A new program is changing the way teachers retire. In the last four years, a small but growing number of Winona Area Public School faculty have taken advantage of return-to-work agreements that allow veteran teachers to formally retire and return to work part-time. The agreements allow teachers to ease out of the profession that has defined their lives and allows the district to fill part-time slots or partner experienced teachers with new hires.
"My retirement is going to be the saddest day of my life," said Goodview teacher Mary Yahnke, who has taught with the district for 43 years. Thanks to a return-to-work agreement, Yahnke will be able to have "a comfortable transition" from classroom life to retirement.
"I'm ready to make the transition, not the plunge," she said.
In the past, return-to-work agreements have been primarily utilized at the secondary level. "Oftentimes at the high school we may have a need for someone to come in and work for an hour-and-half a day that can be very difficult to recruit for," said WAPS Human Resources Director Pat Blaisdell. That makes return-to-work agreements an attractive option for the district.
However, this year marks the first time elementary classes will be shared by a return-to-work teacher and a young part-timer. A major benefit for the district is the chance for new hires paired with veteran teachers to learn from the retiring teacher.
"There are a lot of master teachers that have been in the district for a number of years and they are great mentors for new teachers coming into the field," Blaisdell said. "That's really helpful," she added. "It saves us on that initial training."
Mary Yahnke is one of a handful of teachers who will come back part-time under a return-to-work agreement next year. Yahnke has taught with the district for 43 years, most of those at Goodview Elementary, and she says she is excited to be a resource for the new teacher who is partnered with her.
"It is going to be very collaborative," She explained. "I'll work with that person. And my files will be open." Yahnke is referring to her lesson plans, the outlines of how to teach a topic and what to do. Teachers perfect those outlines of what works and what does not over years of trial and error. Often those files do not get passed on to new teachers, who start from scratch. But Yahnke's partner will be have a "tremendous resource" in those files, she says.
Yahnke says she thrives on team atmosphere, so sharing a class with a new teacher should be no problem. That might not be the case for every teacher. Madison Principal Mark Winter said he is conscious of making sure the partnering teachers work well together, aiming for a "seamless transition."
"A lot of it is just making sure that personalities match, that there are not huge personality differences between staff members," he said.
Goodview Principal Marianne Texley said, "they will have to work together and team together more than you normally would."
District administrators consult with building principals before drawing up individual return-to-work agreements.