High for sure, but Low? Really?

In college, I went to see a movie with a friend.  The Story of Us starred Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer, and was mostly unremarkable, except that it gave me and my friend, Halbe, a short-hand way to check in with each other.The Story of Us  Over the course of the next years, I would run by her room, answer a phone call from her or see her on campus and one would say to the other “High, Low?”  In other words, what was the high of your day and what was the low?

I like checking in about the day with my loved ones.  My parents had a hectic schedule when I was growing up, but always wanted to know about my day.  And on Friday night, we would recap the week.  My husband and I check in with each other by ourselves and, then, with our children.  When my daughter gets in the car after school, I ask what she did, what she enjoyed, who she had fun with.  When I chat with Halbe, even now, we look for a run down of the goings-on in life.  But, I often ask about challenges in addition to the successes- with all my loved ones.  I am interested not only in the good, but, also in the frustrating, the challenges and the problems.  Why?  It sounds a little messed up…

After much didactic and practical experience in graduate school, we were finally tasked with writing a statement of professional philosophy.  After reviewing all the theories we had studied, broken down and talked about, I chose a relatively simple one to focus my philosophy around.  Nebit Sanford wrote about challenge and support.  Simply put, he wrote that if we can provide challenge and support in an appropriate balance for the student and situation we will facilitate development in that student.  In fact, he posits that challenges, given varying levels of support, will result in different developmental trajectories.  Sanford’s theory was my focus because of its truth and simplicity, but also, because of how fully I felt connected to this theory personally.  I, therefore, rely on it in my professional life, but have come to use it in my personal life.

through highs and lows...we've had some great moments

through highs and lows…we’ve had some great moments

So, lest you think that my life is just one big lab rat situation…it isn’t.  I am intentional, especially in my parenting, in trying to provide support to my children to match the challenge they are facing.  But, to me, and apparently to the writers of The Story of Us, the lows in our days also provide a goal for tomorrow.  What Halbe and I did in college, checking in about the best and most frustrating of our days, made me more mindful about challenges in general.  Were they often similar?  What could I do to change or fix the situation?  AND what could I do to support Halbe with her frustrations?

Wearing our babies in Central Park

I recently told Halbe about this post and shared with her that I ask Nina about her highs and lows…it turns out, she does the same with her daughter!  Not only does that give me warm fuzzies, but it also makes me hopeful for our daughters.  I’m hopeful that both our daughters will grow up understanding that the great in the day is great, but challenge is a part of life, and so is problem-solving through them.

Just jump

Years ago, prior to teaching, I worked as a student affairs professional. You ask, “What is a student affairs professional?” Basically, everyone who isn’t a professor or administrative support at a college or university is a “student affairs professional”. Coaches, academic advisors, residence hall staff, student life advisors, and on and on. My goal as a member of this profession was simple- support and challenge college students through programming, leadership, individual conversations and group events. I loved it, but towards the end, I was frustrated. I felt unsupported by my boss. I felt frustrated with the limitations of my job as it was being described to me. I wasn’t doing what I wanted. It was a nuanced decision with a lot of mitigating circumstances, but one day, after many days, weeks and months of emotional days, anger, tears and angst (sounds dramatic, huh)…I just quit. No safety net. I just jumped.

My husband was relieved. My dad was concerned (Understatement). My brother and sister-in-law were supportive. My friends were of the mixed nut variety. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that none of it mattered because I felt free.

I needed to figure out the next step. It took some months and a few failed ideas before I ended up falling into teaching. The truth is, I started freaking out that I had screwed up. I was happy, but happiness doesn’t bring home the bacon. I began stalking college jobs sites and found an open teaching position in the Developmental Studies Department at a local community college. The requirements were vague, so I applied- what could it hurt? After a few interviews, I was hired. I began that first semester teaching Study Skills and Developmental Reading.

I was scared shitless. I had teaching experience, public speaking experience, and experience with the content comprising my course. But I had not been an actual “teacher” before. I walked into that first classroom with a whole family of Monarch butterflies in my stomach. And I loved it. I loved every minute of it. Sure- there are moments, there are students, there are days that are frustrating. But I love teaching. Spending the time getting to know my students and utilizing my student affairs training to encourage more than just academic development in my classroom has been incredibly fulfilling.

Fast-forward 6 years later and I’m still teaching. I have transitioned between subjects and institutions, but the passion remains. I strive for lessons that transcend the modern student’s desire to check Twitter or get to the next level of Bejeweled. I struggle (within confines of my young family) to carve out time to grade all of the papers, discussion boards, quizzes and in-class reflections. Even with all the headaches and challenges, I love it. I have a ball. And I’m good at it! It feels amazing to love what you do and feel confident about it.

As if the universe conspired in how I was reflecting on my work this past week, I received my student evaluations from last semester yesterday.  This warm fuzzy is going directly into the rainy day folder…

I would like to say that Professor Stowens is one of the best teachers I have ever had. She encompasses all that an educator should possess as an effective teacher. She is not only very knowledgable in her field, she expresses that knowledge in a way that gets through to her students with her passion, humor and desire to educate about these very important topics of society. My hopes are that WU values her employment.”   -student

Then, because the universe has a sense of humor…came this one:

She gives dumb tests and keeps us for the whole class [period].”     – other student

…so, there’s work to be done. I love this job.

It’s not you, it’s us.

We are breaking up with our daughter’s preschool. And the thing is, it’s not anything they did. In fact, they are amazing. They love and respect children. They have intentional activities supported by theory and experience. They communicate often with the children and talk to them like humans. They believe that children can do for themselves.

But we have to break up with them because we’re moving. We will be too far away to keep driving to this school. My husband and I found a wonderful school for our daughter to move to. During the tour of the new school, she jumped right in and started participating. She looked like she belonged. She told us she liked it. It is, by every metric, a wonderful school and we are excited for the next steps. And still, I feel sad. I’m sad to leave this place that has cared for and taught my daughter during her first year of school.

A friend suggested that I write a thank you note to the school and her teachers- she suggested it might help assuage my sadness….

Dear Ms. Debbie, Ms. Sarah, Ms. Kelly, Ms. Rachel, Ms. Jen, Ms. Ellen, and the countless student teachers:

Thank you for holding my daughter’s hand after I left on her first day.

Thank you for holding my hand after the door closed and she happily started to play.

Thank you for encouraging our whole family to get involved with the school community.

Thank you for paying attention and having opportunities that appeal to my daughters’ interests.

Thank you for not yelling, not getting mad, but encouraging my daughter and her friends to resolve their problems.

Thank you for letting sheep come to school and keeping him safe.

Thank you for encouraging my daughter to get messy and then clean up.

Thank you for singing funny songs and dancing even if you look silly.

Thank you for writing me updates every day to keep me in the loop.

Thank you for asking me to volunteer in the classroom.

Thank you for the parties, parades, and events.

Thank you for exposing my daughter to people, traditions, and ideas different from her family.

Thank you for helping my daughter start to learn empathy.

Thank you for caring about intentional teaching and letting kids be kids in equal measure.

Thank you for reading book after book after book without tiring.

Thank you for getting down on the floor and playing with the kids.

Thank you for all the care, support, and interest you have given to our family. We will miss you, but we take with us the lessons you taught our daughter and our family. We are so grateful. It means the world.

love, Sarah