Monday, September 19, 2011

Where I've been. And where I'm going. Maybe...

When I took on National Board Certification in 2007, I convinced myself that I was DONE with higher education. But true to the surprises of my recent years, I now find myself enrolled in the Masters in Secondary Education program at Whitworth University. And my first assignment: an autobiography.

It seemed simple enough but after 4 hours of trying just one more "new angle," I finally decided that sleep was more important than proving my writing abilities through my own autobiography. Still, I figure that if I was willing to share my bio with people who barely knew me, I should at least be willing to post it on my own blog. So here's what you might (or might not) want to know about me!
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“Whatever happened to predictability? The milk man, the paper boy, evening TV?” I loved the opening credits of Full House as a kid, and my family sang along every Friday night. Little did I know how that opening line would foreshadow the unpredictability of my carefully laid life plans! While raising me and my two younger sisters in Moses Lake, my parents invested regularly in the lives of our small community; they volunteered in my elementary school, coached girls’ softball teams and church volleyball teams, and led our church’s children’s musical programs. Naturally, I grew up with a love of school, sports, music, and helping others. I trained and competed in a variety of sports, art forms, and scholarship programs, and I spent as much time as I could volunteering across town, working in the church nursery, and teaching English to English language learners.

It seemed natural that I would attend a college whose motto is “An education of mind and heart” and that I would study music education and English! It seemed natural that I would eventually marry a musician with a similar upbringing. But along the way, these natural assumptions have taken on new meaning to me.


In college, a non-academic experience radically altered my view of self and of performance: Whitworth Jubilation. Until then, dance had been my ultimate team sport! Joining Jubilation challenged me to express my faith as I danced, and expressing my faith has never been easy for me. In my small town and conservative Christian home, I had often found it hard to admit when I struggled with faith or with my spiritual walk, but in Jubilation, the music and the prayer time showed me that struggle is part of the human experience, and it gave me a way to explore my challenges and to celebrate my successes. I also began to teach dance classes and lead the student board. I learned a lot about my leadership style, my physical abilities, and my passion for dance and teaching.


In my junior year, I realized that my confidence was growing more in dance and in English education than it was in music education. The following year I became engaged. To my surprise, marrying a small town rock star keyboard player didn’t mesh well with my classical college training and so music slipped farther down my list of passions. While teaching dance and English, I found it was easier to arrange teaching strategies that reached my students, and easier to know if I’d been effective in my role as an educator. So I should not have been surprised that after I graduated, I was offered an English position at Shadle Park High School. I eagerly accepted the job, grateful to have a teaching position so fresh out of college.


My learning curve was steep, often working in my classroom until 8:00 or 9:00PM to finish grading the homework, designing the right activities, or calling students’ parents with concerns or compliments, and I often finished the odds and ends at home around midnight. Then I dragged myself out of bed at 5:00AM to assist with Shadle’s dance team. I told my friends, family, and husband that my schedule would improve as I became more skilled. Surely teaching wouldn’t always be so demanding!


Soon enough, I found my rewards! In 2005, I was offered the position of Shadle’s dance coach; in 2007, I was offered a class alongside our veteran senior Advanced Placement teacher, and that same school year I completed my National Board Certification. I felt honored that I was trusted to lead our dancers and AP students, and since only 37% of National Boards candidates certify on their first try, I felt as if I had finally earned my place among the more experienced, Masters-certified teachers in my department. I also began mentoring university education students during their student teaching practicum. I saw that by mentoring future teaches, I can have a greater impact on tomorrow's generation: instead of influencing only my students, I can impact the classes of all the teachers I mentor! I loved teaching about teaching! But again, these opportunities led to even more late nights.  
A colleague finally convinced me garner classroom results by “teaching smarter, not harder” and so I now try to maximize my planning and teaching time whenever possible.


However, it seems that our ever-changing student population will take up as much time and compassion as I can give. I’ve realized that part of my calling in life is to love people with grace and patience that many of today’s students don’t otherwise experience, and to do that while “teaching smarter,” I have chosen to work with fewer students. Between 2008 and 2011, I downsized my dance team by 50%; in fall of 2009, I resigned one English class from my contract; in fall of 2010 I released another two classes. The decisions have been difficult, accompanied by mixed responses from my colleagues and a few stress-related health issues, but I am happy to now adjust my career goals to better support my students and my personal life. I believe I am more effective—as a teacher, a family member and a friend—when I have fewer students to care for.


Again, I am grateful that I have begun to reap rewards. Partly as a result of these changes, our dancers set two new school records at State in 2011, including a 5th place ranking in the jazz category. Also in spring of 2011, my AP students scored higher on the AP exam than any of my previous classes, and they ranked above the national average in all seven evaluation categories! I’ve also been blessed with several adjunct classes at Whitworth in subjects that inspire me: Musical Theatre Dance, Jazz Dance, and Theatre Across the Curriculum. These classes have rejuvenated me, providing me with smaller class sizes, less nightly homework to grade, and no parent phone calls to make!


It might seem counterproductive to enroll in a Master’s program when I’m trying to reduce my quantity and enhance my quality of life but I don’t believe this will drain me; it will fill me with inspiration and energy! Perhaps this is the beginning of a new path, or perhaps it’s just a lovely detour that will deepen my passion for teaching me and equip me to teach smarter in the future. I have already seen my passions shift and change several times in the last 10 years and I look forward to seeing how they will grow as a result of this new academic challenge!