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