Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Opportunity for Women Teachers Who Write

For my entire career as a teacher of English, I have supported the writing of others. I have provided them with tools they needed to shape their vision and I have learned how to form supportive and nurturing writing communities.

Two summers ago, I gave myself a wonderful gift. I applied to attend the 2007 Writers Retreat for Committed Women Writers. sponsored by A Room of Her Own Foundation
To my surprise and delight I was accepted and traveled to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

At this retreat, I found a talented and supportive group of women, writers all, who came together in this beautiful, inspiring setting to write, share what we'd written with each other and provide thoughtful feedback in a positive, generous and generative community.

I met many women at the retreat and listened to their stories. I learned of the roles that writing plays in their lives. I met women whose work had been published to acclaim and women whose words had yet to reach an audience. Each woman spoke of the importance of this time and space to think, to feel, to write, to connect, to listen, to dive into our selves, to discover ourselves anew.

For me it was especially important that this was a writing retreat for women only. It was a "room of our own" - a space where we could be together not only as writers, but as women -- whose struggles to find our voices or to steal the time to write from our other responsibilities as mothers or partners or daughters -- were not considered trivial or beside the point, but very much at the center of our identities.

I also met other teachers. Many of them were from from independent schools whose administrations had paid their tuition and expenses for the retreat. As part of a policy of professional development, these schools invest in the personal and professional growth of their teachers with an unwavering belief that if they nurture their teachers, their students will benefit as well. No such opportunities that I know of, exist for teachers in under-funded urban and rural public schools.

On the final night of the retreat, all of the women gathered together. There was a reading by some of the women and then we were all invited to share our thoughts about the experience. At that time, overwhelmed by the energy in the room and grateful that I had been able to be part of such an amazing experience, I vowed to raise money for a scholarship for a public school teacher to attend the next retreat in 2009.

The biannual retreat is being held August 10-16 2009. I am happy to say that through the donations of friends and family, I have raised enough money to make this scholarship a reality.

I invite you to look at the website for A Room of Her Own Foundation, and the 2009 Writers Retreat

Here is the information about the scholarship as it appears on the AROHO web-site:

The Pincus Scholarship for Public School Teachers was created by Marsha Pincus, who recently retired from teaching after thirty four years. A retreatant at the 2007 Writers’ Retreat, Marsha was inspired “to create a scholarship for a public school teacher from an under-funded district to come and have this experience.” She says, “I gave myself a gift coming here. I would like to give that gift to other teachers.” The scholarship will provide workshop tuition, room and board, as well as an additional stipend to offset transportation costs.

If you are someone who has been spending so much of your creative energy nurturing the writing of others and you have always wanted to have others nurture and support you, and you teach in a district that does not support your professional growth through study and travel grants, I encourage you to review the materials on the AROHO website and apply for the retreat and the scholarship. You should follow the guidelines for the application to the retreat and complete the additional text field for the scholarship, explaining why you think you qualify, outlining your writing history, writing goals, the potential benefit of the scholarship to you and a statement of financial need. Applications are due by March 5 and the final decision will be made by the AROHO committee by the end of the month.

If you have any questions feel free to email me at

Please circulate this information to any listserve, teacher network or individual you think might be interested.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Beyond Wiggle Room

I am establishing this space on my blog to post materials related to the upcoming publication of my chapter in Alison Cook-Sather's handbook on student voice entitled Student Learning from the Student’s Perspective: A Methods Sourcebook for Effective Teaching. Paradigm Publishers, forthcoming.
There are additional materials related to the chapter that I will publish here at a later time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Teachers Dreaming - Only Connect

Anyone who has ever taught school for more than a year has had this dream. It usually arrives mid August, though in some especially stressful years, it can come as early as July, virtually ruining the rest of the summer. There is always a teacher in the dream and the teacher is always the person dreaming. Sometimes, when I have this dream, the teacher in the dream looks like me. Sometimes, she is physically unfamiliar – I don’t know exactly who she is but I do know that I am the person feeling the physical effects of the emotions she is experiencing in the dream – embarrassment, fear, frustration, despair.

The common element in all of these dreams is that no one (and there are usually dozens of people in the dream’s hallways, lunchrooms, school yards gymnasiums) seems to see or hear the teacher. Maybe there are no words coming out of the teacher’s mouth though in the dream the dreamer feels herself strain to speak. Her throat tightens and the sweat begins to form on her forehead, her hands turn cold and wet and in her sleep she reaches towards her face and clamps both of her cheeks with her fingers as her nails dig into the clammy skin.

In the morning she will see the scratches on her face and vaguely remember…

Sometimes she is in the wrong room. There is someone else's handwriting on the board, someone else’s books on the shelves, a periodic chart or a large map of India on the wall instead of her portraits of Shakespeare and the Globe Theater.

Once she was in a gymnasium, the only teacher in a room filled with five hundred students all milling about, forming and reforming tight circles while screaming their greetings to each other across the hot room. There are no windows in this gym though the ceiling is high. She is the one who is supposed to bring this group to order, get them under control. She is shorter than most of them and she feels herself shrinking, becoming smaller and smaller the hotter it gets. The voices in the gym swell to a thunderous roar that engulfs her and lifts her high above the shiny wooden floor and carries her through the ceiling which has just opened up to reveal the grey skies. As the noise subsides, she freezes high above the school, hangs suspended in mid air until she feels herself hurtling through space.

She awakens before she can hit the ground…

What we are suffering from here is a failure to communicate.

Disinterested students who ignore you.

Smart students who excoriate you publicly, flaying you with their questions and serving your organs up raw to the bloodthirsty class.

Teaching as a blood sport.

On a good day, though, I see this work as a sacred trust.

There are souls in the classroom.

And I don’t say this lightly or without deep careful thought. The whole concept of Soul is one of a mystical connectedness that comes from a kabbalistic belief in tikkun olam - the understanding that we are all pieces of the ONE that split apart after creation, and that we must each work to repair the world to reconnect all of the pieces of the Soul. So each time a teacher walks into a classroom, the possibility exists for disconnection and alienation or for tikkun olam.

This kind of connection is thwarted by Ego -- the overwhelming urge of the individual psyche to assert itself over others. A teacher’s ego may make her chase after power, both petty and grand; a student may be craving attention, wanting to aggrandize himself at the expense of others.

Here then is a theory of practice that comes from the Soul where the driving force behind every word or deed in the classroom comes from the need to connect with others in a meaningful way.

These teacher dreams, night terrors that begin as early as July and don’t let up until September really expose our fear of being alone – alienated – isolated – invisible – frantically trying to make the connection… to encounter and be encountered by the Soul..

To teach with integrity is to teach with all parts of you….and to be humble in the face of other people’s lives… their journeys… their struggles to connect.

People who cannot see beyond their own needs and thoughts are struggling with a handicap. Weighted down by their own ego, constrained by their own selfish desires, they are missing out on the awesome apprehension of the majestic complexity of the universe. When we see that – when we get it -- when we can hear the music and know our song and how it reverberates with others’ … or wake up to sound of our voice singing in concert with the voices of others… step into our body moving and swelling – joyful in the knowledge that what makes us unique – those very things that we have cherished as ours and ours alone – are felt by others too.

So when I write or share my experiences and send them out into the universe, they reverberate for someone else. Yes, you might say. This is what it feels like to… This is what it looks like to.. Your words have shown me… Your words have touched me… Your words have moved me out of myself into a new and initially frightening place…Your words have taken me somewhere I needed to go then led me right back to myself.

As teachers we need to embrace the night terrors that come to us in the summer and welcome them into our lives, grateful for the reminder that there is still so much work that needs to be done to keep the Ego in check – to banish it to our sleep where our dreams remind us of the primordial rule of teaching – of all human interaction – only connect.

Teachers and Autoworkers -- Connecting the Dots

I was heartened to read Bob Herbert's column ( link included below) in today's New York Times in which he compares the plight of American teachers and the public perception of the American Federation of Teachers to the plight of the auto workers and the perception of the UAW. I have often thought about these two groups of working Americans who have been vilified by the so called liberal press and demonized by the American public. By juxtaposing the situations of American public school teachers and American autoworkers, Herbert exposes the dangers of blaming these workers for the economic downturn and the consequences for all of us if we insist that they alone bear all of the weight through unreasonable concessions.

American teachers have been called lazy, unqualified and caring only about our bottom lines ( as if that's a crime!!!) by the likes of Michelle Rhee and corporate cronies who want to take over public schools and run them like businesses ( another great idea -- see Wall Street -- Why is it okay for then to think about their bottom lines?)

I have been trying to express my consternation at the ways in which the auto workers are being hauled over the coals for being greedy enough to demand job security and health care when executives and investors in the industry expect and and take ridiculously high dividends, salaries, bonuses?

Herbert compares the plight of the workers themselves -- teachers who spend their own money on materials the system doesn't supply, who take students on field trips on the week-ends, who stay up past mid-night every night preparing lessons for and grading papers of over 165 students ( 5 classes of 33 students each) -- and auto workers who labor in factories their entire adult lives only to be told to get off their "high horses" when they demand health care and job security. Why, Herbert asks, are ordinary working Americans like teachers and auto workers expected to make the largest sacrifices during an economic downturn which is hurting them more directly than it's hurting the executives and investment bankers in their respective abilities to take care of their families and secure their futures.

In the column Herbert goes on to discuss the concessions that unions must make, particularly in these difficult times and I find myself agreeing with this also.
Years ago, my colleagues and I were stymied in our efforts to institute real school reform in Philadelphia because the union leadership refused to budge on seniority rights in staffing. The union has since moved away from this pig-headed position of the mid-nineties to one of supporting site selection of staff -- but not until many of the successful small schools within a school that were established in the 1990's collapsed because they were forced to accept the appointment of teachers who did not wish to work as part of a team. Through it all, I never lost faith in the union - just its antiquated and short sighted leadership.

In the piece Herbert focuses on AFT's president Randi Weingarten's defense of teachers as hard working, dedicated people who make personal sacrifices for their students. But he also notes her willingness to make concessions about tenure, teacher assignment and merit pay. He goes on to make the comparison to AUW's president Ron Gettelfinger and the concessions that his union has already made and the ones that still need to happen. But, and this is the point of his column as I see it -- those concessions should only happen within a context in which all parties -- executives, investors, suppliers, dealers etc --- adjust their expectations for compensation and profit as well.

Do we really want to blast American workers out of the middle class?

Why is it for instance that the media finds it untenable that people who labored on assembly lines for 35 years of their lives have health care when they retire? Would it be more American if as Herbert writes, "after 30 or 35 years on the assembly line, those retirees had been considerate enough to die prematurely in poverty, unable to pay for the medical services that could have saved them?" While I applaud Herbert's shining a light on this incongruity, I don't think he goes far enough in pointing out the hypocrisy --- no -- the absurdity of expecting the auto workers to pay the greatest price for the failure of the auto industry, while the executives have earned obscenely high pay and bonuses.

There will be no fair concessions in any union contract without a public appreciation not only for the work that teachers and auto workers do, but the contributions we make to the stability of our communities.

Thank you Bob Herbert for connecting the dots in this increasingly complex picture.

A Race to the Bottom by Bob Herbert
New York Times Op-Ed Page
December 23, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Teachers and Students Sharing Stories

A couple of years ago, students in the Peer-Counseling group put on a play for the student body about some of the problems facing students in high school. There is nothing unique about this -- it happens in schools all over the country every year. What was special about this play was that the students asked the teachers to provide the material for the script based on our experiences as students navigating our way through high school. It was a wonderful project. Not only did it help the students see their teachers as real people, but, by being asked to revisit our high school selves, the teachers were able to better empathize with our students. Below is my submission to the play.

When I was a teen-ager, school was my salvation. It provided a structure and predictability that the rest of my life lacked. While some people hated the monotony of the routine, I reveled in the sameness of it all…. The same locker, the same classes, the same teachers, the same friends. Plus, I was good in school. It was something I could do – Get A’s that is… I couldn’t do much else – couldn’t keep my parents from divorcing, couldn’t stop the war in Viet Nam, couldn’t make my boyfriend stop doing drugs – but I could write a damned good paper on the stoicism of the Hemingway hero. And that felt good.

Anyway, I went to this huge high school where there were almost 1000 people in my graduating class. And what they did to control us was to divide us into tracks based on how smart they thought we were… there was the academic track, the commercial track and the vocational track. And if that weren’t enough, there were levels within the tracks…Academic A, B, and C, Commercial A, B, and C and so on.. you get the picture.

Well, I was in Academic A, but all of my friends including Randy and June were in Academic B. That meant I had AP classes along with all of the other “smart” kids. My friends were still college prep – they took algebra and foreign language (unlike the kids in commercial who took typing or bookkeeping or the ones in vocational who took shop) only they weren’t considered “smart” by some of the teachers. Never mind that Randy and June were two of the funniest and most clever people I had ever met and they were always exciting to be around.

My 11th grade French teacher, Madamoiselle Gitlin taught in all of the tracks. She of course preferred to teach in the A track and was always complaining to us about how much she hated teaching the kids in the B and C track.. One day she asked me to come to see her after school. I remember going to her office and feeling really strange… wondering what she could possibly want to talk to me about. She asked me to sit down and looked at me with this really earnest look on her face… like she really cared about me or something… Then she got all serious and moved in close to me and told me that I should stop hanging around with Randy and June. That they were bad influences on me and that I was being brought down by them and I should separate myself from them before it was too late.

At the time, I just stared at her dumbfounded. I was shocked and angry, but I didn’t say a word. I sat there in stony silence until she told me I could go.

Years later, when I became I teacher, I vowed that I would never talk to any student about any other student – and I would never question someone’s choice of a friend.
See what really bothers me about this story today is – why wasn’t she concerned about Randy and June? If she thought they were headed in the wrong direction, why didn’t she try to help them? Just because they weren’t good in French, they weren’t worth the trouble?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Through Students' Eyes - Establishing Community in the Classroom

Sometimes, if we're lucky, we get to see our classrooms through our students' eyes. The statement below, by my former student Ogadi, describes her recollection of English class in 11th grade and the impact of a particular community building activity we did early in the year. Too often, educators forget that we are teaching human beings who need to feel valued and affirmed before they can open up to take the risks that learning new things demands. We start the year by handing out our syllabi and reviewing our rules. We want to assert our authority in the classroom, and make sure our students respect us. One day, many years ago, at the end of the first day of school, I asked one of my students how his day had gone. He told me that he started the day with high expectations for a good year, but by the end of the day, he was convinced that this year was going to be as boring as the years before. He had sat through SEVEN classes and in EACH one, the teachers had done the same thing. From that moment on, I vowed to start my classes differently -- to create welcoming activities that would let the students know that my classroom was a place where they were valued, where we would build on each others' strengths and where we would all become part of a social and intellectual community. At the end of Ogadi's statement, I will share a description of the activity she refers to in her narrative. As with any good teaching idea, adapt it to make it your own.

Ogadinma Anyanwu
English Class Statement
The first day of school, I got my roster and compared it with my friends’ in advisory to see who would be in my class. I did not have any classes with the people within my comfort group except for gym class. When I arrived to my first period English class, I could see why. AP US History changed the entire roster. I was in a room surrounded with people who were considered “smart math students”, people with whom I have never connected during my years at Masterman. I did not like it; I was entirely withdrawn from my classmates. To top it off, my English teacher was a loud, fearless, powerful, intimidating woman. From the start, you let us know the year was structured with classroom dialog: conversations, discussions, debates, and arguments. I was not pleased because I felt so out of place. Immediately I found Rodeeia and Caasi to bond with to maintain comfort.
Early on, you did the most memorable class project. The project was to give and receive positive comments about qualities of our peers that we recognized. In order for this project to properly function, interaction, movement and communication were necessary. The theory of it all excited me, but I was hesitant and afraid of the generic comments I would receive: really good runner, nice voice, fast, good vocals… Initially I stood in one spot, waiting for people to come to me. But I did not feel as if I was benefiting from any of it, rarely anyone approached me! So, I took some deep breaths, a couple of steps and tried to make some moves. The reward was priceless. The cycle of giving then receiving, receiving then giving was, for lack of better words, intense.
Time was provided to read, smile, laugh and absorb the comments. The one that blew me away was Meryl’s comment. She told me I am inspirational. Me, inspirational? I am smiling as I write now because I remember feeling so appreciated and valued. That one comment made my day. It made me feel like I had a chance this year after all. Through small class projects, I slowly strengthened as an individual. You always encouraged me to get involved in and out of the classroom environment.
Mrs. Pincus, in class, you gave me room to grow as an individual. I admire the passion you put behind all of your work. I cannot tell you how appreciative I am towards your dedication. When I compare my writing style now to that of the beginning of junior year, I see better structure, organization, sentence fluidity and balance. I remember repeatedly saying, “Writing essays has always been my weak point,” and you replied, “No it’s not. You have many things to say and need to work on focusing it on paper”. The guidance and lessons you provided enabled me to utilize my weaknesses as potential strengths. In the Beloved unit, we probed deeply into difficult passages and worked at uncovering the message Toni Morrison wanted to express. You allowed me to explore a complicated novel both creatively and logically.
Not only have my abilities as a writer, reader, and critical thinker advanced, I have learned something that I keep with me in my senior year and that I plan to bring to college and beyond. In your class, I learned to use my voice. I learned to reaffirm ways to use writing as self-expression. I know this may sound a little over the top, but you showed the path to womanhood and my identity. I am truly humbled by all of your teachings and stories. Thank you.

Community Building Activity - First Week of School or Later
This activity worked early in the year at my school because all of the students had been together for the past six years. If you are teaching students who do not know each other very well, save this activity for later in the year.

I think I said something like this.

"Everyone needs to stand up and have your notebook and pencil with you. You are going to walk around the room and seek people out to tell them something you admire about them, value about them or have learned from them. As people tell you these attributes about yourself, write them down. When someone says something to you, say thank you and you may choose to say something about them in return. Keep seeking people out and tell them their positive attributes. If you feel awkward or shy, or you're afraid of being left out, the way to deal with that is to find people to say something nice to. We'll do this for the next twenty minutes or so, then we'll return to our seats and debrief."

The activity usually lasts more than 20 minutes and sometimes they beg me not to stop them. When I see that someone is standing alone, I go up to them and say something positive to them about themselves. Sometimes the class asks me to grab my notebook so they can say positive things to me. Invariably, at least one student says, "I value the fact that you created this activity for us to do."

Are Things Really Harder for Today's Teachers Than They Were for Us?

I am having a hard time answering that question. I know that I hear the stories of young teachers, especially the ones who have decided that they can't stay in the Philadelphia public schools. I hear them talk about lack of resources -- not enough books to send home with students -- not enough class sets of anything worth teaching. I hear them talk about the buildings -- how they are dirty, unheated, with broken windows and mice and roaches. I hear then talk about the discipline problems, how students run the halls in the neighborhood high schools. I hear them talk about the truancy, their students' lack of motivation, the inability to read on grade level, their refusal to do homework. I hear them talk about inept and insensitive administrators who hide behind their own lack of knowledge by intimidating rather than supporting their young staff. I hear them talk about two different extremes -- either they are so minutely watched and supervised and their principals demand their slavish implementation of the school districts pacing schedule and curriculum ( regardless of their students' knowledge, interests, aptitudes or abilities) or they are left totally on their own , given so much free reign that they are lost and without a clue as to what they should be teaching.

I hear all of these stories and I ask myself -- is it really all that different from when I was a beginning teacher? Didn't I and all of my colleagues who were hired in the 1970's ( and stay in the system well into the 21st century) face the same kinds of problems too? Every last one of the complaints listed above have come out of my mouth and the mouths of my colleagues sometime during our career.

This is complicated. It is not a good thing that things haven't changed all that much in our city's schools. One would hope that things would have improved with all of the attention and hair pulling that has been devoted to public education by politicians and the media. It's fair to say that they have not lived up to their public trust. And it's fair to say that people of means only want to see those means support the education of their children -- leaving the children of working class and poor people to languish in sub-standard buildings with little or no resources. And it's also fair to say that NCLB has disproportionally impacted poor urban and rural schools -- holding them to higher standards with no additional funding, while implementing punitive measures. This in turn creates a culture of fear among district administrators who put pressure on building principals who come down hard on teachers. Meanwhile, no one ever questions the efficacy of the tests themselves or the skill and drill curriculum designed to raise the scores on these questionable tests.

So yes, the times are difficult for teachers, particularly new teachers in urban schools, but I still believe that it was difficult for us as well. The difference is that we didn't leave. We didn't quit. We stayed.

Maybe we stayed because we needed a pay check. Maybe we stayed because we were not going to move back in with our parents. I have a distinct memory of my first year teaching where a young man said to me, "We'll get rid of you by the end of the month" as he ran around the classroom overturning chairs and laughing wildly. What he didn't count on was that my very first paycheck came at the end of the month and I wasn't going to let an unruly 13 year old stand between me and my ability to support myself.

Later I learned how to reach him. I learned his life story and his challenges in school. I learned how to create opportunities to include him in class activities, to provide ways for him to use his energy in positive ways, and then I learned how to help him be a better reader and writer. It took time.

It also took time for me to learn how to be a teacher. I don't think I felt really felt like I knew what I was doing until my fifth year. Young people today want it all so fast -- Becoming a good teacher, particularly in difficult and challenging circumstances takes time. I continued taking courses during those years, trying to learn more about child psychology, curriculum design, as well as wring and literature courses to make me a better teacher of English. I took courses in African American culture, art and history so I could teach these texts to my African American students responsibly and knowledgeably. Eventually, I collaborated with other teachers who were also engaged in learning how to be better teachers and with them created programs for our students and made changes within our schools.

I want to be able to support these young teachers. They are the same age as my children and I would hope that in their respective professions, my children can find supportive mentors. But there is a part of me that thinks they give up too easily.
Maybe some of it has to do with the fact that many young teachers I know come through the Teach for America program and they entered the classroom with the intention of leaving after two years. Maybe you're more willing to fight the good fight when you know that you are in it for the long haul and that you are surrounded by others who are in it for the long haul too.

If there is anyone out there actually reading this blog, I would love to hear what you have to say about this? Is it really that much harder for Philadelphia ( or any urban area ) teachers today than it was for teachers a generation ago?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Remembering an Extrordinary Educator

My friend and colleague Carolyn Cohen sent me this newspaper article this morning. It was sent to her by a friend, also a teacher and colleague of Bernie Glaze, an extraordinary teacher who died of lung cancer in November. The article, which I share in full below paints the picture of the kind of teacher I fear is becoming extinct in our cities' public schools, driven out by ill-informed administrators and misguided public policies. Three things in particular touched me in this story. The first was Bernie's belief that all students could learn at very high levels and that they should be given the chance to take challenging courses regardless of their past performance. The other was the way she made her classroom feel like a home and her students part of a family. She knew what so many have forgotten -- teaching is more about human relationships than test scores -- human beings teaching and learning together with other human beings and our very basic need to be loved and feel as if we belong. I hope that Bernie Glaze knew how much she was valued before she died. It seems perhaps that she knew, given the story about her principal. In the final paragraph the author of this tribute piece says that in the midst of the rating and ranking mania, one needs to add to the list of criteria that make an excellent school, "teachers and administrators like Bernie Glaze." I wonder who will have the insight and courage to support young Bernie Glazes in the making and keep them in classrooms where not only can they help students grow and develop to their full potential, but have the chance to become great themselves.

Dynamo Brought IB and Rigor to All Students

Dynamo Brought IB and Rigor To All Students

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Into the "Great Beyond" -- Opportunities for Living, Learning and Making a Difference After the Classroom

Last year, near the end of the school year, when my days as a teacher were numbered, one of my colleagues said to me, "Well ten more days until you go into the great beyond." At the time it struck me as an odd statement and I thought about it all summer. Every day that I'd lay out in the sun, reading a book, I'd think, so this is the beyond. In September, it really hit me... being in the beyond. That's when I realized that the life I had known for all of my adult life had come to an end.

It has been both frightening and liberating to be outside of the classroom. The first part of September was relatively easy. My son, my first born, got married to the love of his life on a beautiful Indian Summer day overlooking the Hudson River. In a scene borrowed from Washington Irving, 120 friends and family gathered in the warm sunlight as Mike and Danielle gazed lovingly into each other's eyes and promised to love, honor and cherish each other for ever. It's safe to say that I didn't miss teaching at that moment.

Nor did I miss teaching a couple of weeks later when my husband and I traveled to Europe for the very first time. We chose Italy because we had heard that it was a very special almost magical place. We had never been able to travel in the past-- my schedule as a teacher only made it possible for us to travel during high volume times. Besides, we had made a decision that our children's education was the top priority, so there really wasn't a whole lot of money left over for us to travel much further than the Jersey shore or Disney World. So the trip to Italy was both relaxing and eye-opening -- and again, I really didn't miss teaching very much at all.

That is until I returned home, slept off my jet lag, unpacked and realized that I didn't really have anywhere I needed to be for the foreseeable future. I didn't have a group of people I would see every single day -- start my day with in home room, end my day with in Drama class and inquire together into literature and writing throughout the day. I was particularly bereft during the final days of the presidential campaign and the election of Barack Obama when I couldn't be in the company of young people hearing the ways in which they were making sense of this historic event.

So how have I been spending my time in the "great beyond" and what I have I learned so far about life after teaching?

First thing I've learned is that it's great not to have to get up at 6 AM every day. And it's wonderful to be able to have a leisurely cup of coffee while reading the newspaper in the morning.

The other thing I've learned is that it's much easier to take care of your health when you can actually make doctor's appointments at any time of day.

I have also learned that the Internet can be a great big vacuum that sucks all of your time and energy if you let it. It takes a great deal of disicpline to turn off the Internet connection and just use the computer to write.

I have been spending much of my time reconnecting with former students -- some from almost thirty years ago, others from last year.,, Google and Facebook have made it easy for people to reconnect and many of my former students have been finding me through these web-sites.

I have been giving a lot of thought to the ways in which I can create a forum as well as opportunities for my former students -- many of them educators -- to do professional development work and give talks and presentations about the impact of a progressive, student-centered, inquiry-based and writing-centered curriculum on their lives. I started this blog as another way to reconnect to former students and to engage them in the conversation about the meaning they made of their high school education and the impact that education has had on their lives. I think this is especially important at this particular time when NCLB has caused administrators to put pressure on teachers to teach to the test and not to the children in front of them. If my former students can tell the story of the long range impact of their high school education then that can begin to counter the arguments for test-driven pedagogies and describe an alternative pedagogy of possibilities.

So that's one project in the great beyond.

Another is working with After School Practitioners in a Seminar that teaches them how to engage in practitioner research and develop as professionals. Building on what I have learned and done as a teacher researcher, I am now working with the National Writing Project and the National Institute for Out of School Time Studies to adapt that work for people working with children in out of school or after school settings. Today, for instance, I am spending my afternoon visiting two programs at Philadelphia playgrounds with one of the seminar fellows and I will be helping her focus her research question.

Yesterday I attended a meeting between the Center for Evidence-Based Education and the principals and other administrators of Camden City Public Schools for the purpose of launching a professional development initiative in Camden that intends to bring about systemic reform. I was brought in by CEBE as a member of their team as a expert in teacher development and leadership and my role in this project will be to coach teams of teacher leaders in 3 Camden middle schools ( and possibly two high schools in the future) to be better teachers and to become teacher leaders in their buildings based on their knowledge and abilities as teachers. At the meeting yesterday, I expressed my hope that this program would enable and encourage good teachers to find career satisfaction within the classroom. I also expressed my hope that it would counter the popular view that teaching is an "entry level" position and in order to move up one needs to move out.

The other project that I have initiated since returning from vacation is a continuity group for Teacher for America teachers who went through Penn's Urban Education Master's program and who have chosen to stay beyond their 2 year TFA commitment. These teachers are in dire need of support -- they no longer have the TFA community nor the Penn community to mentor them and in some cases depending on the ages and experiences of the teachers at their schools, they are being looked to as veteran teachers and teacher leaders. They need a place where they can critically examine their own practice and continue to grow and learn as a professional. I first met these teachers when Dina Portnoy asked me to design a course in Inquiry into Practice for 2nd year Master's students ( who by the way are teaching full time throughout their certification program!) and despite what I think of Teach for America itself ( not much.. a topic for another post) I have come to admire and respect many of the young people who are teaching in some of the most difficult schools in the country. One of my reasons for creating this continuity group is not only to support them in their teaching but to thank them for staying when so many others (ncluding myself) have left.

These are the projects that I am working on in the "great beyond." And there's so much more I want to do. More and more I am realizing that I have to write.... about my teaching, about my life.... I am just about finished a chapter for a book about student choice and voice which documents my struggles during my final year of teaching with one particular class and all that I did as the teacher to "make it matter" to the students. I have a computer full of other papers, chapters, half-finished essays that could possibly be shaped into a book.

When I retired, I promised myself that I wouldn't work for six months and allow myself time to figure it out. I couldn't keep that promise of course -- I became way too bored. So I've taken on these projects -- all of which feel very connected to my life's project -- being a teacher and a person who makes a positive difference in the lives of others.