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Senior Substitute Has No Plans to Retire
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How many people can say after 34 years on the job that they still love going to work every day -- at age 90? Substitute teacher George Thomas can. Teaching is his second career, and he is packing every minute he can into it. He has been substituting almost every day at Cheshire (Connecticut) High School since he retired from full-time teaching 20 years ago. Included: Insight from a very experienced substitute teacher!



George Thomas
George Thomas became a teacher later in life, and now he cannot bear to quit.

At age 90, Thomas continues to work almost every day as a substitute teacher at Cheshire (Connecticut) High School, just as he has for the past 20 years. He also put his name on the substitute list for next year.

"I'd be lost without these people," says Thomas about the high school staff and students. "I'm as close to being a permanent sub as you can get. I love every minute of it. These kids have made my life absolutely wonderful. They are so respectful, loving, and kind."

Students and staff think highly of Thomas as well. "He has almost a cult following among my freshmen," says social studies teacher Kelly Washburn, who remembers Thomas's substituting in her classes during her student days at Cheshire High. "He's walking history, and they recognize that and appreciate that."

"He's very knowledgeable," adds high school associate principal Judith Gallagher. "He talks about things [kids] won't get in a textbook. He's very caring, and he knows kids."

TOO YOUNG TO RETIRE

Thomas seems determined to pack as much time as he can into his second career. After a manufacturing decline forced him to sell the electrical motor repair business he owned for 30 years, he had to decide what to do next at age 56.

"I was just too darn young to retire," Thomas tells Education World. "Then one of my daughters, who is a teacher, suggested I do what I always have enjoyed doing -- working with kids."

He returned to college to get his teaching certification (Thomas earned his first degree in business administration from Dartmouth College in 1934) and began teaching sixth grade in Wolcott, Connecticut, in 1968. When Thomas was almost 70, he decided to retire, but retirement lasted only a few months. "I just couldn't do it."

A former resident of Cheshire, Thomas contacted the school district and asked about substituting at the high school, for a chance to work with older students. He has been there ever since.

"He is very reliable," Gallagher says. "He's here every day at 6:30 a.m."

Family members have been very supportive of his career change and "retirement" plans. "They are all for it. My wife has been very patient," Thomas says. "I'm very lucky. I also think she's happy to get me out of the house." The Thomas' have been married 61 years and have three daughters; two are teachers, one is a biochemist.

Teaching gets Thomas home early enough to work for several hours in his yard and tend to other chores -- such as chopping firewood.

WHERE WERE YOU DURING WORLD WAR I?

No matter which class Thomas is covering on a given day, the students usually get a history lesson. Youngsters often ask him what his life was like as a teenager, and he tells them about growing up during World War I. He recalls classmates with German last names being shunned during the war. "I tell them about the Depression and how horrible it was."

"We get our work done, and then he tells us stories about when he was in college and his childhood," says sophomore Laura Choquette. "I think it's great; I like to hear about it."

The other lesson he tries to impart is the value of education. "My biggest aim in being here is getting kids interested in education, especially college," Thomas says.

Younger teachers seek his advice during those first difficult years of teaching. "The younger teachers are extremely capable and very dedicated," Thomas says. "I tell them not to get discouraged." Sometimes they ask him about the importance of lesson plans and what to do with unruly students. "I tell them that if a sub comes into a class without lesson plans, then the class becomes unruly ."

STEADYING INFLUENCE

One reason he is so popular with the students, Thomas says, is his grandfatherly image, which is comforting to many youngsters. "You fight with your father, not with your grandfather," jokes Thomas, who has two grandsons and a great-grandson. Washburn, the social studies teacher, agrees. "A lot of the kids don't have grandparents nearby, so it's nice." Thomas also is interested in what is going on at the school and in students' lives. He draws inspiration from the longevity of his fellow members of the Dartmouth class of 1934 -- of 425 who graduated, 124 are still alive, at age 90 or older.

"He doesn't act like he's 90," notes Choquette, a Cheshire student. "It's like he doesn't think it is a big thing."


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