For 35 years, Inez Blount-Mason’s job on the first Tuesday of September was welcoming back students who wished it were still summer break.
Now, she spends those Tuesdays on the dance floor, taking her turn in a soul train line.
Blount-Mason’s not going back to school, ever. The former Norfolk, Va., teacher and principal loved her job, make no mistake, but she’s paid her dues. She sends her best to us working people.
“We really pray for our colleagues who are still in the trenches,” Blount-Mason said.
With about 150 of her closest retired teacher friends, Blount-Mason observed the start of the school year the same way she has each of the past seven years — since she and former colleague Mona Gunn decided they needed to mark the occasion: with a party.
Do they miss the kids?
Do they wish they were back in the classroom?
“Oh no,” retired Norfolk teacher Yvette Williams said. “I’m good.”
Williams retired in 2012, the same year Blount-Mason and Gunn hosted the first “Not Back to School” luncheon. Both women saw it as a way to keep in touch with former colleagues, some of whom they’d worked with for decades.
They rent a room, set up a photo booth, hire a DJ and this year, a comedian — Great Bridge High School librarian Joy Julian, who slipped away from her first day back at school to crack jokes in the ballroom at Grand Affairs in Virginia Beach.
“I’m still a big fan of No Child Left Behind,” Julian said, referencing the federal education law of the early 2000s that’s derided by teachers for ushering in high-stakes testing and other pressures.
“Especially on Fridays and three-day weekends,” Julian deadpanned. “I’m going to look under the table and behind the door, and I’m going to make sure there’s no child left behind. You have got to go home.”
New retirees are welcomed to the group each fall with a solemn reading of the “Retirement Creed.” Each pledges to “do whatever I want, whenever I want and as often as I want” now that their days are their own.
“Congratulations,” retired Norfolk principal Barbara Higgins told the newcomers. “You made it.”
Collectively, the group has hundreds of years of teaching experience, and they’re working toward clocking just as many years of retired life experience. Some who attend have been retired for 30-plus years, their careers barely overlapping with those just now leaving the classroom.
Josephine Scott, 98, said she looks forward to the luncheon every year.
“It’s so nice to see old friends,” she said.
News of the luncheon has spread mostly through word of mouth, from one retiree to another whenever someone new walks out of the schoolhouse for the last time.
It was a friend who invited Vanessa Brooks to this year’s luncheon, her first since retiring in June from Virginia Beach’s Plaza Middle School, where she taught for 38 years. Brooks said she’s not quite sure what to make of retired life yet. She suspects she’ll find work, either part-time or volunteer, so she can continue working with children. Teaching never felt like a job, she said.
“My husband told me, every day is like Saturday,” Brooks said. “But, for me, I miss my kids.”