Friday, May 10, 2013

Does This Mean I'm Really Smart?

Done. Finished. Never again. My husband says he'll believe it when he sees it, but for now it is most certainly true. How's that for a good Lutheran phrase?

What is done you ask? My Master's degree. As of today, I am officially done. I'm not walking at the graduation ceremonies next week, and that is ok. My parents, in-laws, and husband all drove out to Nebraska 11 years ago to help me celebrate the completion of my Bachelor's degree. With a busy life as a wife, mother, and teacher, I don't have the time to spend several more hours celebrating the completion of my graduate work. Instead, I'm just going to celebrate by writing about it, and maybe finding a time to hang out with my M.A. English peeps one last time.

I knew in my first year of teaching that I needed to go back to school to get my Master's degree in English. After spending four and a half years in undergrad studying English, history, and education, I really thought I knew everything I needed to know to be a successful English teacher. Within months of teaching I was certain that I didn't know everything. In fact, there were days I felt like I didn't know anything. I was a first year teacher teaching four different English classes to four different levels of students. I was teaching material I had never studied before. The knowledge I graduated with was insufficient. It wasn't the fault of my school and my professors. There was just SO MUCH MATERIAL OUT THERE. So many books to read, so much scholarship to study, and not enough time to do it in the time allotted for an undergraduate program.

I was going to have my Master's before I turned 30. Instead, I'm going to have my Master's before I turn 34. I guess that's not bad. Life happens. I was busy being a first year teacher, then directing and teaching, then having a baby. I never seemed to have the time. I needed to go back to school to make myself a better teacher, but I had so much going on as a teacher that going back to school would have stretched me too thin.

I never made much of a secret about the fact that I didn't want to move three years ago, and it's been a dizzying roller coaster the last three years, but when we were trying to decide what was going to be best for our family and I didn't get the job that I interviewed for, it turned out that it was best for me to go back to grad school. Looking back now, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. We signed the papers on our house on a Friday, we started tearing out everything and cleaning as soon as we moved in, and the following Monday I started my first grad class at IPFW. It was a whirlwind, but by the next fall I was taking two classes, teaching two classes, and I got to spend two extra days a week with my daughter. It was crazy. I was incredibly busy, but I loved what I was doing. As life continued to happen, our son was born, I started teaching high school part time, and continued my TA position through the busiest and most sleep deprived year of my career, but it got me closer to the end. This year things calmed down a little with working full time at ONE place and "only" taking one class a semester, but it was still enough to bring me near tears on a couple occasions.

But it was worth it. I have learned so much in the last three years as a student, TA, high school teacher going to school at the same time, and wife and mother trying to balance it all. This only begins to scratch the surface.
  • Grading papers on the computer may take longer than the traditional paper and pen method, but I am a much more thorough grader and way more effective when I do so. It benefits my students more too.
  • Amy Tan is amazing and a freaking genius. I LOVE her. I wish I had discovered her earlier in my life.
  • Fight Club was a book before it was a movie. Getting Edward Norton out of my head while I was reading the book was nearly impossible. It doesn't help that I'm pretty much in love with the actor Edward Norton.
  • I'm not a huge fan of literary criticism. Seriously, who cares about Russian Formalism, New Criticism, Structuralism, and Deconstruction? Thinking that way ruins a book. I felt the need to apologize to any and every student who I made over analyze novels during the first eight years of my teaching career.
  • I belong in a high school classroom. After starting to consider a PhD my first semester of grad school, my second full semester taught me that my heart really belonged in high school. Every paper I wrote, ever article I read, ever class discussion I participated in convinced me that while I enjoyed teaching college students, I wanted back into high school. I wanted to be a part of preparing them for higher education, and for the first time in my career I started to truly understand what that meant. Teaching at the college level and being around college instructors and professors on a regular basis finally showed me what I needed to focus on as a high school teacher, and I was eager to get back into the daily grind of the high school classroom.
  • Due dates are stressful. Ok, so every student who has ever gone to school knows this, but as a student and a teacher at the same time, I truly understood this for the first time. I could empathize with my students because I was going through the same thing. Didn't change much about how I dealt with giving due dates, but it taught me the value of being flexible when the situation warrants it.
  • I don't like Moby Dick. I don't think I liked anything about Moby Dick. And no, I did not finish it.
  • Mark Twain was a freaking genius. I'm not just saying that because I love Huck Finn and I've taught it almost every year of my teaching career. I'm saying that because it is true. He was a freaking genius. One of the hardest and best classes of my graduate career was a seminar on Mark Twain. His satire is flawless and much of what he wrote about politics is still true today. My paper on Tom, Huck, and the way he uses Tom and Huck to criticize 19th century organized religion is still one of the best papers I have ever written, and one of my favorites. It also started to reform the way I view religious education of my own children.
  • Students need to be good readers to be good writers. Sounds like a duh statement, but we don't spend nearly enough time teaching high school and college students how to read. We assume that because they graduated from eighth grade they are capable of digging into their reading and getting something out of it. We shouldn't assume. We should never assume.
  • AR is the spawn of the Devil. There, I have publicly said it. I always believed it. I was always sure it was true. I did a study to prove it. I really need to redo the surveys so I can get that thing published.
  • There is a reason behind my students' most common grammatical and mechanical mistakes. Learning about the history of the English language (again) made me much more understanding of my students' mistakes, and even a little more forgiving. It doesn't mean I give them a free pass, but I do try to be more willing to work with them as opposed to blasting them for making some of those mistakes now. I also now know what to say to students when they ask me what makes a word "bad."
  • Chris Crutcher is a YA literature genius. Love his work. He captures the adolescent male mind in ways that no other author currently does.
  • Speak = perfection.
  • Apparently I can write fiction. And now I have the "free" time to do it without a grade.
There, those are some of the many lessons learned over the last three years and I am a much better teacher for it. So much so that I wish I could have a do-over on the first eight years of my teaching career, but the reality is that those first eight years also shaped the teacher that I am today. For the first time I feel like I can actually be a master teacher. I was ok, there were even times when I was good, but now I feel like I have the knowledge to be great, which will benefit my students, my school, and me. It's been a hard three years. My family has suffered with me. But it is done, finished, and now I can move on to being the teacher I was always meant to be.

Finally, I need to thank my husband, my partner, my best friend. Without his support, starting with that very first IPFW class when he had to race home after work three nights a week so that he could watch our daughter while I went to class, this would have never happened. It hasn't always been easy, especially when I was working against several deadlines at one time, but he never let me quit and he never let me feel like this process was a mistake.  I love you!

1 comment:

  1. Amen to your analysis of the book Speak. Amazing. No other word!

    Congrats on your degree. It is hard work and it feels wonderfully good to be done!

    Anna (Hasty) Maschke