I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions for some months. Over the years, I’ve heard people talking about preparing for retirement. I’ve always recognised the value of having a plan. Retirement from teaching, for me, was still probably two years away.

I can’t say I wasn’t thinking about it, but I certainly wasn’t ready to be whipped out of school, cold turkey, to begin treatment for cancer. I did not have a plan.

There was a lot of work on hand, as teachers will appreciate. Every teacher is in the middle of a new programme or a new piece of work to enable learning. Pupils need change continually and, as a teacher, you must be ready to adapt.

Each teacher leaves a legacy and, as individuals, we all teach in a different way. I was constantly trying to find new ways of doing things and yet, I find myself reluctant to embrace this new phase in my life. The fact that it was foisted upon me rather than being part of my plan has unnerved me. It really emphasises to me how important autonomy is for folk, especially the most vulnerable people in our society.

I was too ill to go into school for some time. The way I had left my teaching resources played on my mind.


Tim and I were at a wedding recently. I was chatting to farmer Joe, who had also endured harrowing cancer treatment. We were exchanging notes and because of our connection, I felt safe enough to say to Joe that I’d had to retire. He immediately said, “well, you haven’t told us (readers)” He was exactly right. I was in denial. I decided immediately that I would get back in and clear out my desk, organise my folders and leave my resources in an accessible way for my colleagues.

What was the point of 20 years of teaching if others couldn’t take up easily where I left off? Halloween was the ideal opportunity.

I went into school to sort out my stuff. How quickly the cobwebs take over. The sun was shining in the window and a cobweb glistened from the ceiling to my bookshelves of folders, ending in an intricate web. My hand had not scooped up those folders in a while. The silvery spider threads spoke of a lapse of time while my desk space remained untouched. Over the Halloween break, I put things right. I did a proper sign off. I left my resources in an accessible way for others. That was one part of it done. Then, the principal, Aisling Power, notified me that there would be a retirement function before Christmas. I looked forward to it – but dreaded it too.


Tim and I walked up the red carpet to the door of Our Lady of Good Counsel school through an arch of flowers. We were joined by our family and friends. As Aisling and colleagues embraced me, the fear evaporated and I found myself relaxing and enjoying the tributes. They had pulled out all the stops. They remembered occasions and triumphs that I’d forgotten. There were photographs on a loop. Dignitaries from the Department of Education and Brothers of Charity added lovely words. Contemporaries from the Parents and Friends Association, former colleagues and past pupils were there. Siobhan, my friend and former principal, remembered all my roles over the years and in particular my advocacy roles. That meant a lot. The different representative groups of the school community delivered words of tribute and appreciation. I felt valued and loved. The Board of Management and school community presented me with meaningful gifts, many of them fashioned by the pupils.

The Lámh choir sang and signed a new song to be known as ‘Katherine’s song’. The song was Bruce Springsteen’s

  • Dream Baby Dream
. With each speech, I healed a little. I had drawn a thin black line under my school career. By the time proceedings ended, it was a solid, thick line peppered with love and flowers, paintings and a cake. Several pupils were involved, which I cherished.

Of course, I shed lots of tears, but they were good ones. Aisling and the school team went above and beyond the call of duty to honour me.

I now have those lovely memories to empower me to design my retirement plan; albeit a bit late.

Read more

From 'Mart and Market' and live streaming livestock marts to a gingerbread farm

Postdoctoral research opportunity with Met Éireann