January 28, 2019 by Jean
During my college teaching career, I sometimes joked to students that college professors were people who were better at going to school than at anything else, so they decided to go to school forever. Now that I’ve retired from being a college professor, I keep finding new ways to go to school.
In my first year of retirement, I signed up for my first course at the Senior College (a lifelong learning program for those over fifty). By my second year of retirement, I was teaching as well as taking courses there and I was also enrolled in the Master Gardener Volunteer certification course (a semester-long college-level horticulture course). That year I also discovered the course offerings at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and enrolled in their Certificate program in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture. By this past fall, I had completed the fourteen courses for the certificate program, and last week I received my Certificate at a graduation celebration attended by graduates and faculty from the program. Recently, I found myself online checking out the one-year intensive course for the Maine Master Naturalist program.
Going to school at this stage of life is more fun than it was when I was younger. Although I always enjoyed school, my student years included anxieties about failing, and teaching involved long work hours and responsibilities like creating exams and grading papers that I did not enjoy. The volunteer teaching I have been doing at the Senior College includes the fun parts of teaching without the unpleasant parts. Being a student is also more fun now because I feel more free to take risks and move outside my comfort zone. When I was young, I learned the cultural message that girls weren’t good at math and science and became convinced that I had no aptitude for these subjects, with the result that I took only the minimum required courses in math and science in high school and college. My graduate school training in sociology and more than three decades teaching research methods and social science computer applications to college students pushed me past my math anxiety. In retirement, I’ve been overcoming my science phobia, studying the science of horticulture and ecology and taking courses in physics and microbiology at the Senior College.
A growing body of research suggests that the habit of lifelong learning is associated with health and well-being in later life. Going to school is only one of many forms lifelong learning can take. Other forms – reading, writing, music, doing puzzles, attending lectures, belonging to a book club, educational travel – can also provide the benefits of cognitive stimulation that keep the brain sharp as we age. Of the many forms of lifelong learning I engage in, going to school is the one I find most exhilarating. Like other forms of lifelong learning that involve interaction with others, taking and teaching classes provide the additional benefit of social engagement, which is itself a predictor of healthy aging. For someone like me who lives alone, interactive forms of lifelong learning are particularly important as a hedge against social isolation. My hope is to just keep going to school forever!