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All That Energy; All That Knowledge

When I was teaching, I was known as someone with an incredible amount of energy. I would carry a 24 oz. cup of coffee and actually drink most of it throughout the day. I don’t know if I was really caffeinated or if I was just energized from being around all of those people every day. Nevertheless, my students were often surprised by my energy level and most of them found it amusing, if not inspiring. I was very active in the classroom — especially in the Drama classroom where it was more acceptable to be jumping around the room, bouncing off the walls, speaking quickly and being totally animated. In English class, I toned it down a bit, but the one thing I vowed at the beginning of every year and every day and every single class is that my class would not be boring. Over the 34 years I had been teaching, I had developed quite a repertoire for ways of presenting, sharing and developing ideas with groups of people and I could “read the room” and “shift gears” when something was falling flat.

I also know a lot about teaching English and Drama. There are publications of my work on the internet like this chapter I wrote about teaching The Laramie Project to a high school drama class in 2003.

My teacher research and practice has been the subject of two major web-site projects developed by the Carnegie Foundation – one about the teaching of Shakespeare –

and another documenting my Drama and Inquiry class along with the role inquiry has played in my teaching career over its lifespan —

Besides the content knowledge that I developed from reading and taking courses throughout my adult life, I also have pedagogical content knowledge — that is I know how to organize material and present it to young people in ways that will not only teach them information and skills but I know how to arouse their curiosity so as to engage them in authentic inquiry about whatever it is we’re studying.
I can read a book and immediately know its potential for a text that can be read in a particular grade or context. I can connect that text to other texts and lift authentic and essential questions from it that will enable to students to read it in a deeper and more complex way than they might have read it on their own. I can see the possibilities for writing assignments in all different genres and from all different points of view. I can see what they do with the text in groups, in class, at home, independently. I write inquiry units in my head. I dream curricula.

What does a retired teacher do with all of that energy and knowledge? I have been exercising to address the energy issue — swimming laps every single day this summer until the pool was closed on Labor Day. Now I will be walking a couple of miles a day and lifting free weights in front o the TV. Maybe find a yoga class. Maybe take ballroom dance lessons with my husband.
Maybe join a gym with an indoor pool and swim the winter away. I am actually in better physical shape now than when I was teaching. Because that’s the other side of teaching — the way it drains you physically — the buildings in which I taught were unairconditioned and unmaintained. The last school in which I taught was so overcrowded that many teachers had to float ( what an Orwellain term! teaching in multiple rooms on multiple floors, schlepping carts with books and folders and crates — only Big Brother could be devious enough to call that “floating!”) Crazy schedules with lunch at 10:15 and being in filthy classrooms with the germs of hundreds of adolescents left on unwashed desktops — the result of “money saving” privatization of janitorial services. Did anyone ever compute the financial losses due to substitute services for teachers who were sickened when their anti-bacterial wipes were not enough to stave off infection? I always spent a good part of the fall and winter with laryngitis and a sore throat that would last so long I thought I had cancer.

It is the intellectual energy that I wonder and worry about. What does a retired teacher do with all of that? When I was teaching high school, if i read something interesting, if something compelling was happening in the news, if I saw a new movie that made me think or heard a new song that blew me away, I could always bring it to my students — Over 100 of them each year — I especially enjoyed being a homeroom teacher — a position that many of my colleagues managed to get out of… I enjoyed being together with a group of young people starting our days together every morning.. I enjoyed the informality of it and the familiarity that developed. In homeroom, I could talk with my students and relate to them as one person to another — hear what’s on their minds, learn their opinions about what’s happening in the world. Like a family at breakfast ( and yes, I would let them eat in homeroom — for some of them it would be the only way they could have breakfast).

And how will I know what young people are thinking? How will I have access to what’s important to them? How will I be able to see the world through their eyes and not like so many older people do get tunnel vision– seeing the world so narrowly?

For the past few weeks leading up to the start of school, I have been receiving email from teachers that I know asking me for advice on how to teach this, or how to approach that. I have met with young teachers at coffee shops and in my backyard and shared with them much of what I know about teaching Drama, making English more engaging for their students. This has offered me some satisfaction, but I know that it will not be enough. I will need to find a way to use what I know about teaching in a more productive and generative way. I will need to build on it to reshape my life after teaching.

Any ideas? What have you or others you know done after teaching for a lifetime? How have you remained connected ( or not) to young people? What do you do with all of that energy and knowledge?

Marsha Pincus is a post-mid life woman, riding the Age Wave and writing for her life.

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