By GRAYSON LEE MAXWELL
(Rutherford County, TN) Over at Wilson Elementary, three teachers have returned from retirement to take up positions again teaching. In some cases, they are teaching children of students from past years. (Photo above this article: Three retired teachers — Kim Bohn, Carrie Froula (on cowboy day) and Patti Todd — have returned to the classroom where they feel comfortable and back at home.)
For Carrie Froula, it’s subbing in a room where her name is on the doorstop. Kim Bohn has taken up her position as art teacher again, finding love in the familiar. Patti Todd has struck out on a new adventure — once a teacher of fourth grade English Language Arts but now teaching fourth grade math.
Bohn, Froula and Todd had all worked together previously, and this year they decided to return from retirement and step back into the world of elementary education. In this Q&A, all three returners answer questions about why they returned, what Wilson elementary means to them, and what their journey back to the classroom has been like.
Q: What is your history with teaching?
A (Bohn): I moved around a lot. I started in New York and taught in a Catholic school for the first five years, from kindergarten to eighth. I'm an art teacher, so it's a little different. And then I started teaching in the prison system for five years. Then I taught, I think, 14 years in a high school in New York and then came here for 14 or 15. And I retired when COVID hit.
A (Froula): I taught in special education for 36 years and I went out on the same leg she did in 2020. I've had everything from kindergarten through ninth grade students. And, you know, I've had EA's and I've had no EA's and I've had classrooms in the closets, I've had my own classroom and I’ve been in portables. But I’ve always taught special education.
A (Patti): I started teaching at LaVergne Primary. That was my first assignment. I was there for 17 years while I was at LaVergne and I taught title one reading, then I taught second and third grade. I taught multi-age. This is my 33rd year teaching and when I left LaVergne after 17 years, I came here to Wilson. And I was here until I retired. I started second grade which wasn't my choice. And then I moved to fourth grade, and I loved fourth grade and that's where I retired.
Q: Why did you come out of retirement to teach again?
A (Bohn): Actually, the art teacher that replaced me left, and you know when I heard about it, I was like I could do that again. You know my life had changed a little before between, you know leaving and coming. I felt that way because of the people that are here in the school. Like it kind of felt like I left. Everybody else stayed. And you don't realize how tired you are until you leave, so I felt like I was refreshed when I came back, you know. The kids are all grown and out, so I think everybody kind of thought I was spending too much time on the farm. So, I can do this, you know? And it's probably very good for me. Instead of being alone a lot.
A (Froula): I've enjoyed coming back. I'm not in the position that they are. I just sub a lot. I did a couple of interims my first year back. But I found myself very empty. You know, I wasn't at the age of some of my other friends that had retired. Most of them had grandchildren and daughter-in-laws and I didn't have any of that. And so, I found myself restless and I thought, well I could sub. When I came back and started subbing, I felt like I still had a purpose. And you know, I've done it since I was 24 years old, so that's all I really knew was to teach, and it was interesting because it was completely different. I wasn't working with special needs students and having multitudes of paperwork and meetings, I actually got to see the average population and see what these ladies have to endure throughout the day. And it's been a wonderful experience.
A (Todd): I hadn't really thought about coming back when I left. I cried for three weeks, and it took me three weeks to clean out my classroom after 32 years. And I cried every day. The first year I felt like a slug. But I came by last spring and brought a cake to my 4th grade cohort that I worked with and went in to see Angela and them. They were all in a meeting and they said, ‘have you heard about what the state's doing?’ And they tell me about all these incentives, and I half-jokingly said, ‘well, if you need somebody, give me a call.’ So, (Principal) Angela (Barnes) calls the first week of school. She says the job’s posted, but we'll see if anybody applies for it. Well, nobody applied for it, and so she called me back and said ‘OK, get ready.’
Q: What is unique about Wilson Elementary? Why come back here?
A (Froula): I think we just have, you know, we just have lots of fun, even though the demand is hard for what you're supposed to do and the expectations of what's required for the child. I think they do it in a fun way. Like I look like an idiot today. I was hoping I didn't run out of gas. People are not afraid to ask for help. We have an administrator and assistant that we feel comfortable going to.
A (Bohn): I just love art and I love inspiring kids. Really, truly. Just seeing them, you know, just making a mess, yeah.
A (Todd): One of our fourth-grade teachers was out, and I walked out of the teachers’ lounge and the sub was there. She said, ‘Oh my God, I didn't know you were still teaching.’ I had her in third grade. She was a third-grade student. I went, ‘oh my goodness,’ and she still recognized me. You know, and here she is grown up and she's got her own child in fourth grade. And kids will come up to you in stores and everything, kids that remember you, so you feel like you've made some impact somewhere.
Q: What else are you passionate about besides teaching?
A (Froula): Food. Every teachers' meal we’ve gotten, PTO feeds us or the last time every teacher brought in a casserole. It was a huge Thanksgiving meal. You know for working hard and enjoying time. Those things are fun. It’s just fun.
A (Bohn): All the extra stuff they do here. Like looking out in the hall, there’s all these photographs of teachers with Santa when they were little — so the kids are trying to figure out who they are. And it’s driving them crazy.
Q: Is there anything you would say to other teachers who maybe have retired or are getting the itch to come back?
A (Froula): Do it. Even if it’s just in my role subbing, you know, I mean its second nature to you. You know I could go to Walmart and work and make more money if that’s what I wanted. But you know, if you’re comfortable with the school that you left, then go back and you know, give back. That’s what I think of it.
A (Bohn): Especially when a lot of teachers have left.
A (Todd): See, I hated subbing. Because I’m kind of a control person. When I would go into sub, I’d want to change the plans or something. It was hard going in, because you think schools are the same, but they’re not. If it had not been Angela, if it had been a different school, I probably would not have gone back. But I just walked in, and everybody was so great to see. They said, ‘you’ve been needed here’ and you know, you just feel right at home.