Urban and waterfront planner Ann Buttenwieser is a Woman Who’s Making a Difference. She had a dream: to find an old barge, retrofit it as a swimming pool, and moor it in New York City waters every summer. With mighty effort she brought her dream into being (to see how she did it, click on “Ann Buttenwieser: The Floating Pool Lady”).  Now the barge/fresh-water pool—named for her—floats off the Bronx every summer, to the delight of some 50,000 low-income children. —Ed.


MWAannAnn Buttenwieser in The Floating Lady Pool (photo: Etienne Frosard)

I just posted a letter to an administrator in the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University announcing my retirement as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the university.

How do I feel about my decision to retire from teaching?

It took me only three months to garner enough courage to take the leap.  I have taugh for 29 falls at Columbia, and over a dozen springs at either NYU or Hunter College.  Do I suddenly feel free?  Yes, in part.  No more will I interrupt my summers or Christmas holidays to prepare syllabi.  No more will I be happy that Labor Day is late and classes will not begin until the second week in September.  No more will I have sleepless nights before meeting a new group of students.  No more will I forget the names of my students.

imagePhoto © Sarah Shatz.

I will not miss the classes that just did not work.  At NYU, I was not adequately conversant with macro-economics to convey the subject in an engaging manner.  At my Columbia class on Architecture, Planning and Preservation (to which I came experienced by multiple jobs in city agencies), I taught 20-year-olds who cared only about drawing the world’s tallest building.  I was frustrated that they could not be bothered with the urban planning basics they needed to master before they could place their work in a community of living and working individuals.  

And there were the no-shows and the unprepared.  Graduate students who could take my class ungraded arrived full of good intentions to stay the course.  But inevitably they dropped out when it was time for a required group presentation, leaving their undergraduate classmates to scurry to fill the gap.  A student’s excuse for not handing in an already-overdue paper was often clever enough to match the familiar “the dog ate my homework.”  A young woman whom her classmates nicknamed “the Sleeper” dozed through the few classes she managed to attend.  Her absences were spent shopping for designer clothes and leather goods, and her homework was doing all-nighters selling the loot online to purchasers in China.

But rather than giving me a sense of freedom, my decision to stop teaching saddens me.  

I will miss the exhilaration of appearing “onstage.”  I will miss the interaction with young, bright students, their faces lighting up when they “get it.”  I will miss the opportunity to share my professional experiences with a generation of potential newcomers to government service.  And indeed, among my former students is one who holds a high position at the New York City Department of Planning and another who headed the city’s Department of Business Services.  I will also miss writing recommendations for graduate school, although my success rate with Admissions is below 50 percent.

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  • Mickey June 10, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    About retiring! Roz Warren wrote about her friends who are gadding about doing and doing and doing, bucket list?, and she says she’s happy reading and petting the cat. Thank you, Ann, for this lovely piece. Hugs from the Bad Girls of Nicole Hollander.

  • Roz Warren June 10, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve been thinking about when to retire myself, as have many of my friends.