theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the tag “education”

My Children May Not Be “Gifted” but They are Truly Gifts. I am so okay with that.

Yesterday, while waiting for an oil change at my car dealership I overheard a cell phone conversation between the mom of a second grader and her school’s principal. The mom was inquiring as to why her daughter, who is “very, very smart”, was not asked to be part of the Advanced Academic Program (AAP) which starts in 3rd grade.  After all, the mom said multiple times, her daughter is very, very smart.

The mom was quite worked up on the phone.  The standardized test (that all second graders are required to take), she said, did not accurately represent her daughter’s abilities- and now- because of this test, she was going to miss out on this important opportunity. I couldn’t hear what the principal was saying in response, but I didn’t envy her position.  My father, a former teacher and elementary school administrator, told me that he used to find himself on the receiving end of these phone calls quite often and that they were never fun.

On the other hand, to some degree, I can emphasize with the mom.  It is possible that she is right about her very, very smart daughter.  Standardized test scores do not tell the whole story.  I know several kids who did not score high enough to automatically place into the AAP program but were encouraged by their teachers to go and have done very well.

We live in a very competitive area and there is far more emphasis placed on the AAP program (mostly by a select group of very vocal parents and their very vocal children) than there needs to be.  I have been pulled aside in the school hallways and been the recipient of phone calls from moms that I would call acquaintances so they can ask what my children scored on the test, and what percentile they placed in.   Several times, I have had parents approach me assuming (for whatever reason) that my children had been accepted and wanting to know if I was going to send them.  There is definitely a perceived association of higher status among some parents whose children are part of the AAP program.

You can tell who those parents-mostly moms- are fairly easily because they are the ones that find a way to work into every conversation you have with them that their child is gifted.  They are the ones who wear their child’s test score like a designer purse.  What’s the point in owning a designer purse if people never see it hanging from your arm?  This small, but loud, group of moms need for everyone to know their child is among the smartest.

I, myself, finally found a way to answer these moms when they pry about my own child’s (above average but not gifted) test scores.  I say that my daughter did very well and that we are very proud of her.  This true statement tends to leave the mom not knowing quite what to say next because I have not given them the specific answer they are looking for and they still lack the information they need to compare my child to theirs- which is really what they want to do, anyway.

Early this week, a boy stood up in my daughter’s second grade class and shared that he was going into the AAP program (which due to space issues is at a neighboring school) for third grade next year.  Other kids joined in that they were also going, because (in their words) they are “smart.”  The teacher, shut down the conversation without discussion saying that she was sure their parents did not want them discussing this.  It was inevitable that some kids ended up going home and inquiring to their parents if they were not “smart” because they were not invited into the AAP program.

Honestly, I’ve heard worse.  A few years back there was a mom at our school who told her son he was going into third and a half grade because of how advanced he was.  The son shared that little gem with everyone at the bus stop.  I’ve also heard of parents who have kids in the AAP program who they say are miserable because of how much work they are expected to do.  It’s her son’s own fault for being unhappy, one of these moms was heard saying, he is simply too lazy.

My children are smart.  I don’t need for them to take standardized tests for me to know this.  I think there was a point where I cared about the test scores and what other people thought about them.  That changed when I really took the time to think about all the reasons my very bright children would not benefit from a more competitive, faster paced, homework intensive academic experience, even if it was filled with all sorts of enriching opportunities that they might not get at their current school.  My children would be miserable.  That is more than enough reason for me to not worry about what other kids are doing or how their test scores compared.  After all, if I have no intention of sending them even if they score high enough, then who cares how they score.

I am also well aware that my children’s level of education, success, and happiness that will be achieved in the future are in no way related to whether or not they participate in the AAP program in elementary school (or even middle or high school for that matter).

In fact, while I do tell my kids that they are smart, I don’t spend a lot of time harping on it.  I emphasize how hard they work; how kind they are; how much joy they bring to our family; how privileged I am to be their mom.  I want them to do well in school but I never want them to define themselves by the grades they receive or the scores they get on some standardized test.  I wanted to tell the mom at the car dealership not to worry so much- that her very, very smart daughter was going to be just fine without the AAP program.  Maybe she is even better off without it.

It’s Not About You

To my daughter’s teacher,

I was very upset after our meeting yesterday.  I tried not to show it because I don’t want to undermine your authority in front of my daughter, but I was, and remain, very upset.  This is the third time I have come to you this year sharing with you that my eleven year old daughter, who struggles with anxiety and depression, is not getting the emotional support she needs in your classroom.  It is the third time I have come to you and it is the third time I have been met with defensiveness, excuses, and what feels like a complete lack of empathy on your part.

When I say my daughter needs more emotional support it means I need you to provide an environment that is nurturing and safe.  An environment in which she does not feel judged or punished for behavior that is often outside of her control.  My daughter has an emotional disability.  She will sometimes have outbursts, tantrums, or cry when she is feeling frustrated.  She may stamp her feet or exhibit other behaviors that seem inappropriate for a sixth grader.  Yesterday, at our meeting I watched you firmly point your finger into the table and tell her that stamping her feet in your classroom is not okay.  That her behavior is not appropriate for a sixth grader.  Your response did not feel safe or nurturing. It felt punitive.

My daughter is not a typical sixth grader.  Her brain works differently than that of a typical sixth grader.  Why do you think it is realistic to to expect her to act like a typical sixth grader.  My daughter is bright and capable but often lacks the emotional maturity to take a step back from her anxiety and frustration to choose an appropriate behavior to deal with those feelings.  Perhaps, in your role as teacher, instead of slamming your finger into the table and telling her how inappropriate her behavior is, you could instead validate that she is feeling anxious and frustrated and help guide her to a more appropriate response.  You say that my daughter knows the resources that are available to her and only has to ask to be able to use them.  I am telling you that she sometimes lacks the capacity to ask and needs additional support and help to find her way.

I feel like we would not be having this conversation if my child had a physical disability like the student you had last year who was visually impaired.  I’m sure you had to make some adjustments to the way you taught and presented material to compensate for the student not being able to see.  I’m sure you didn’t call that student up to the front of the class and ask her to point out the blue line indicating the Mississippi River on a U.S. map.  I’m guessing you made adjustments to your expectations and had no problems modifying assignments for that student so that her disability could be accommodated.  I am guessing that if her parents came to you frustrated about something that had happened during their daughter’s school day that you didn’t tell them that you have 22 other kids in your class to worry about like you repeatedly told me at our meeting yesterday.

My daughter’s disability is not that different from a physical disability.  Her disability sometimes requires that you provide additional support, flexibility, and modification of assignments or a change in your teaching or disciplinary style to meet her needs.  She is not trying to be difficult or get away with not doing work.  She is easily overwhelmed and has trouble asking for what she needs so while she learns how to do that I’m asking you to meet her part way and proactively provide her with a little more structure and support even when it’s not obvious to you that she’s struggling because sometimes her disability is invisible.

You said it’s hard for you to not take it personally when my daughter announces as she approaches the classroom in the morning that she does not want to shake your hand, as you ask each student to do each day.  I’m asking you to try to not take it personally.  It’s not about you.  It is about what my daughter needs to do to feel like she has some control over her day.

I watched you argue back and forth with my daughter yesterday about how many feet she was from your classroom door when she said she didn’t want to shake your hand.  Why does it matter?  Is it so important for you to be right? What I am trying to help you understand is that my child is trying to advocate for herself and tell you that she is uncomfortable shaking your hand.  She is still learning the most appropriate way to do that and you have an opportunity to help her with that goal.  Arguing with her about whether or not she yelled it from ten feet down the hallway or at the classroom door does not move her forward in that area.

I keep coming back to my daughter needing to feel more emotionally supported in your classroom.  Here’s what she really needs from you.  She needs for you to wake up tomorrow morning and imagine what it would feel like to start your day feeling completely terrified that something awful is going to happen to your wife and baby while you are at work.  Imagine that you believed in your heart of hearts that in order for them to be safe you had to stay home but because you have to provide for your family, staying home is not an option.  Imagine that it takes so much energy and courage every morning just to get in your car and drive to work that by the time you get there you are completely exhausted on top of still being terrified.  Now imagine that you go to one of your colleagues and confide in them how you are feeling and your colleague tells you that you are not acting like a teacher should act and that you need to just pull it together which makes you feel even worse.  Imagine that at some point during the day you sneak a minute to call your wife because you need to feel reassured that she is okay.  Imagine that people tell you that if you just tried harder you could stop these behaviors. Imagine that you just don’t know how you will make it through another minute of feeling this way.  Imagine that this is only a small part of the anxiety you feel every day.

Now imagine you have to handle all of this emotional turmoil as an eleven year old who does not have the emotional maturity to deal with all of these feelings, even on medication.  How would you want your teacher to talk to you if you were my daughter?  Would you want your teacher to pound his finger into the table and tell you that you are not acting like a normal eleven year old?  My daughter is not a “normal” eleven year old and that’s what we need  you to understand.  She needs you to be empathetic and kind and to help provide the structure and guidance she needs on the days that she simply cannot get there herself.

I know your job is hard.  I know you have 23 students who all require your attention.  I know that you cannot stop everything and only focus on my child.  I am not asking you to do that.  I am asking you to think about the words you use when you speak to her because she is using those words to judge whether or not you are a safe person for her.  I am asking you to put yourself in her shoes and imagine how you would want your teacher to respond to you.  I am asking you to put your ego aside, let your defenses down and consider how you can best support my child.  It’s not about you.

Defining Success when it Comes to our Children

Kids around the country are headed back to school and it won’t be long before they bring home their first graded assignment or progress report.  As a parent, it is difficult to not to set expectations or benchmarks for our children to reach in school.  We all want our kids to do well, work hard, and be successful.   Sometimes though, I worry about the things that parents say to their children when they don’t meet the goals or expectations we have set for them.

This past June, the mom of a 5th grader at my daughters’ school told me she was disappointed in her daughter for receiving a “low” math grade.  On a grading scale from 1 to 4 with 4 being the highest, her daughter had received a 3.  I asked the mom why she was disappointed and she answered that because math was her daughter’s best subject she expected her to get 4’s.  On top of that, upon seeing the report card, she said to her daughter, “I’m not mad at you, but I am disappointed in you.”

This is not the first parent I have heard say this to their child and it makes me cringe every time.   Sometimes it is about grades, sometimes it is about sports or something else that their child is involved with.  The comment might take the form of, “if my child had just put a little more effort into what they were doing, they could have made varsity.”  I want to ask these parents, how exactly has your child disappointed you?  Is it because it was enough for your child to be having fun and enjoying the experience of playing on a team without feeling the need to be the best?  By not immediately understanding the material that was presented to them in class?  By not putting 100% of their effort into everything they do every single day?   Because they are not perfect?

In my opinion, we send our kids a very dangerous message when we tell them that by not meeting our expectations of them that they have disappointed us.  We may think that we are motivating them to do better or pushing them to reach their “full” potential.  I fear that instead we are telling them that our being NOT disappointed in them is dependent on them reaching expectations that are fully unrealistic.  That their worth is dependent on us being able to brag to our neighbor at the bus stop that our child received the highest of grades.  That our love for them is in any way conditional.  I don’t want my children to feel that just because they are good at something it means that they have to be perfect at it.

Through these comments we also teach them that it is not enough to learn for learning’s sake-  That playing just because it is fun is not reason enough.  

I think that as parents we need to ask ourselves-  What kind of child am I trying to raise?  Is it my goal to raise a child who always gets A’s in the subject areas she is strongest in?  A child who makes the travel soccer team?   A child who needs to be constantly striving for perfection?  A child who is doing things only to please her parents?

This summer, my daughter signed up for a drawing class.  By the third class in she had decided that she really wasn’t enjoying it.  At all.  There were only three classes remaining.  I thought about telling her that she had to stick it out because she shouldn’t be a quitter, that she should finish what she started, that she had made a commitment and she should always honor her commitments.  I felt disappointed that the class hadn’t worked out because I had hoped it would be a really positive experience for her.  But on the car ride home, when she asked me if I was mad at her or disappointed in her that she had dropped out of the class I told her no.  I told her I was proud of her.  I was proud of her for trying something new and then recognizing that it was not a good fit.  I was proud of her for vocalizing that she wanted to remove herself from an environment that was not positive for her.  This was not a failed art class.  This was a successful setting of boundaries- of not being willing to be unhappy simply for the sake of feeling like she had to do her best.

How many of us stick with things that make us miserable because we feel like we have a responsibility to do so.  How many of us stay at jobs that we hate longer than we should; in relationships that are unhealthy because we made a commitment.  How many of us wish that we had the courage to just walk away from things in our life that our making us unhappy.  

There are plenty of things that we have no control over.  Obviously, my kids have to go to school.  I want them to do well.  But more than I want them to do well, I want them to be happy.  I want them to not spend time worrying about whether or not they are disappointing me but to take notice of the things they are really interested in so they can discover what they feel passionate about.  It’s entirely possible that what they like the best will not be what they get the highest grades in and I don’t want them to believe for one second that they cannot pursue passions because they have not met certain standards or that they have to excel in an area simply because it comes easily to them.  

I want my children to set their own goals and choose their own definition of success.  My goal for them is only that they be happy and well adjusted.  I want them to feel loved unconditionally and to know that the grades they receive on a test or a report card are in no way a definition of who they are as a person.  I want them to be proud of themselves based on the expectations and goals that they set for themselves- not because they have met a standard I have set for them.

Maybe what we need is a little less tolerance and a little more empathy…

When I was in high school, my mother took me to see ‘Dancing With Wolves.’  As the theatre lights dimmed and the opening credits appeared on the screen my mother (who had pre-screened the film) leaned in towards me and whispered, “Don’t get too attached to the horse.”

I have always been one of those sensitive souls who seems to feel the pain, joy, sadness, and frustration of others, whether they are a real person, or a fictional animal.  I cannot watch Dumbo without crying because I am imagining that I am the mommy elephant being separated from her baby.  When I saw Monster’s Inc., I really felt the fear of a small child who is afraid of the monsters in her closet.  Despite my overdeveloped sense of empathy (which is at once my best and worst quality), I feel that in general, there is a lack of empathy in this country, which is impeding our ability to move beyond rhetoric and unite as Americans.

It’s important to not confuse empathy with sympathy.  There seem to be a lot of folks out there who ‘feel badly’ for the situations other folks are dealing with.  Sympathy can be a good thing, don’t get me wrong.  Feeling sympathy allows us to feel compassion for others and can lead us to show mercy or extend a helping hand to a person in need.

Empathy goes a step further.  When we feel empathy, we vicariously experience the feelings and thoughts of another.  Through empathy, we can put ourselves in another set of shoes and allow ourselves to step outside our own reality and experience the reality of another individual.  The reason that empathy is so important, in my opinion, is that it allows us to let go of bias and judgement and see a person or an issue from a multi-faceted and broader standpoint.  When we think about an issue or a person from a broader standpoint, we gain a broader understanding of that issue or person.  A broader, more complex understanding of an issue or person, allows for more variables, and requires us to think more deeply (even if it makes us feel uncomfortable for a little while).  Thinking deeply is what opens ourselves up to deeper levels of learning, understanding, humanity, and puts us in a place where we can we can talk about our differences without feeling threatened by them, and potentially come up with some solutions.

I have heard people say that empathy is something we either have or we don’t.  That it cannot be learned.  It does seem to come more naturally to some than to others.  My older daughter, despite being extremely sensitive and emotional when it comes to her own feelings, has tremendous difficulty putting herself in someone else’s shoes, while my younger daughter who is more stoic about showing her own emotions, constantly surprises me by her vicarious responses to the emotions of others.

Whether or not empathy is learned or something we are born with a natural acclivity for, trying to better understand where individuals are coming from- especially individuals with whom we disagree on things- is an area where we can all strive for improvement.

We hear a lot in the media these days about tolerance.  It seems that there is always somebody writing or speaking about the need to be “tolerant” of each other’s differences.  When I hear somebody asking me to “tolerate” somebody else, it really rings of being asked to “humor” them.  We tolerate (or don’t tolerate) behavior from toddlers and puppies, and other entities that just don’t know any better.  Showing “tolerance” doesn’t seem to move us any closer to understanding each other.  Nor does it seem to bring us any closer to creative solutions to difficult issues.

I would rather see people trying to empathize with each other- put ourselves in each other’s shoes, imagine ourselves being raised by each other’s families, with each other’s values.  Think about how our own individual histories and stories have brought us all to the place we are today.  We are products of our life experiences and we all have value and validity.  We are never going to look at the world in exactly the same way.  But if we can expand the way we look at the world, and think about issues in a less dualistic way then it gives us a lot more room to search for common ground and work together to find solutions to the problems that affect us all.

 

Be Brave

I was a few days into Resident Assistant training before the start of my junior year of college when my Residence Hall Director, Sam,  pulled me aside.  My father had just had a heart attack, was in the hospital and I needed to call my mom to make arrangements to fly home to New York.  As I left Sam’s office that day, visibly shaken, he offered these parting words- Be brave.  I have always remembered those words though I don’t think I fully understood at the time why they were so appropriate and important.

Last night, during Shabbat services at my synagogue, I was struck by a line in the prayer for healing the sick.  The prayer says, “May the Source of strength who blessed the ones before us help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.”  While I was singing these words I was also remembering Sam’s advice from 1994 and contemplating the role that courage plays in our lives.  Why is it is so important to have courage?

After giving it some thought, here’s what I have come up with:

Courage is important because it allows us to experience the best parts of life.  Courage allows us to give our hearts fully and experience love even if it ends in heartbreak.  It allows us to give 100% to a situation even if we think we might fail.  Courage helps us to share our stories and make ourselves vulnerable even when we fear judgement or embarassment.  It helps us take on new challenges and think about things in a new way even if it makes us feel uncomfortable at first.  Being brave aids us in reaching out to those in need despite our fears of rejection or concerns that we are not saying exactly the right thing.  It gives us the strength to make a change when it’s easier to maintain the status quo.  We need courage to stand up for what we believe and speak out in the face of injustice.  Without courage we could not rise above adversity and make our dreams a reality.

My husband and I have spent a considerable amount of time this past year helping our daughter overcome some fears and anxieties of her own.  Her psychologist, who has been invaluable in this process, offered us this little morsel of wisdom- There will always be situations in our lives that cause us to feel anxious or fearful.  However, these feelings do not have to dictate our behavior.

For me, this is key.  It is not about living a life that is devoid of fear- such a life does not exist in my opinion.  But if we let those feelings dictate our behaviors, actions, and decisions we will never know what we are actually capapble of both in terms of our own personal achievements and what we can do to affect change in our communities.

Acting with courage is hard.  (If it came easy we probably would not think to pray for it.)  When I look at the choice between living a fear based life that will hold me back from achieving my goals, or living courageously and taking (small) steps every day towards self actualization, to me the choice is clear.  It’s clear, but it’s not easy.  It’s a conscious choice that has to be made every day.  I’m not always good at it, and sometimes it feels uncomfortable at first, but I very rarely regret making a courageous choice.  I am much more likely to regret having not done something because fear has held me back.  Sometimes, even when I act with courage, I still make mistakes. Mistakes are teachable moments.   The next time that opportunity arises I’ll be better prepared to handle it.

When I live courageously, I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.  I feel connected to my inner self, my family,and my community.  I feel like I am getting what I need to feel fulfilled, and that I am also able to give back- be a better family member, friend, and neighbor.  When I don’t let fear hold me back I truly do feel that my life is a blessing.

There are plenty of things to be afraid of in life.  Fear of failure, heartbreak, embarassment, discomfort,injury, illness, rejection, and change (just to name a few) can hold us back from living the life we were meant to live.  What is fear keeping you from doing?  How do you choose to live a courageous life?

Part 2B: How I ended up following in my parents footsteps and pursuing a career in education, despite having a fool proof plan to go to law school and blah blah blah

This entry is a continuation of two other entries.  If you have not read the other entries, you can find them here:

http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-1O

http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-2P

Stepping Outside the Box

To say that I had stepped outside my comfort zone upon my arrival to the small college in Southeast Kentucky that would be my home for four months would be a gross understatement.  I had come from an urban campus of 5,000 undergraduates- 25% of whom were Jewish and many of whom were from Long Island.  I now found myself on a rural campus of about 800 undergraduates, presumably the only Jew for 200 miles.

My home campus had co-ed dorms and some co-ed bathrooms, 24 hour visitation, and while technically a dry campus, there was plenty of drinking going on behind closed doors.  The college at which the Appalachian Semester Program was based was located in a dry county, with an all female and an all male dorm.  There were strict visitation hours and if someone of the opposite sex was in your room, the door had to remain open and a 60 watt light bulb had to be turned on at all time.  (Under those conditions, I think the only thing turned on was the light bulb, which was probably the point.)

There were 12 of us participating in the Appalachian Semester Program (ASP) that semester from schools throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Mid-West.  Some of us felt more at home than others.  Despite feeling like a fish out of water, I did the best I could to gain as much as I could from this semester long, once in a formal education experience.

And what an experience it was.  Under the tutelage of our trusty professor who doubled as our tour guide, we explored Appalachia (in a 12 passenger van) from corner to corner.  We traveled North to Cincinnati for a conference on Urban Appalachia.  We ventured South to Knoxville, TN and visited the Highlander Center, Great Smokey Mountain National Park, and the TVA Dam.

In Southeastern KY, our group visited a coal mine, a snake handling church, community organizations, farms, schools, and local festivals.  We even crashed (sort of) a family reunion and were welcomed with open arms by our hosts.  I learned to quilt, weave, and log roll.  I even took a clog dancing class.  I could write an entire book covering all of the amazing places we saw, and the fascinating people we met.  It was the ultimate in experiential education.

The experience that had the greatest impact on me was my internship.  We had the choice of several internship sites.  My roommate (a social work major at her regular school) interned with the local social services office and got to accompany social workers on home visits.  Another in my cohort shadowed a mid-wife as she provided prenatal care, and performed home deliveries back in “the hollers.”

The internship that caught my interest (much to my own surprise) was being a classroom helper in a 2-3 grade combined classroom at the local, public elementary school.  We had visited the school one day to hear the father of a girl in that classroom talk about his experience as a coal miner.  In addition to describing his job, he talked about the difference between the unionized and non-unionized coal mines; the importance of health insurance (since so many coal miners have respiratory issues at some point); and getting caught in a mine collapse that he was lucky to be rescued from.  He talked about his hopes for his daughter’s future – that he wanted her to have the choice to go to college and be able to make her own decisions about what she wanted to be when she grew up.

We also spent some time that day interacting with the kids, some of whom came from extremely poor and underprivileged families.  They were a curious, energetic bunch, and couldn’t get enough of the attention that we were dishing out.  Maybe it was their hopeful, innocent faces.  Maybe it was their need for extra resources and hands in the classroom.  I’m not sure what it was, precisely.  All I knew was that despite not really feeling all that drawn to children in the past, and despite having no interest in pursuing a career in education those kids had stolen my heart.  I was where I needed to be.

I still think about those kids (who must now be in their early to mid twenties).  I think about Joe, the little boy who I tutored in math, who was just so grateful for the one on one time.  I think about Heather, one of five siblings who were living in separate foster homes.  A couple in Oklahoma had agreed to adopt all five kids and then, for reasons I am unaware of, backed out at the list minute leaving Heather and her siblings devastated.

I remember one little girl who got sick during the school day and had to lay on a cot in the back of the room because her house had no phone and there was no way to let her parents know she was ill.  I remember a couple of the 2nd and 3rd grade girls becoming Aunts that year, because their 14-year-old sisters had just had babies.  I remember Hannah, the daughter of the coal miner, who wrote me a letter after I’d gone, telling me she had named her puppy after me.

Mostly, I remember their teacher, Linda, who was doing an amazing job (with limited resources) of giving these kids a chance to choose their own destinies.  She told me that many of the kids would never leave the state, or possibly even the county and she wanted them to understand that “Kentucky is not the center of the universe.”  She wanted them to be proud of where they were from, but also be aware of the wonders that the world had to offer.  Linda’s classroom was filled with books that provided her students a window to the world.  She felt strongly that for a child to have a chance to change their circumstances, they needed to see that other options existed.

Linda taught me as much as she taught those kids.  I learned that if Kentucky was not the center of the universe, than neither was New York or DC or even the United States as a whole.  I was also learning that a career in education and a career in justice were more closely linked than I had ever thought- that how a system of education is implemented has the ability to level the playing field, propel kids ahead, or leave them in the dust.

Through the ASP, I was witnessing an America that I had only read about in the newspaper and text books.  I was seeing the impact of poverty on education and geographical access to various kind of resources in Kentucky, but knew that these are issues that are prevalent throughout the U.S.  I was learning that book learning is helpful, but there is no substitute for learning through experience.  I had come into this “domestic study program” after three years of college thinking I had at least some answers but found I really had no answers at all, only questions.

This left me wiser in some ways, but I was in no way closer to deciding what I wanted to do with my life.  I still didn’t want to be a teacher.  Honestly, after spending so much time with those kids, I didn’t think my heart could take the emotional toll of getting so attached to so many children.  But I do understand better now why so many of my friends have become teachers, and have come to truly respect the impact they have on so many young lives.

Before I left Kentucky, I went to talk to the Career Services director at the school I was visiting.  She helped me to isolate the values that I wanted to focus on in my career.  I was originally attracted to a career in the field of justice because I have always felt that people should be held accountable for their actions and behaviors.  What I loved best about my Resident Assistant position back at AU was the one on one counseling I got to do, and planning programs that introduced students to new ideas or made them think outside the box.  And I knew that taking myself out of my own comfort zone had raised my level of awareness, and consciousness about the world around me, even if I had sometimes felt a little uncomfortable in the process.

The Career Services Director told me about her graduate degree in College Student Personnel Services.  She liked working with college students because they were old enough to be able to articulate what they wanted or believed, but they also flexible enough to consider new ideas.  College students are learning about being accountable for their decisions and behavior, and many of them find themselves outside of their comfort zone when they leave home for the first time to pursue their degree. She thought it would be a good fit for me too and encouraged me to look into some programs.

I started my own research and the following fall found myself enrolled in the Higher Education Administration Masters program at Michigan State University, which led to my first professional job as a Residence Hall Director (I could write a book about that experience too), and then six great years as an Academic Adviser.  So I ended up working in education after all – higher education.  I even taught a couple of college classes, though teaching is definitely not my passion.  Ironically, the ultimate teaching job, parenthood, has taken me out of the work force for a little while, but I hope, that once I return I can jump back in to my career in higher education.

My time in Appalachia combined with my Graduate School studies helped me to define the values and belief system by which I choose to live my life. For the three of you out there that want to hear about that belief system, you are in luck!  In Part 3 (the final installment of this blog topic, I promise) find out why we are really not all that different from each other,  why we are all a little like those little Russian nesting dolls, and why grown ups should play more truth and dare.

Part 2A: How I ended up following in my parents footsteps and pursuing a career in education despite my foolproof plan to go to law school and eventually become a judge.

 

 

In sitting down to write Part 2 of ‘The Story of how I WAS NOT going to follow in my parents footsteps by pursuing a career in education, and instead go to law school to eventually become a judge’ I realized that this is a longer story than I had originally anticipated.  So, I have divided Part 2 into two parts.  If you have not read Part 1, I would recommend reading that first. http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-1O

Part 2A- The Journey Begins…

I didn’t last very long at the job at the law library.  The would-be ‘moon colonizer’ turned into a bit of a stalker and I ended up calling a friend or a Public Safety officer to walk me home on more than one occasion.  I had also become a little self-conscious about my “good for carrying babies” hips.  Surely, I had better things to do with my Friday nights.

For example, I had a whole new career path to map out (Okay, so maybe I wasn’t doing that on Friday nights, per say.).  I had come to American University to major in American Studies, in order to pursue a career in the American legal system.  (Just call me your all American girl.)  Now I was second guessing at least one part of that equation.  What to do?

You may not believe me but employers are not fighting over American Studies graduates.  Most of the folks that I know who majored in American Studies became teachers or went on to graduate school (most often law school).  Despite this, I did not want to change my major.  Perhaps to make up for the poor job prospects after graduation, American Studies majors got to take really cool classes.  While my friends were taking Microeconomics, World Politics, and Statistics, I was taking:

  • Contemporary American Culture – Television (my final paper was about ‘The Animaniacs.’)
  • Food & Culture (In this class we sampled everything from bagels and lox to kimchi)
  • American Decades- The 1980’s (One of our assignments was to visit two shopping malls- one geared towards higher income shoppers and one geared towards lower income shoppers and compare and contrast.)

I also took a class called “Southern Traditions”.  We spent part of the class talking about Appalachia (particularly Kentucky, Tennessee, and Western North Carolina) – a region for which I had no first-hand knowledge.  I had never even been to “the South” (I was pretty sure that vacations to Disney World did not count.)  It occurred to me while taking this class that I actually had very little first-hand knowledge of any U.S. region outside the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic where I had grown up.

Between my fairly liberal NY upbringing, and my AU student experience, I thought I had seen just about everything.  My residence hall had a co-ed bathroom on our all girls floor as to not inconvenience overnight guests of the opposite sex , on its best day our “dry” campus was pretty damp, and my constitutional law professor walked into class one day and opened his lecture by saying, “While I was driving into campus today, I was thinking about pornography.”  (He was thinking about it as it relates to freedom of speech, but still.)

There were all kinds of policies governing student behavior on the books at AU, but for the most part, I would say that students preferred to govern themselves (or let anarchy prevail).  Through my RA job I gained insight into the hidden talents of my fellow classmates such as closet “gardening”, chemical explosives, reptile care, misappropriation of University funds, and home improvement (i.e. how to remove ceiling tiles in order to hide various (prohibited) items in the ceiling.).

So while I was not leading a totally sheltered life, I did realize, through my class work, that I had not seen as much as I thought I had.  Some of my friends were studying abroad  as part of their International Studies major.  What I needed was a domestic study program that would let me go beyond the text books and class lectures and really experience another part of America.  But did such a thing exist?

With help from my faculty advisor, I discovered ‘The Appalachian Semester Program’- a domestic study program at a small college in Southeastern Kentucky.  Program participants lived on campus and took classes in sociology, economics, and political science all pertaining to the Appalachian region.  Each student also participated in a local internship, and chose a research topic to pursue while there.  I got permission to use the Appalachian Semester program credits toward graduation and made plans to spend the first semester of my senior year away from everything and everyone I knew.

So what happens when a nice Jewish girl from Long Island, NY finds herself in rural, conservative, Southeastern Kentucky?  Stay tuned for Part 2B and find out how The Appalachian Semester program raised my level of consciousness, expanded my world view,  and (finally) led me to follow in my parents footsteps and pursue a career in the field of education (not to mention learn to quilt, weave, clog dance, and log roll).

Post Navigation