So, you’ve been asked to give a farewell or retirement speech for a teacher leaving your school? Perhaps it’s a beloved colleague and you want to make sure you send them off with exactly the right memory and ending to an amazing career. Or, maybe you’re a new principal nervous about getting this right in front of your staff. Either way, these tips will help you give a great farewell to a deserving educator.
We are entering the time of year where educators announce their retirement or accept a new gig for the coming year. I too, am making a change and stepping into optional retirement for now. This has me thinking about the end-of-year ritual of farewell speeches.
As a school principal, I’ve given dozens of these farewells. I’ve heard many more. While I’m no expert, I think I’ve got a good handle on what does, and doesn’t work. Keep these things in mind and you’ll create a moment to remember.
Table of contents
1. Take It Seriously
Note – I did not say make it serious. It’s okay to use humor if appropriate! What isn’t okay is taking a final moment of someone’s time at a school lightly and winging it with a sloppy send-off.
You don’t need to stress (relaxed is good!) but this is worth spending a bit of time on in advance. If you’d dedicated years (and sometimes decades!) to a career or school, how would you want the person giving your farewell to treat it?
Oh, and while I mentioned a teacher in the open – don’t forget that every educator deserves the same respect and treatment. Don’t be the principal who goes on and on about a teacher, but virtually ignores the paraeducator who has given their career to supporting the school. Each one matters.
If you’re an administrator, public speaking is an important part of your role. You know I believe that takes effective preparation (if not, just check out how I prepared with over 200 principal interview questions). Take the time to do this well and it will pay off in credibility and connection with your staff.
Treat this opportunity as an honor, not a burden.
2. It’s Not About You
Remember, the point here isn’t for you to be the star. Don’t spend time talking about yourself. Don’t center yourself in any remarks or stories you may share. I’ve seen too many of these where the audience is treated to a long story about the speaker that ties in loosely at the end with the honoree.
Remember, it’s their moment. Make sure your farewell remarks reflect that.
3. Personalize It
You’ll probably find a number of pre-written teacher retirement speeches online. I’m intentionally not doing that here. Canned speeches are obvious and usually awkward. I even attended a retirement event once where the same basic speech, with the same quotes, was used more than once! Don’t do that.
Since this tip is so important, and personalization makes the speech, I’m going to offer specific tips for how to create a simple, but personal, speech:
Consider The Honoree
This one links to the “it’s not about you” above. You, as a speaker, may have certain strengths. You may use humor brilliantly, tell stories that make people cry, or love performing.
Those are all great and may be ideal in some cases. But make sure you are considering the personality of the educator who is leaving. This is their moment, not yours.
Introverts may not want to be the center of attention and having them get up in a performance may create a horrible memory. A serious teacher may not appreciate being the object of jokes or parody. Some may feel that cheesy kid story demeans their professional contribution.
Or…all of those things might be exactly what they want! The point here is that you consider their personality in how you approach the farewell speech.
Do Some Research
The best, and most well-received, speeches I’ve seen include a little research woven into the speech. Even better, this takes most of the work off your plate. In fact, if you’re an introvert nervous about public speaking this is my #1 tip because it lets you use the words of others.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Usually it can be done with a short email or conversation and a simple question.
Here are three types of “research” in their order of effectiveness:
Ask Kids / Former Students
If you have access to any students the educator worked with, their comments are always crowd pleasers. You’ll get touching stories, humorous comments, and memorable pictures.
A simple question like, “What do you remember most about Mr./Ms. XYZ?” will get you amazing results.
Comments from Colleagues
If former students aren’t accessible, colleagues make a great source of materials too. Ask them for their most memorable moment, or what they think their colleagues biggest contribution to the school was.
Finally, if you don’t have time (or the ability) to talk to colleagues or former students, you can often find some great speech material by looking back on the educators career.
I’ve seen some administrators look in personnel files or old hiring documents to dig out timelines and previous positions. I don’t advise this.
Instead, I like to sit down with the educator who is leaving and have a conversation about their career path. Giving them this time is another form of respect and what you learn will often be surprising.
For this, I just open with something like, “I can’t believe you’re moving on and I wanted to learn a little more about the path that led you here.”
4. Emphasize Contribution
Stories, jokes, and appreciation is great – but people want to feel like they’ve had an impact. Make sure your remarks include a healthy dose of how they impacted the school they’re leaving.
Trust me – they’ll feel that and remember it down the road more than anything else you say.
5. Use Quotes and Poems Sparingly
Generic quotes/poems pulled from google are overdone.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a favorite poem or meaningful quote in your farewell remarks. Just make sure it’s actually personal to the honoree. Talk about how it fits them perfectly, exemplifies something they’ve done, or why it made you think of them.
6. Close With Thanks and Retirement Wishes
You’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen a solid speech sputter out at the end, or close in an awkward way that lessens the impact. Be prepared and keep it simple by doing two things:
Thank them for their contribution to the school. (again – emphasize contribution!)
Wish them the best on their future steps. Even if you desperately wish they were staying or think they are making a mistake by leaving, it is important that they know you support them in the future.
A simple example:
“In closing, it’s been an amazing 15 years working with Educator XYZ. They have dramatically changed the way our team impacts student learning. You have made a positive difference in an entire generation of kids. I will miss working with you every day, but know you’ll do great things in your next job. Cheers!”
Being asked to give a farewell speech can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be! It’s a great honor and you will help create a meaningful moment in an educator’s life by keeping the following in mind:
- Take it seriously
- Remember – it’s not about you
- Personalize the speech
- Consider the honoree’s needs
- Do some research
- Emphasize contribution
- Use quotes / poems sparingly and meaningfully
- Close with thanks and best wishes
Now, go give a great teachers retirement speech!