Blow the Whistle

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This week I went above my supervisor’s head to the dean in charge of our department. It’s been a long time coming, and I’ve decided that I need to stand up for what’s right instead of continually trying to benefit from a system that is contributing to the demoralizing work environment for staff and the academic hoops for students. I am fed up with the inequity and decided that despite all I have to lose, I wasn’t going to stay silent.

I didn’t go into the meeting with it wanting to be a bitch or narc session, and I certainly don’t want to contribute to a culture of fear in the office, but I am tired of hearing directly from co-workers things like, “I don’t actually like teaching,” and “I don’t answer the phone, I let it go to voicemail and don’t call them back.” We’re in the business of social service, and if you don’t like teaching stop teaching for fuck’s sake. The decision to keep creating classes to make money is self-serving and disastrous for students when they can tell you don’t like what you’re doing. And I’m not saying I never have a bad day, because certainly that isn’t the case.

So I laid out some of my concerns, letting her know that I had gone to my supervisor multiple times, and that while I don’t know if anything will happen, I cannot stay silent. I care far too much. And if I get fired for outing the unethical practices in my department then it’s well worth it. I’d rather have my integrity than a paycheck. Some people may not be happy about my decision, but I don’t care. I’m no Erin Brokovich, but I can do my small part to not stay silent when injustice is happening.

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Career, Motherhood, Identity

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I applied for a new job this week. An academic/career counselor at a local technical college. Pros: $11,000 more money to start than I make currently, teaching 6 credits a quarter, counseling (rather than case-management), shorter commute, and tenure-track. Cons: working 5 days a week (I work 4 currently), 10 month contract (rather than 9 months), and not guaranteed with my ‘at risk youth’ population I do love so much.

I applied within 2 hours of noticing it had come open. After two years at  my current job I have yet to officially apply to anything (I’ve searched, plenty), and thought this was a really great fit. And yet, after disclosing to some friends that I applied, I noticed some mixed responses. There’s Mari and my co-worker Bethany, who thought it sounded amazing and like I should go for it. Then there’s my co-instructor, who seemed stricken at the thought of me possibly leaving because ‘this place would fall apart if one of us just left suddenly,’ my buddy Russ who laughed and said, ‘of course you’ll get it, you are magic and always say you never get it but you manage to, though will you stay for longer than 7 months?” And my friend Amelia, who I went to coffee with today, who said, “I thought you loved your job, why are you thinking of leaving? You’ve only been there two years. You’ve managed to commit to a husband, why do you move jobs so much?”

I sometimes wonder if this is an adoptee symptom, grass is always greener mixed with the idea that once you like something it might change or go south, so I bail before that happens. Maybe. Or maybe I’m stuck in a social worker heart with a business world mindset. Nobody in a business setting would think my approach to job searching as anything to be ashamed of. They would admire my ability to be strategic, gather skills at a job and keep my eyes on the horizon for the next thing to come up, and my ability to jump ship when it’s sinking, so I don’t go down in flames. I was at my first non-profit for 7 months, my crisis counseling job for 16 months (12 working, since 4 were on maternity leave,) and now I’m starting year 3 at my college instructor job. If this was a business world, they would admire my ability to achieve career trajectory in 4 years post-graduate school.

I really love my job currently, with the exception of a few things, like incompetent leadership that drives me crazy. I have aspirations and feel dumbed down by my department, though that could be fixed if my boss, or the good ol’ boys network, would give me the freedom to create some classes that would make the program better. And tenure. That would be good, too. This could all be general musing in a theoretical situation, since the job is only posted for ten days, which I’ve learned from my time in higher education usually means there’s an internal candidate that they want to promote.

I felt defensive after coffee today. I know my friend meant well, but it irked me. Since Boof and I are loosely talking about having another kid, she’s like “but you’d be spending your whole pay raise on childcare?” And I said, ” yes, but without that pay raise, I’d be taking a PAY CUT to have another kid and pay for childcare.” Facepalm. I wonder, too, if this wanting a new job is a way for me to postpone the thought of trying for another kid (though if I got it, I’d have more freedom in when I got pregnant, not bound by my program’s inability to get a teacher to cover my classes, and at the new place I could have a baby whenever).

And maybe my friend is wrong. Maybe I can commit, but I don’t want to spend my time dicking around dating when I can move on and find a ‘husband.’ Maybe if I settle in to a tenure track position doing what I want, I would dive in feet first and build a lifelong love at that institution. Maybe I’ve just been dating losers, even ones I’ve liked well enough. Ya know?

How do you handle career trajectory? Do you jump at a chance to change jobs? Do you fantasize about leaving your current job for something else? 

It’s just about asking question

Today Russ and I kvetched in my office about the nature of working in higher education. I think we both run up against the difficulty in ‘making’ people care about whatever subject we’re teaching. I get frustrated by seeing people in my office who are ‘nice’ but are not (at least on the surface), critical thinkers. They create classes that will pay them to teach, but don’t actually like the act or art of teaching. Because I live my life in perpetual angst around the BIG questions of life/love/existence I don’t understand how others can simply…get a paycheck.

In a few weeks I’m speaking at a conference on boundaries, asked by my friend Tabbi to share my ‘expertise’ with these foster youth on how to advocate for their personal needs. When writing my blurb for the conference brochure I had this horrifying thought….is my community college dumbing me down? I have hopes and goals and thoughts that get stifled in the awful bureaucracy that is community college. Perhaps I will always live in a sea of angst around the big ideas. I remembered, by writing about my life, what I’m actually capable of, and how I get sucked into idly pinning things onto pinterest to distract me from the utter frustrating tasks I’m asked to do in a program that is doing things very inefficiently.

It makes me think of two things…a) how is Ebola not spreading? I’ve seen the incompetence at the governmental agency of education, it’s totally not surprising that the one nurse called the CDC with concerns and they gave her the go-ahead to fly, even though she was actually contagious. There are super inefficiencies happening on every level of government and agency that I have worked at. And b) I ask a lot more questions than I have answers to.

This afternoon I went into a woman’s office, who teaches every quarter in addition to administrative salaried duties, even though she “hates teaching.” She does it for the paycheck, and should be removed from the position of instructor. And when I was telling her about how I raise current events in my class, she said something that I feel sheds profound light on what my angst is about. She asked, “what do you do if you don’t know the answer to one of their questions?” I was basically dumbfounded, mostly because I rarely have any answers to my students questions (in regards to the current events). What I do have is questions. And I acknowledge their questions. And I ask for feedback from their classmates. I help facilitate a discussion, a dialogue about what we know, what we don’t, what we’d like to know, and we often end in a messy unsolved way. The goal is critical thinking, not giving them answers to questions. She clearly felt uncomfortable with that answer. She clearly didn’t want students to ask her questions that she didn’t have the answer to. She clearly wanted things right or wrong or neatly packaged. And that is probably why she hates teaching. Because she feels like she has to do it all, and that’s really exhausting.

I don’t know if I’ll ever run out of questions. I think my asking questions is annoying to my own psyche, because answers aren’t readily available, and yet it’s this thing that keeps me alive.

Growing pains, boundaries, and those dreaded parents…

Um, it’s been a day. To say the least. My head is spinning and I need to just get it out so I can sleep well tonight. Because, whoa.

I knew it was coming, there’s been talks for MONTHS that our program was going to undergo some growing pains. We’re in the hiring process, which in higher ed takes fucking ever, and today was the first day of the quarter. So  my day was spent triaging academic emgergencies (i forgot my schedule! can you help me buy books? i want to change my major!). It’s so lovely to see all thsese students and I want to give each and every one of them this undivided in the moment attention. But it’s hard because I’m being torn in 47 other directions. Namely being charged with overhauling our current method of seeing students and going to a case management model. Thanks a lot legislature for forcing this upon us!

It’s really really going to be a good thing once we get the hang of it. 2 hours of mandatory face to face meeting with students on my caseload. I’m really excited to dig in with these students and meet their needs and see their growth. Really fucking excited. But it’s hard to explain this new program, and everyone is stressed, and students are dropping in to my office left and right like old times to simply try and get bus passes or a quick errand. With working 16-20 hours a week, being dumped with a caseload of 26 students, who I need to see for 2 hours each (resulting in 52 hours of face time, in roughly 60-80 hours of work time), it doesn’t leave much wiggle room for meeting the new state requirements.

And then, since it was the first day of class, I got to go down to the classroom (I normally only teach Tues/Thurs) to meet the students. They’re awkward and precious and totally the same as they alwayas are, despite always being a fresh batch. I love it. They don’t know when to laugh at my jokes. They appear frightened of the syllabus. They’re bored to tears with the discussion of classroom guidelines.

And then there was this mom, who stood in my doorway asking me questions, and as I began the process of clarifying what she needed me to do, she just kept saying “stop acting like I’m an idiot, I’m the customer here.” I just go so bewildered because I was asking clarifying questions so I didn’t give her the runaround. I was actively trying to access her information online so that I COULD help her, even though I don’t normally have those tech permissions, and after she said “I’m the customer!” for the third time I wanted to scream “NO YOU AREN’T, YOUR DAUGHTER IS GETTING $10,000 OF FREE EDUCATION AND BOOKS EVERY YEAR, YOU AREN’T A FUCKING CUSTOMER, YOU ARE A CHARITY CASE!” But I refrained, because yes she’s a customer, but if you go to a restaurant and start yelling at a server because they ask what you are there to order, that’s pretty shitty behavior. Also, it’s fucking college, why is this student’s mommy coming to ask a question? ANNOYING.

Overall I am super super excited about this quarter. I’m nervous, though, because I know I need to set strong boundaries with myself over what I will expect of myself in my advising days vs. teaching days, and I might end up being less experimental in my class when I know that certain assignments work, because all my office attention is focused on getting these students seen. But if I can project myself out 6 months I’m going to be in a very happy place!

On Starting Another Fall Quarter

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I have fond memories of Indian Summer in Seattle. The air is warm, the nights are beginning to cool and get shorter, and there’s the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new shoes all around. Fall feels like back to school, and it’s no wonder that this rhythm feels comforting to me. I love academia. I enjoyed my time in K-12 schooling, and certainly continued to enjoy my time in college and further on in graduate school. I enjoyed the school environment so much I got a job in Academia, and here I am, beginning my third year as a college instructor.

This quarter I had the privilege of teaching outside of my normal program, in a First Year Experience class with incoming freshman. It was so refreshing to teach my similar human development coursework to these bright eyed and bushy tailed incoming freshman. To create a mini community a week before classes start and see how they interact with the material. I loved it, even though I am exhausted from teaching 5 hours straight and then holding office hours. I remember that I’m an introvert.

And it makes me extremely pleased when students come up and ask me, ‘what class do you teach here? can I take it?’ Unfortunately I only teach classes in a program for students who’ve dropped out of high school, so they won’t be in one of my classes again. I guess it makes me think…is there something more for me? If these students wanted to take a class from me, what would it be? Would I like to someday teach Psychology 101, or English 101, or another course subject? And if I do want that, how do I go about getting there?

I forget how much I love teaching at this level.  I forget, when I’m in the overly frantic summer quarter off, trying to cram camping trips and house projects into my three months off, that I live for this academic school year rhythm. I am not sure that I would love it so much without the break, that it leaves room for me to come back in the Fall with an “Ah, yes, this is what I’m meant to do.”

But it leaves me thinking, pondering, reflecting, on where I am and where I want to go in the future. I know that this is right for me right now. I absolutely believe that. I think it’ll be right for me for a little bit more, at least, but then what? Where is this ship going?

A little less Hillary Swank, and a little more Khloe Kardashian

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notice the pearls…

I teach a community college class for 16-20 year old students who have dropped out of high school. This quarter my students comprised of:

A 17 year old recovering heroin addict.
A 19 year old who checked themself into the psych hospital for three days mid-quarter for suicidal thoughts that they hadn’t had since they were young and their dad hanged himself.
A 16 year old celebrating the year of life anniversary after recovering from an Oxy overdose in a suicide attempt.
A married girl who’s pregnant with her first child.
A few homeless students.
A student who was drugged and date raped at a party midquarter.
A student who narrowly escaped a juvy-life (until they are 21…so 4 years from now) sentence for a crime.

The list goes on, and on, and on. Each student with their own story. Their own life. Their own path to success and happiness.

And I got to witness it all.

In this line of work I come across people who have the mistaken impression that I am somehow saintly for doing “that kind of work,” with “those kind of students.” I’m no saint, believe me. And I think they have it wrong. Because, I don’t really teach these students. My goal, as an educator, is to provide a safe place where community and authenticity can happen. The students teach themselves. They inspire each other. They say, on our final presentation day, things like “before this I didn’t talk to peers, because highschool drama was just so intense, but you guys…you guys have become my family.”

Every quarter there are students who say they wish I could teach their classes forever. And I say that I don’t get funnier or better looking the next 10 weeks, and that they will be glad to move on. And I will be glad, in the first few weeks of the next quarter, to have them visit my class to let me know how they’re doing. They will fly on their own wings toward their own definition of success.

So what does this have to do with Hillary Swank? Or, if we want to go even more old-school, Michelle Pfieffer? These movies were ones I watched in school and thought, “I’m glad there are people who do that kind of work, but what are uppitty white women doing going into that kind of environment thinking they’re going to save the world?” I had ambitions to be an AP English teacher at a high school level. Graduate to the community college level. Then on to a prestigious university, perhaps, immersed in academia.

Maybe I left my pearl necklace at home on the first day of class JUST BECAUSE of watching Freedom Writers in college. Or maybe, somewhere along the way I got in touch with myself and that’s what my students can see. Maybe they notice the confused teenager longing for connection and understanding and a path toward success that lived inside me and informs my everyday actions with them. Maybe they notice that I don’t have to have it all figured out.

I have so far to go. But today one of my students, in her shoutout slide in her final presentation, said “Monk-Monk, I just want to let you know…I think you’re just like Khloe Kardashian.”

She meant it as a high compliment. And in reference to me saying that as an introvert I often come home and drink a glass of wine and watch The Kardashians on TV. I am their teacher, and Khloe Kardashian would play me in a movie. I kinda dig it.

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I wish you could all meet my students. Maybe someday you will. When they reach their goals of tattoo artist, trauma nurse, civil rights lawyer, software engineer, animal trainer, makeup artist. Their future shines so bright I’m gonna need shades to watch them soar into the sun.

My Empty Classroom

I’m sitting in my empty classroom on the last day of lecture. It’s lunchtime, and I am alone with my thoughts. Alone with the memories of the quarter. An hour ago the class was full of students, who, for the first time since I’ve taught this curriculum, made one big group to do the final reflection exercise. They pulled the chairs out and formed a big group, reflecting on the quarter, writing advice to the newbies to come in the Fall.

The community these students create is amazing.

And yet…

School is a scary place. I am so tired of current events where every other week I am bringing another school shooting up. This time last week it was at Seattle Pacific University, a place I interned as a counselor a few years ago. I sit in my empty classroom thankful that I can, unlike most of the classes here, lock the door and think…what would I do if it happened here?

I work with students on the edge of society. The misfits, dropouts, recovering heroin junkies, the students that many professors see as ‘throwaways.’ I love them all dearly. On our last day of class I tell them this. I tell them that I have never lost a student to suicide and that I care deeply about them and would be sad if they were not around to complete the program. I look them in the eye and tell them they are valuable and worthy and not throwaways.

I hope that I’m not just blowing smoke at them. That my words back up the actions I take throughout the quarter. I hope they can feel the love. I hope that they all succeed in their lifetime goals.

I hope than they embrace love and not violence.