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.