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Beyond the Classroom – When Your Former Students Become Teachers

This Sunday, I spent the afternoon with a former high school student of mine, Max, who is currently in his third week teaching at a neighborhood high school in Philadelphia. For three hours, we talked about his experiences and questions. I listened as he told me how using his own money, he had duplicated the pages of a novel to teach with his classes because there were no sets of novels available to him to use. The only books given to him were literature text books — large ungainly things that are not user friendly, organized around such inviting and exciting topics such as “plot” and “character.” Additionally, he said, there were not even enough of those books to send home with students.

Still despite his lack of supplies ( two reams of paper per week and by the third week, he didn’t get his allotment) he was excited to be a teacher. He told me that he thinks about it constantly and is totally immersed in the process and couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life and career.

My meeting with Max was good for me. It reminded me of the realities of teaching in an urban high school ( I had been relatively shielded from those realities for the past ten years teaching in a magnet school with an active and fundraising PTA) but it also gave me the opportunity to encourage Max, share some of my knowledge with him and offer him access to my huge personal library of teaching resources.

It also got me thinking about something else — something bigger and something that could become a major project in my life. Over the years, I have been asked to speak about my teaching in a number of different contexts. Whenever I could, I would bring students with me as co-presenters — we’d plan and conduct the presentations, workshops, panel discussion together. These were always successful and the participants could see the efficacy of what I, the teacher, was saying because they were seeing my philosophy embodied by my students.

Many of my former students at Masterman and at Gratz are currently teaching in schools around the country — Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland — but many right here in Philadelphia.

What if I were to create an educational consulting group that specialized in inspired and engaging curriculum and teaching practices and invite my former students who are currently teaching to be my co-consultants? They could talk about the way an inquiry based critical education influenced their lives as well as the ways they are enacting it in their classrooms.

I could call the group Teaching Possibilities — with the intended double meaning.
Johnny Oliver, former student ( Simon Gratz, 1992) and current teacher at Friere Charter High School has on more than one occasion recited the following quote when describing his high school education — from Mark Mathabane in Kaffir Boy — “Education opens doors where none seem to exist.” This quote attests to the power of teaching for opening students up to what is possible in their lives. I and my former students know what possible approaches, strategies and curricula are needed to move students to think about their own knowledge, their abilities, their futures in different ways.

Wouldn’t it be awesome for us to find ways of sharing this together?
What a legacy!

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

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