People of 2020: Retired teachers serving for love of country

Samoa’s ongoing teacher deficit continued this year, forcing several older teachers to remain in classrooms long past retirement age to help combat the shortfall and educate the nation's children. 

The retirement age for teachers is 55. 

But many of the nation’s teachers are remaining in classrooms as long as official health permits and passion allows them to.

Official statistics on how many teachers remain in the classroom past-retirement are not available. 

But long-serving educators have told the Samoa Observer that the cohort is not insignificant in number and their colleagues depend on a passion for the profession to keep them going. 

One retired science teacher for Avele College, Fa’atoia Malele, said Samoa had an acute national need for science teachers.

The 66-year-old believes there is no greater way to work for the good of the nation than by continuing to educate its children. 

“I have been a teacher for close to 20 years,” he told the Samoa Observer. 

“I think maybe [the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture] have wanted to retire us but there is a growing need every year.”

Loau does not shy away from the truth that the shortage of teachers remains a “huge problem”. 

But he does emphasise that the Ministry does not force retirees to stay on and teach.

“They are required to apply each year and provide a medical report to prove that they are able to work. Some of these people, even after retirement age, still have a lot to give,” the Minister said. 

“Once they are approved, the Ministry sees where they would fit best; if they were an English teacher, we will place them where English teachers are needed and their post would also depend on where they live.”

And the policy makes veteran educators such as 71-year-old Lafaitele Aiga Esera grateful for the chances they provide to contribute. 

After dedicating more than four decades of her life to teaching, the elderly mother and grandmother say she still has a lot to give the future generations of Samoa.

“The freedom to choose is left up to us the retirees to see if we are fit enough to return to work, this is why they require a medical report,” she said.

“But it is a waste of their talent if they just suddenly stay home just because they have reached 55. As long as they have the strength, continue [they can contribute].”

Speaking from experience, Lafaitele says teaching at an old age is not easy, although the determination to educate young people and hopefully inspire others to do the same keeps her going. 

“Break for a while is good, and then get on the stage again and continue,” Lafaitele says.

She told the Samoa Observer that she is planning on applying to work again next year believing she still has a lot to offer.

Another retiree who is also continuing her service is a 66-year-old food and textiles technology teacher for Vaimauga College, So'o To'oalo Sanerivi. She has been a teacher for more than 30 years.

She compared the joy of teaching to raising children because parents are the first teachers:

“I chose to continue my service because I still have the strength and knowledge in helping the students’ of the nation and also something to share with other teachers," she said.

“When we reach retirement age it is our choice to continue or not. I want to continue to help and share my expertise; students are the centre of teaching. I also encourage others to choose the field of education as a career, because whoever the Prime Minister, Minister, or anyone is they all went through schools and were taught by teachers.”

A 70-year-old retired teacher, Olive Sila Mamea, a former teacher and school Principal who hails from the villages of Samalaeulu and Matavai Safune, told the Samoa Observer that passion, commitment, honesty and love make a great teacher not age.

She taught for 43 years in total and only made her exit ten years after hitting retirement age, 55.

Ms. Mamea retired in 2015 at 65-years-old due to failing health. 

And despite being away from the classroom for so long, she says that her heart and mind still longs to be in a classroom, educating the next generation of Samoans.

“I have a great passion for teaching, especially the young ones from Year 1 to Year 4,” she said.

“I truly believe those are the very crucial stages of a child’s life and learning, and I found great joy in helping those young ones as they start their educational journey."

Looking back on her years in the classroom, she described education as “her calling from God.”

And what has been the highlight of her 40-plus years in the teaching profession, Mrs. Mamea nominated the sense of fulfillment she felt when she saw her former students.

She has taught at the Poutasi, Samauga, Safotu, Sasina, and Safune Primary schools and was the deputy principal at Sasina for more than eight years before she became school Principal at Safune Primary school.

“It’s definitely seeing the children grow and succeed. I’ve met so many children and taught so many that I can’t remember but every now and then, I have people just walking up to me and address me as 'Miss',” she said.

“Teaching is a difficult and challenging job, but it’s a fulfilling job as well. For 43 years I was a teacher, I’ve met and taught so many children. Every year was a new adventure as I had new children every year.

“I recognise some of them when I see them around and I love hearing stories of where they are working now and it makes me grateful.”

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