Staffroom grumps often joke about crossing off the days to their pension, but deep down, many teachers find retirement a daunting prospect. After all, when you have done a job for 30 or 40 years, it is sometimes hard to let go. Last year, some 19,000 teachers made that move.
"When I retired, it felt like a bereavement," says former head Julie Cutts. "I missed the staff and even the kids. I also missed little things, like the bells and the photocopier. I missed the paper guillotine so much, I went out and bought one."
Retirement is always an emotional jolt, but it is especially tough for teachers, who are used to having their days and weeks neatly timetabled. There is also a loss of status to contend with. As a teacher you are the boss of your own classroom, but the day you leave that status disappears.
"It is one of life's biggest changes," says Alan Farnish, who runs courses for the Teachers' Retirement Agency. "But retirement is there to be enjoyed, not endured. As a teacher you have lots of skills - you shouldn't put them in a drawer and throw away the key just because you have retired. You need to keep busy."
Many retired teachers find that continuing with a few hours' work each week gives their life structure. Avenues to explore include supply, teaching English as a foreign language or private tuition.
There is also the possibility of voluntary work, helping people with literacy or numeracy. Or even teaching overseas. "There are lots of opportunities," says Mr Farnish. "But you have to sell yourself and make things happen."
On the positive side, few retired teachers need to work in order to make ends meet. In fact, Mr Farnish says most retirees tend to be overly thrifty. "It is a good pension and I rarely meet a retired teacher who is struggling for money," he says. "Most people worry too much, instead of enjoying what they have earned."
But while managing your finances is usually straightforward, managing your relationships can be more tricky. On average, a working couple will spend 11 waking hours together between Monday and Friday, but when they retire that goes up to 55 hours - which can take some getting used to. Single retirees, on the other hand, may suddenly find themselves spending the whole day alone. Either way, it is a good idea to get out of the house and make new friends.
"Teaching is a sociable job," says Ms Cutts. "When you leave you need to find a group of like-minded people to replace your old colleagues. The University of the Third Age (a self-help group for those no longer in employment) is a good place to start - it is like a retired teachers' social club."
Above all, it is important to see retirement as a beginning, not an end. "You have to embrace a new identity," says Ms Cutts. "For me, that moment came when I flew off on holiday on the first day of the school year. I sat and thought of everyone going back to work and felt glad I wasn't doing that. I realised I had a new life to look forward to."
- Plan your retirement well in advance.
- The TRA runs courses and seminars. www.teachersretirementagency.co.uk
- Take financial advice to utilise your money.
- Non-teaching work after retirement won't affect your pension. More teaching may affect it if the new income plus your existing pension exceeds the salary of reference.