to Sam, Kathleen, Raymond, Tia and the whole crew! If you’re in the area, I cannot recommend Cinder enough. I thought I could plan this party myself, but my dear friends and “party planners” Tina and Marika rescued me when I came to my senses. They did so much behind the scenes to make this a perfect party.

The morning of the party, I started to wonder what I would say IF I suddenly found myself having to give a speech. I jotted some notes on an index card, which are now becoming this blog post, a much preferred method of delivery for me!

A Long Route to Pawcatuck

Twenty-seven years ago I got a call for an interview in a place called Pawcatuck. I had no idea where it was but was delighted when I pulled out a map and realized it was on the coast, right next to Misquamicut, where my family vacationed during my childhood. What a great place to live and work for a few years, I thought.

I have been thinking a lot about community as I approach retirement. In 1995, my community was overseas, having lived and worked in South America for five years. Some may think it would be difficult to move to Bolivia pre-internet to start a new life. I admit I had last-minute doubts as my plane passed over the hours-long stretches of green nothingness en route to Santa Cruz. My fears were unfounded, however, as I instantly became a part of a close-knit group of people, both local and international, and developed lasting friendships. After joining another close-knit community in Brazil for three years, I thought I would return to the US for a brief stint before rejoining the international community.

Santa Cruz Cooperative School, 1990

The transition back to the US was actually more difficult than the move to South America. I missed my friends in Bolivia and Brazil. I also longed for the languages I left behind, tasty and cheap food, slower pace of life, and the chance to have an adventure every time I left my house. Who would become my community here? Who would do my laundry, cook, and clean my house after five years of hired help? Surely I would not stay here for long.

Learning from the Best

So how did it suddenly become 2022 and I’m still here? A big reason is the community I found at Pawcatuck Middle School. This small neighborhood school was filled with some of the most inspiring teachers I’ve ever met. I was lucky to work with Shirley Clay my first year, and soon after that spent many years working closely with Ginny Bitting, Linda Whelan, and Deidre Toole. I’m so happy to remain friends with them so many years later.

When I came to Stonington, I was not a very confident person. I was too shy to even ask a question at staff meetings. Over time, however, my confidence grew because I was surrounded by such talented educators, a list too long to include here. I learned to become more comfortable in my own skin and to be true to myself as a result of the caring community I now belonged to.

The support and inspiration of this community came not just from teachers, but from paraprofessionals who do so much behind the scenes to make each class run smoothly and administrators who encouraged me to keep learning and trusted me to try out new ideas in my classroom. I found support from the office staff, mental health team, Board members, custodians, maintenance crews, nurses. SPS truly is a community of caring individuals who support each other.

Special gifts from colleagues and friends

This includes the amazing cafeteria staff, including Vicki and Rhonda. “Would you like an extra grilled cheese?” “Try the new broccoli slaw we made.” “Let me wrap up some pizza for you for the weekend.” Always cheerful and generous, I left the lunch line smiling because of their positive attitude and care they showed to each person who stopped by for lunch. I was also reminded of the power of a positive attitude and personal connection, lessons I would try to bring back to my classroom every day. And of course, the food was delicious!

I am also grateful to my students and their families. I have taught more than 2500 students over the past thirty-five years. In Stonington, I found much support and encouragement from students and their families. It’s nice to live and work in the Westerly-Stonington community and see so many former students wherever I go. It’s also great to see a few of them here at my retirement party!

Siblings, in-laws, son, grandkids – not all of them, but I’m so glad they made it!

Family First

Teaching wasn’t the only thing that kept me here. In 1996, I became a foster parent to Brandon, and in 2000, a father to Edson and Ricardo. Raising my sons here connected me to a whole new community of families. And my family continues to grow, including my three grandchildren here and two more in Florida. I am so appreciative of Kayla and her family for including me and allowing me to be so involved in Anave and Zinnia’s lives.

Lamir, Zinnia, Anave

Though I am the youngest of six, I am the first to have grandkids and nearly the first to retire. It’s fun to still have a little sibling rivalry at this age, but more importantly, it is my family’s love, support, and confidence in me that has guided me across continents and helped me to realize that this is my community. I am so fortunate to have such strong role models as my older brothers and sisters.

I was always the cutest, right?

Home

I’ve been lucky to make friends all over the world and look forward to visiting some of them in retirement. More recently, my friend group in Westerly has expanded after becoming involved with the Westerly Anti-racism Coalition. If anyone wants to find me in retirement, just stop by the post office steps any Sunday from 11:00-1:00. I did one day last year and have been meeting incredible people who are working hard to make our world a better place. I’m learning to be a better activist and am feeling more and more connected to this community. The learning never stops and the opportunities to make a difference are endless.

My expanding community

Whether you attended my retirement party or just happen to be reading this, I have one final homework assignment: Thank a teacher. Over the years, I’ve received lots of chocolate and coffee shop gift cards. While each gift is very much appreciated, the most special ones are the notes or expressions of gratitude. It has been a rough couple of years for teachers, and an even harder past few weeks. A message of thanks will do wonders to lift any teacher’s spirits.

I may still travel the world (and bring Vicky Ann along when she can), but it is clear to me now that this is my home. I look forward to many years of continuing to build community right here in this corner of the world.

Selling coconut water could be a good retirement job

Comments (57):

  1. Stevi B.

    June 12, 2022 at 22:34

    I loved reading this and am so grateful you’re part of my life! You’re the best, Tim!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 19:59

      Thanks, Stevi! Glad you were there.

      Reply
  2. Pamela Young

    June 12, 2022 at 22:47

    What a treasure you are, Tim, as are your wonderful words. Thank you for it all!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:00

      Thanks, Pam! Look forward to seeing you on Sundays.

      Reply
  3. Kristen Morehouse

    June 12, 2022 at 22:54

    This is such a wonderful post full of humor, love, and insight. I want to be one of your students. They are so lucky. Have a great last days! I am sure you will do even more good in retirement.

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:01

      Thanks, Kristen. You’re one of the amazing teachers I had the pleasure of working with, even if it was brief.

      Reply
  4. Erin Flanagan

    June 12, 2022 at 23:11

    Don’t tell anyone but you are my favorite uncle!!! ♥️

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:39

      It’s our secret!

      Reply
  5. Vicky Ann

    June 12, 2022 at 23:22

    Perfect, Tim-
    You are the cutest! But don’t tell your brothers and sisters! As teachers and friends who really like a lot of the same things, it will be a pleasure to continue learning with you..thanks, Tim! You’re the best!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:38

      “Where to next, Vicky Ann?”

      Reply
  6. Linda

    June 12, 2022 at 23:30

    Your’e such an inspiration!! I am so happy and excited for you. Can’t wait to hear about your next adventure but I’m glad “home” is right down the street!!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:38

      Thanks, neighbor! I’ll see you soon.

      Reply
  7. Michael Freeman

    June 13, 2022 at 04:48

    Well said!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:01

      Thank, Michael!

      Reply
  8. Marika

    June 13, 2022 at 05:09

    And now I’m crying! Such a beautiful piece, from a beautiful soul!❤️

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:02

      Thank you, Marika! It’s been a pleasure to be your work husband.

      Reply
  9. Jo-Ann

    June 13, 2022 at 05:44

    I’m so glad you found Pawcatuck. You were a wonderful teammate! In addition to the teaching and “school stuff,” you supported, grounded, comforted, and inspired me. and also helped me put things into perspective so that I could complete challenges that I thought impossible. I was in awe of your ability to pack up, travel, and teach in all parts of the world. You seemed fearless to me! And I relished in hearing your stories of your adventures! You have touched so many lives. Thank you, Tim. My life has been enriched by having known you. Wishing you continued health and I look forward to following your future adventures!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:03

      Thanks, Jo-Ann! And I’m looking forward to following your next adventure, where that may be.

      Reply
  10. Lori

    June 13, 2022 at 05:45

    You are simply the best!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:04

      I’m surrounded by greats!

      Reply
  11. Ciara

    June 13, 2022 at 06:18

    What an amazing speech! I’m so glad I got to meet you! Enjoy all of your future adventures.

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:04

      Thanks, Ciara. Have fun with the new baby – that is definitely an adventure!

      Reply
  12. Ben

    June 13, 2022 at 06:28

    You are definitely one of those teachers you mentioned who has had a tremendous impact on my teaching here in my first year. You are truly an inspiration. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me.

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:05

      Passing the baton to you, Ben – I know it will be in good hands!

      Reply
  13. Suzanne

    June 13, 2022 at 06:35

    I’m so honored to have worked with you and to know you. You are truly an inspiration to everyone you meet.

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:06

      We’ve had great memories, Suzanne. I’m so glad to have worked with you.

      Reply
  14. Kris

    June 13, 2022 at 07:27

    You are an inspiration! So grateful I had the chance to work with you, however briefly! I will look forward to seeing you in the community, and on the post office steps on Sunday 🙂

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:07

      I’ve loved our chats during mask breaks, Kris, and look forward to seeing you around town.

      Reply
  15. Cindy

    June 13, 2022 at 07:57

    I can’t say enough of how much I learned from you in my 20 years here. You are an incredibly special person, one that everyone should take the opportunity to sit and talk to. Be prepared…you never know what adventures of Tim Flanagan you’ll hear!! Love and safe travels to you!!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:08

      You have the gift of drawing out those memories like no one else I know. Loved every minute of working with you, Cindy, and I know we’ll see each other in the future.

      Reply
  16. Lynne (Jolly) Pinto

    June 13, 2022 at 08:05

    What a beautiful tribute to your call in life and to those you love ! Happy retirement! I love the family photo with your mom in it! I just love your family!!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:10

      Thanks, Lynne! Seems like yesterday we were running around Walker Drive. Nothing but happy memories of the years our families spent together.

      Reply
  17. Diane Weisman

    June 13, 2022 at 09:17

    Congratulations on your retirement. I’m so grateful that we became friends in college and have continued our friendship over the last 36 years. The world needs you To continue your wonderful work in teaching, activism and being a caring human. I can’t wait to hear more of your adventures in the future.

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:11

      Thanks, Diane. Yes, you were there right at the start of my career and it flew by. I’m sure we’ll se each other soon.

      Reply
  18. Karen

    June 13, 2022 at 09:19

    Tim, you are truly an inspiration to all of those around you. I wish you luck in all that you do! Thank You

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:11

      I’ve loved our daily chats on the garden level, Karen. Sometimes it was the only thing that kept me sane! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  19. Betty P.

    June 13, 2022 at 09:46

    I look forward to seeing where the future leads you, Tim. I feel lucky to know you and learn from you. Here’s to new adventures!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:12

      Thanks, Betty. So glad you were able to come to the party.

      Reply
  20. Julie

    June 13, 2022 at 10:15

    Congratulations on your retirement, Tim! So many lives have been lifted and positively impacted by your love, kindness and generosity! I’m looking forward to seeing your next adventures!
    Miss you,
    Julie

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:13

      Thanks, Julie. Miss you, too, but now that we’re both retired maybe we’ll see each other on the road.

      Reply
  21. Deidre

    June 13, 2022 at 10:57

    Tim-you are a treasure. First of all, it is hard to believe you were ever shy!
    You have given so much to our world and I can’t wait to see what you do
    your second half. AMAZING!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:14

      Thanks, Deidre. I truly am a better teacher for having worked with you all those years.

      Reply
  22. Terri Miffitt

    June 13, 2022 at 15:46

    Congratulations, Timmy! Such beautiful words… And I LOVE the family pics!! I was thinking about you guys last night, how timely to find this today! 🥰❤️🥰❤️

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:16

      Thanks, Terri. I have so many happy memories of our time with the Jollys. Maybe Mary or Joseph sent my post your way!

      Reply
  23. Sara Cedars

    June 13, 2022 at 19:54

    Congrats on retiring Tim! Community is important. I’m glad you have found/made good ones throughout the years.

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 13, 2022 at 20:18

      Thanks Sara. When we met in Cambodia I was thinking I had to retire as soon as possible – and now here it is.

      Reply
  24. Betsy Flanagan

    June 14, 2022 at 07:18

    Beautiful speech, Tim! It’s been wonderful watching you grow as a teacher. Pawcatuck Middle was so fortunate to have such a dedicated professional (wonder where you heard about the job? LOL) best of luck in this new chapter of your life! Looking forward to following your travels. XOX

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 15, 2022 at 19:07

      Thanks for the job referral, Betsy! I think I’m starting to remember it. So glad I ended up near you, Ken and the girls.

      Reply
  25. Paula

    June 14, 2022 at 07:51

    So sorry I missed your party. Something I will always remember, aside from being a great teacher, is the warm smile I always was greeted with. You are one in a million!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 15, 2022 at 19:08

      Thanks, Paula!

      Reply
  26. Jen Krekorian

    June 14, 2022 at 21:24

    Congratulations Tim! I was lucky enough to teach with you your first few years at Pawcatuck – although I’m finding it hard to believe that was 27 years ago! I will always appreciate how you helped me when I was heading back to work again 9 years ago too. The students always adored you and your kind, gentle demeanor – and you encouraged them all to strive for the best. Good luck on your next adventures!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 15, 2022 at 19:08

      So many fond memories from that first year, Jen. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  27. Tina E

    June 15, 2022 at 00:23

    Congratulations on your retirement! Knowing you, you are just getting started. We will miss you everyday but we look forward to your many adventures! Much love!

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 15, 2022 at 19:09

      Thanks, Tina. I’m so glad you were a big part of my career and life.

      Reply
  28. Brian

    June 15, 2022 at 18:14

    From eldest brother to youngest, Tim, you ARE our TEACHER.

    Reply
    • Tim

      June 15, 2022 at 19:10

      Thanks, brother! ❤️

      Reply
  29. Ginny

    July 3, 2022 at 10:40

    Wonderful! So glad I got to know you and work with you. Let’s get together soon!

    Reply

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