A workplace where people are kind – too much to ask for?

I’ve written about my bittersweet leaving of Longwood – but not about my new adventure in education.   Too busy working, I guess.  And the wound was raw last fall – in ways I didn’t realize until I landed in a new teaching job and found myself looking over my shoulder, reminiscent of a war vet with PTSD.  It was as if I was waiting for an IED to blow, for someone to knock my legs out from under me the way my Longwood colleagues did.

But secondary education is not higher education.   People are kinder to each other in secondary education.  I don’t know why, but I’ve worked for two universities and four high schools and it holds true throughout my work experience.

Maybe I do know why – in secondary education, teachers teach.  Almost all day, five days a week.  K-12 teachers log hours and hours with students, relentless, in-the-trenches.  It’s demanding work, work not well-respected or remunerated in our culture.  There are very few professors from American universities who could hang with the pace of preparation, face-time teaching, and feedback/assessment that effective high school teachers pull off.

University professors aren’t generally rewarded for being skilled teachers.  They are rewarded for doing other things well – but the effective teaching of undergraduates is not why they are hired or promoted.

I think this is the reason American higher education is destined to implode, probably in the near future unless this country deals with unsustainable student debt and undergraduates who wake up to find that their ordinary degrees don’t get them anywhere they want to be.

Kevin Carey overstates his case in The End of College, but some of his points make sense.  Especially that students have to plan for where they want to go.  It’s no longer good enough to simply get a degree and know that meaningful and relatively well-paid work is going to be waiting for you.  A college degree is not a ticket anywhere if you don’t use the time earning it well.

Which is what I told students at Longwood, and some of them disliked me for it.  But better to tell them the truth while they could still do something about it. I do think I helped a few prepare themselves for meaningful careers in communications.  One thing I know how to do is teach.

Unfortunately, universities aren’t especially interested in hiring effective teachers.  They want young scholars who will publish and make them look good.  I wasn’t young enough, and I wasn’t a man.  Despite what was said when they hired me, and no matter how hard I had worked for them and how effective I’d been teaching students, I wasn’t who they wanted around for the long haul.  Sucker punch.

But here’s the good news – and perhaps what the forces of the universe had in mind anyway.  I landed in Chesterfield County, teaching at their largest high school, and I feel valued there. I’m paid better, I have some job security and excellent benefits, my commute is less than half what it was to Longwood – really a better situation all around.  I like my students, I like what I’ve been asked to teach and the way they’ve asked me to teach it, and I like and respect most of the people I work with.

This year, they’ve asked me to take over the school’s journalism program and help students produce a digital-first student newspaper.  It’s going to be great – a digital-first web-based publication with a quarterly news magazine.  I’m excited by the possibilities.  Why not create one of the best high school journalism programs in the country?  Why not at Thomas Dale?

Sometimes people ask if I miss teaching college?  And sometimes I do.  But mostly I feel grateful to have found a teaching home.  A place where I can settle in and do my best without looking over my shoulder, a place to take some risks to see what works, pick myself up if I fail, a place where people are basically kind to one another.

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Friday Zen

close-up of a dragonfly from May 2013
A dragonfly – taken at last year’s RFM spring retreat, Memorial Day weekend at the Clearing in Amelia County, Virginia .

We spend a portion of each summer near my parents’ home on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. We’re next to a swamp … a freshwater seep that drains into the creek … one that provides water for frogs and dragonflies and birds. At dusk, we can sit on the back deck and watch hundreds of dragonflies feeding, aerial acrobats feasting on mosquitoes and gnats. A bit later, the frogs start to sing.

It’s a sweet spot, a small farmhouse in a soybean field just a short walk from my childhood home. How much longer will the frogs sing?  My heart breaks when I  think about climate change, about what we’ve done with fossil fuels, about a world without frogs.

But for now – isn’t this creature exquisite?

May I live as long as my grandmother … or maybe not?

This is my grandmother, on a good day! Today she turns 97 years old – in the assisted living center where she has lived for the past 10 or more years. She’s outlived two husbands, a son, and many friends. Isn’t she beautiful?

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Mom says she has many bad days now. I guess it is possible to live too long, to bury too many friends and loved ones.

I’m definitely not ready for the “great adventure” that death might be, but by the time I’m 97 – I might be ready to see what’s next.

May today be a good day for my much-loved grandmother on her 97th birthday!

I can see the forest, but it’s a blur!

You know that moment when you’re riding a roller coaster and you’re poised at the top of the first rise for split second before the coaster releases and barrels forward?

Everest roller coaster, Walt Disney World, November 2009

Click, click, click … those few seconds of anticipation …  excitement and terror threaded together.

I know I’m not going to die, but as I slam through the turns, I feel like I might.

That’s the way I feel right now,  a few days away from the start of the fall semester.

The job search is over.  I accepted a position teaching communications full-time at Longwood University.     This fall, I’m teaching multiple sections of Public Speaking and Media & Society.

Meanwhile, my dissertation has been revised twice and is  ready to go to the full committee, with a defense planned for this fall.

It looks like I might graduate in December.

Oh yeah, and the ESVHS & I were awarded a second grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to continue collecting farm life interviews for the Eastern Shore Stories project.

There’s more, but I’m breathless.

Wheeeeee … here I go !

Does this mean if I look behind me I’ll see the forest now?  I think the answer is yes, but the trees are a blur ’cause I’m moving too fast.

on being plugged in … how much is too much?

This seems important for my dissertation research, as well as my eventual teaching in media studies. Turkle argues that we need to ask ourselves if an obsessive use of social media technologies is taking humanity to a place we’ll want to inhabit.

In my research, I’ve broadened the question to include other forms of technology, like bioengineering and the use of chemicals in agriculture. What if our trust in technology is taking us someplace we don’t want to be? Seems true for farming. For a sense of community and local economies. For freedom and privacy. For civil discourse. For happiness.

Definitely an issue worth talking about. A conversation, perhaps over a meal … with everyone listening and no one texting.

I do think that most people try to strike a balance and unplug themselves occasionally … at least in our sleepy southern city of Richmond. Or maybe I just run with a more contemplative crowd – a crowd that likes to unplug, that dislikes the tether of instant communication. Seems like people I know are asking these questions. I don’t think I know anyone who sleeps with a cell phone … wonder if Turkle’s research took her outside the urban Northeast corridor?

A Documentary Film about Big-Wave Surfer Sarah Gerhardt

Found this when I was prepping for class tomorrow … on The Kitchen Sisters (audio producers) website.   They’ve included the trailer and some explanatory text as part of their Hidden World of Girls series … although I can’t find an audio piece on this that they’ve produced.

Kitchen Sisters: “We were recently turned onto the film, One Winter Story, by filmmakers Sally Lundberg and Elizabeth Pepin about the big-wave surfer Sarah Gerhardt.”   I can see why – the imagery in this enchanting clip is breathtaking – it was shot in b&w 8 & 16mm film, which gives these shots of big waves and surfing a poignancy that might be missing otherwise.   A surfing movie without blue water?  Or the sound of waves?   I don’t miss either in this trailer.

More about the film & filmmakers: on the Water Front website

Looks like they’ve made quite a few girl surfer movies … or maybe they just sell what’s out there on their website.   I thought about my surfer-girl niece – the one who’s a senior in high school and who’s trying to figure out which college will offer her the closest or best place to surf.

Home Page for The Hidden World of Girls: Girls and the Women They Become

on limits and happiness

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor, studies happiness.

What he’s found is that our frontal lobes give us the ability to “manufacture happiness” … so – what makes someone unhappy is how they think about their circumstances, NOT the circumstances they finds themselves in. Hmmm – so that saying, attitude is everything, from that hokey motivational poster on the high school classroom wall is on to something. I’m still not convinced … but his talk on TED Talks is persuasive.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Here’s the New York Times piece I found first:
“What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous”
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