Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Getting Back (or trying to get back) in the Saddle Again

Well, I knew these first few weeks of teaching, starting school, and Connor starting a new school were going to be tough, and it looks like I wasn’t wrong.  This past week has perfectly illustrated that point.  Day 1: not bad, considering it consisted mostly of a meeting, me bustling around getting decals, IDs, books, figuring out where I was going to park my car so I don’t get towed or fined, finding my classrooms, making sure my syllabi printed correctly (two typos on one—argh!), figuring out the new printer and new copier.  But, all of that worked out, just the stress (and standing out in the sun waiting to get a decal and ID) gave me a migraine for my very first face-to-face class, leaving me to gobble Ibuprofen, down coffee, and sniff my Young Living M-Grain oil until it dulled enough for me to coherently speak to a group of expectant faces about what to expect of me and my class.  Luckily enough, the Ibuprofen, coffee, and M-Grain came through and I made it through my first couple of classes.  My second went even better—I planned a good lesson consisting of watching a couple of small videos, a writing prompt and group work, and discussion—I the same for this class as I was the previous day, so I didn’t sweat it.  I probably should have.  Class started well enough (not that it can really go wrong taking roll and explaining changes to the schedule, I guess).  But then, as the students got started working on their writing assignment, I started to boot up the computer and find the videos I wanted to show, only . . . nothing was happening.  Despite continuously pressing the power button and checking the plug-ins and mentally cursing the machine, I was consistently met with a blank screen.  Nothing.  Nada.  I checked the controls.  They were locked behind a screen, but they looked on and working.  Little lights were on, anyway.  Okay.  The kids finished their work, I put them into their groups to discuss their prompts while I tried a little longer.  Ten minutes later the kids had moved on from discussing their work to chitchatting and I was no closer to booting up that machine than I was to winning the Pulitzer Prize.  Okay, so this is why I went into English instead of Computer Science.  Well, I had to accept the fact that my lesson was NOT going to go as planned.  I wouldn’t be able to show them the videos I had worked over an hour to find—and was proud of myself for finding—and started up the class discussion.  Needless to say, the trip and distraction that technology gave me that morning led to a stumble in my discussion and though it may not have been as bad as I think it was, I still verbally felt like Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show, trying as best I could to find my footing while I stumbled all over creation.  I wasn’t as articulate and didn’t say some of the things I was proud of saying the day before because my mind had gotten distracted and tripped.  I felt like I’d let my students down.  Plus, I was greeted with bored looks and someone so eloquently saying “This sucks,” when I handed out the first essay assignment.  At least it ended well, with students signing up for conferences for their essay, and I determined from my department head what to do when technology fails me once again.  So, back in a positive frame of mind, I re-learned what I can and should do and I was ready for the next part of the day.  I picked up the kids, only to be told at our next stop not once, but twice, by two different people, that parking was prohibited where I'd tried to park.  Okay, now normally this would not bother me--everyone makes simple mistakes.  I smiled, apologized twice, and said I would remember that for future reference but internally, I couldn’t believe I’d made yet another error.  So, after a little stress-cry that I kept from the kids, I felt a little clearer and knew that it wasn’t just one thing, but multiple things that had added up.  I’ve taken on a lot in a short amount of time, and the things I’ve taken on are not easy and require a lot of time and energy.  And also, I’m at the beginning—in new places, with new people, new rules, and a new schedule (and new technology).  That can be daunting.  The terrain is unfamiliar right now—I don’t always see the bumps or cracks in the road, so hitting a few are inevitable.  And I will probably hit a few more, but that’s okay.  The longer I travel this new road, the more familiar and comfortable I will become.  I’ll learn (I hope!).

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"While you see a chance, take it"

I’ve been away for a while (okay, a long while), and with reason.  I’ve been working on two new books, both of which I am super excited about, but I’ve also been spending a lot of time in my own thoughts.

I’ve been thinking for a long time that it’s past time for a change professionally.  I’m leaving the library I have invested twelve years of working in, taking an offer from my alma mater to teach part time and going back to school to work on Early Childhood Education Certification.  Having spent the past several years largely teaching online, getting back in front of the classroom will be a change and a challenge for sure.  But it’s something I’ve trained to do, something I worked two and half years on a Master’s Degree so I could do.  I can’t let that degree sit on the proverbial shelf anymore, especially when there is a possibility that teaching Creative Writing is in the near future—a dream class for an author such as myself.  And not to mention, I have the opportunity to work with the professor who inspired me to go into English and reignited my love of writing fiction. 
Now why would I think about going back to school to teach little kids while teaching college at the same time???  Good question.  About a year ago my husband and I were asked to substitute teach my daughter’s Sunday School class.  I was nervous, no doubt.  But I was surprised at how much fun I had, despite the hard work.  And it was that way every time I left class.  I even volunteered to teach my son’s preschool Sunday School class.  One day, a little boy came to class distraught and crying for a reason we didn’t know.  Normally, I freeze when confronted with that type of emotion, but not that day.  Somehow, I naturally went over, talked to him, gave him a hug, and before I knew it, he was joining in with the rest of the class.  Mark even complimented me on what a good job I had done.  I don’t know if it was having kids of my own that helped me in that situation, but whatever the case, I was happy knowing I helped that little boy smile and enjoy class time.  I was happy after class that day, the same as I was after substituting for each of their classes.  I’d always loved helping my kids with their homework—seeing them actually identify a circle from a square, distinguish their favorite color, carefully trace letters until they can write their names.  It never occurred to me that that was something I could do for a living.  Doing crafts, telling stories, seeing bright little smiles light up with enthusiasm with the work they accomplished taught me that teaching those little children is something I was initially volunteered to do, but it was also something I learned that I wanted to do, too. 

And life is much too short to not do something that you want to do.  I’m not getting any younger, and neither are Connor and Lydia.  They deserve, like all kids do, to grow up with a good education, a good home, and this path I’ve chosen will certainly help provide them with those. 

This wasn’t a decision I came to lightly.  I have been working at the same place, in the same position, for twelve years.  I have made friends and was comfortable—maybe a little too comfortable.  The work wasn’t challenging anymore.  I didn’t take pleasure or pride in the same day-to-day routines.   I didn’t feel like I fit in as well as I used to and that some relationships had just unfortunately waned.  I became depressed and unfulfilled by my work.  I listened to promises of promotions that I later realized were empty.  I know a lot of people go through the same exact things with their jobs and that I should be grateful to have had a job and I was.  I just wasn’t sure I was where I needed to be. 
And then that’s when it happened.  I met with a lovely woman at USC-Upstate who offered me a chance to go back and do what I realized I’d always wanted to do in the first place.  She gave me a few days to think it over, which didn’t seem like much time, but that ended up being good.  It forced me to magnify the decision then and there and really look at what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  So, I did, and it was amazing how clear everything started to become the more I thought about it.  I took the chance she gave me and did something I should have done a long time ago, which was to end one chapter so I could begin another in my life.  I know it will be challenging, but it will certainly awaken a spirit in me that has been asleep for a while.

If I may, I think Steve Winwood put it quite well: 

Stand up in a clear blue morning 
Until you see 
What can be
Alone in a cold day dawning, 
Are you still free? 
Can you be?

And that old gray wind is blowing
And there's nothing left worth knowing
And it's time you should be going
While you see a chance, take it . . . Because it's all on you.