A Change

It is August and I am no longer an employee of Wichita State University. Eleven years ago, I thought I would remain on that campus until the day of retirement, complete with the obligatory reception and WSU Today announcement. But, the time came for me to change paths and follow a dream. And, what a path it has been. I made it through eight weeks of graduate school, taking three classes for a total of eight credit hours while working full-time through July 14. Not to mention, my final two months at WSU were my busiest as I helped transition the outgoing and incoming residents, coordinated the dental career day for high school students, prepared for my departure, and trained two individuals in some of the aspects of my job. Whew.

In what seems like eons ago, I was recently married, helping to raise two boys and working full-time when I earned my bachelor’s degree. When I earned my master’s degree I was learning a new full time job on campus, still happily married, but with a teenager at home. I guess I figured eight weeks of classes with it just being me, my husband, a boxador and cat would be a breeze. Either I had repressed a lot of memories from those earlier pursuits or I just was not prepared mentally or physically for multiple late nights, a rendezvous at midnight with a 19-page human development theory paper, and lost weekends with poster board presentations and classroom management studies. I’ve yet to return to a normal sleep pattern.

But, I made it through the eight weeks and have spent the last three days preparing my classroom. Let me type this one more time…my classroom. On Monday, after I unlocked the door and snapped on the lights, I set down my tote bags and box on the dusty desk and just looked around at the empty canvas around me. The aged, eggshell painted brick walls stared back at me, not quite welcoming, more like they were too tired to care. As always, I have to settle in and get organized. I always need to create my space when I begin a new job, only instead of just my space I had an entire room to inhabit. I always begin by cleaning. There’s something therapeutic in wiping away the dust of previous tenants and scrubbing away the residue of the past, plus it helps me get to know every desk drawer, every bookshelf, and every cupboard. All becomes familiar and hopeful under the careful swipe of my sponge or dust rag. The previous tenant did not share my penchant for alphabetized order and concise configuration, so I have spent two full days lining up, counting and taking inventory of books, creating space for curriculum guides and study materials, and straightening and tying up bundles of computer and Ethernet cables. Other than the lives of thirteen spiders I had to end, it’s been a satisfying getting-to-know-you week. Oh, and don’t worry about the spiders. I razed their condominium of stacked papers, old notebooks, even older Christmas gift bags, a few desk-sized American flags, broken keyboards, a deflated volleyball, and about a million photocopied study guides from 1996 that had become their tri-level home in what is now an empty cabinet.

I soon will embark on reorganizing the first shelves and cupboards at the entrance of the door, then focus on classroom set up and adding some life to the walls. Rest assured, my “Steps to a Great Essay,” “Examples of Figurative Language,” “Punctuation Saves Lives,” and “Reading Strategies” posters are en route. And, if I can organize the desks and tables strategically, I may have room for a throw rug and a few bean bag chairs for a reading area. I have plenty of windows and wonderful natural lighting, so I may have to try my hand at a few plants, although I’m leaning more toward artificial since I’ve not inherited so much as a green thumbnail. Oh, and let’s not forget my ode to WSU corner along with my Wichita flag, and sunflower artwork which has already found its place in the sunny corner behind my desk.

Once the space is finished I can set my brain to task creating lesson plans and classroom guidelines or as I like to call them Classroom Habits. Get it? Habits? Catholic School? I must be tired. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The reason I’ve made it this far is because I’ve remained focused on the task at hand, whether it be a quiz regarding behavioral psychology, my Farewell Tour of WSU, or reawakening an empty classroom. I’ve forced myself to be present in the current moment, the current day, the current mission. If I had for one minute thought ahead to actually handing over my keys, carrying my boxes out to the car and driving away from WSU or standing in front of my students on the very first day of school…well, let’s not go there. Change is rejuvenating, but change is hard. Scary hard. I’ll take it one step, one breath, one shelf, one desk, one motivational poster, one class period, and one day at a time.

 

 

 

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Swing Sets, Fear and Faith

As a child, I used to love to swing as high as I could, my butt rising slightly from the warm, rubbery sling, the view beyond my dirty Keds alternating between speckled sand and blue sky. And then, as if on a dare, I’d let go of the grimy chains and fling my birdlike body into the summer breeze. For a moment, a very quick moment, I could feel myself suspended, hanging in the air like a lone seed from a cottonwood tree seeking a Kansas wind. It was in that millisecond I felt exhilaration and fear. Would I land securely in the divots of the sand or had I misjudged, ankle-breaking myself on the concrete. The fall was even quicker, pushing my tummy upwards toward my rapidly beating heart as I searched the ground and focused on keeping my appendages from windmilling me into certain death or at the very least, a mouthful of playground.

That is what I am feeling at this moment, exhilaration combined with fear. I’m changing my career path. I’ve just been accepted into the Transition to Teaching (T2T) program at Wichita State University, an alternative licensure program which will allow me to be a classroom teacher of record while earning my Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT). I’m leaving a secure position with Wichita State University to pursue a long ago dream to be a teacher and mentor. Some call it brave, while others call it crazy. Either way, I’ve set my feet on this path, a path I’d once stood briefly but was obliged to walk another, and while my inner being soars knowing I’m finally taking this step, I am scared.

I’ve never been one to allow my age to deter me from anything, but I am aware most people are etching out their retirement years, not jumping their career ship at the age of 51. But, I’ve never considered myself “most people,” so that’s not what is frightening about this change. And, I’m a nerd at heart, so the idea of taking classes and having homework makes me giddy, so rule out returning to school as a reason for any fear. Is it the swift drop in salary? A little. I confess we’ve grown accustom to eating out more than once a week or buying those concert tickets on a whim, but we were also much happier and more relaxed before my higher-paying, stress-inducing current job. So, what is causing this fear?

Rustiness. I have this haunting fear of being the Tin Man of teachers. It’s been ten years since I earned my graduate degree in English-creative writing and while I continue to write, it’s obvious some of the basics have gone by the wayside. I find myself over and under-punctuating or having to look up grammar rules I once knew like the proverbial back of my hand. As a blogger, grammar has not been at the forefront of my posts, as I’ve focused on thought and ideas, but not if I used too many complex sentences or overused sentence fragments. I picture myself standing at the head of a classroom, frozen in grammar and language rust. But, I do know one thing, I have heart. Lots of heart.

When I began graduate school in 2006, my goal was to teach. I applied and accepted a graduate teaching assistantship (GTA) with my sights set on completing my thesis (my short story collection) and securing a teaching position in higher education. But, life is far from easy and an obstacle was thrown in my path when my husband lost his job after the “new” manager decided his salary was too high, plus wanted to move his inexperienced son into the business. With a mortgage and two boys at home, we would’ve starved on my $9,000 a year stipend. I was fortunate to be offered a full-time position with the WSU Foundation, an opportunity I am so grateful because it opened the door to a ten-year career with my alma mater. But, I never forgot about teaching and whenever a moment arose to mentor or advise young people, I took that moment. From coordinating dental career day with high school students to faculty/staff advising for the Pre-Dental Student Association at WSU, and especially one-on-one mentoring with my student workers, I relish those times when I can advise, encourage or just listen.

I researched the T2T program more than a year ago, but it was shortly after the new year I decided it was time. We decided it was time. I know my husband has harbored guilt for altering my course those many years ago, although it was no fault of his own, and has been encouraging me to take the jump, to let go the grimy chains and fly. No words can express how it feels to know the person you share your life is willing to jump from the swing with you and from the same heights.

And so, it begins. My new journey down an old, somewhat familiar path, one I thought was overgrown with the native grasses of missed opportunity and littered with should’ves and could’ves is now beckoning. I’ll hold tight my compass of faith, find my focus point, and imagine what landing lies ahead. I can almost feel the sand beneath my feet.

woman jumping from swing

(I’ve been unable to find the owner/photographer of this image to properly give credit)