Part-time teacher, 73, happy to give back to kids

At an age when most people have retired, 73-year-old Carlos Ramirez gets up early for work as a substitute teacher in San Francisco schools to make ends meet.

While he enjoys teaching young people – particularly sharing his love of poetry and song – he finds the job physically and emotionally taxing. The bottom line is he doesn’t have a choice.

“I can’t afford to retire,” said Ramirez, a San Francisco native. “I have Social Security, which gives me $540 a month, but other than that, I have to come up with the money for my monthly expenses.”

Last summer, Ramirez, who lives on his own and has been in the same rent-controlled apartment in the Mission District since 1983, had trouble paying his monthly rent of $793.

The school year had ended, so he was unable to find work. During that time, he sought additional help through Glide and was referred to the Salvation Army, where a case worker suggested he apply for a grant through The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund.

“Thanks to Glide and the Salvation Army and The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing, I was able to make do and pay my rental expenses,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez is one of a growing number of older Americans who have to work well beyond retirement.

“I’m seeing more and more seniors who are no longer full-time workers, but they have to have additional income because their unemployment and/or their pension are not enough,” said Attieno Davis of the Salvation Army. “They don’t get to retire.”

Davis said she recommended Ramirez because in addition to his need, Ramirez smiles easily, radiates a joyful energy and is prone to bursting into song.

 Ramirez said he loves poetry and enjoys turning poetry into music – particularly the poetry of the celebrated American writer Langston Hughes.

“Kids just love to be sung to,” said Ramirez, who has worked as a substitute teacher for the past 15 years after various jobs as a masseur and working for his father’s travel agency. “I like to find ways in which I can interact with the kids and tolerate their energy and not require them to be still machines.”

Ramirez said his dream is to work for Young Audiences of Northern California, an organization that brings visual, literary and performing arts into the schools. He said he would like to perform his Langston Hughes program as well as put melodies to the word of other poets.

Meanwhile, Ramirez will continue to work as a substitute teacher about three days a week.

He recalled fondly how a substitute teacher in elementary school told him what a beautiful name he had and how he felt acknowledged and appreciated by her even in that relatively brief encounter.

“I’m blessed with realizing I’m doing the work I experienced on the other side as a child,” he said.