Retirees 2024: Second career was a gem for Jeanette Nichols

For Jeanette Nichols, a second career as a teacher proved to be very rewarding. After 28 years in the classroom, 20 with District 153, she is retiring.

Nichols’ bachelor’s degree was in art history, which she took into a job in retail, working as a manager in a department store in Colorado. She married and moved to Illinois and wasn’t happy in the job market here. Shortly afterward, her father died. She used her inheritance to return to school to earn an education degree.

Jeanette Nichols (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

“I wasn’t happy in the career I was in. I couldn’t imagine doing that long-term, but I didn’t have skills to transition to something else,” Nichols said. “I thought, ‘Well, they’re giving me a chance and I’m going to go back to school and see if I like it.’ You grow into it. I don’t think I was a natural (teacher) like some people, but I grew into it.”

Nichols was a fourth grade Chicago Public Schools teacher for eight years. When her son was born, the Homewood resident looked for something closer to home. She accepted a job teaching fourth grade at Churchill School. 

As the years passed, District 153 created a math intervention position. Nichols first worked it half-day and then transitioned to a full-time math position.

“I didn’t consider myself a mathematician,” she said. But after taking on the math intervention work, “If I could do everything over, I would be a middle school math teacher. I taught math (in the classroom) here. I’m really fortunate, I work with kids who love math.” Her intervention work was to help gifted students, some performing two years above their grade level, to excel at math. 

“The way we teach math now, it allows many people to have access. We have so much more building of conception understanding than there used to be,” when students were told the process and the final answer. Nichols said she learned math using the old method, but believes she would have been a much better math student if she learned it using today’s concepts.

Nichols jokes about how each year the superintendent encourages teachers to check their Teacher Retirement System benefits if they’re thinking about retirement. She wasn’t ready to talk about leaving education until teaching for a year during the pandemic.

“I don’t think COVID made me retire, it just convinced me to go to TRS and see what’s in store for me,” Nichols said. She could have stayed with the district another two years to sweeten her pension, but she decided it was the right time to step away. 

“COVID showed me that it’s time for younger people to take over. It was hard. I worked as much as a first year teacher. I was so exhausted,” she said. “Nobody liked it. You don’t get to see the kids (in person).”

As her retirement date closes in, Nichols said, “You have mixed feelings when you get to this point. I definitely will miss it. I don’t think there’s a career anywhere that’s anything like this.” 

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