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Cabin Fever

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It had been snowing non-stop here since Sunday night and it finally let up this morning. This weather caused me a lot of anxiety and a few firsts, all related. My first time in the ditch on the side of the highway, resulting in my first 911 call ever. (I am fine, my car is fine, no worries). My first time being late for a class I teach and the first time I ever “cancelled” class. After the ditch I managed to make it to campus, albeit very late; so today I just didn’t take any chances and turned my face-to-face class into an online one. This resulted in me basically being shut in my house until I decided to venture out to shovel the driveway today once the sun came out.

winter picThis is the view of my street from my office. I usually don’t take the time to appreciate the beauty of snow, considering I hate it so much, but I admit this looks lovely despite throwing off my schedule for the entire week.

Being snowed in has given me time to work, but I haven’t had as much time for dissertation work as I would like. For one, teaching 3 classes certainly keeps me busy. But the biggest thing I have been preparing for is my 2-day interview at CMU next week. I am so beyond excited to head back to my alma mater, actually teach a class there in a beautiful new ed building, and spend time talking to professors there, one of which–Norma Bailey– I actually have respected and admired since I had her in 1999 as a freshman. I also have a phone interview with UM-Flint in a couple weeks as well.

However, I go back and forth from thinking I have done nothing on my dissertation (which is not entirely true) and I am running out of time, to thinking that I have plenty of time and I’m right on track. I did set a goal for myself to be done analyzing my data by the end of January, so this has been my singular focus. I doubt this is going to happen in a week, but I have done some initial analysis right after collecting the data. Now I just need to go through my interview responses in detail to code them and enter in the assessment scores into an Excel document so I can see changes between the pre-and post-test. Nonetheless, that little counter on the side of this blog counting down how many months  have left to go is a little anxiety-inducing. In February, I want to write up my findings about the student interviews and assessments. I feel like once the findings chapters get started, then I’ll really be “writing” my dissertation.

Or maybe I’ll get to the defense and still not really believe it is “real.” A lot of things about my life don’t seem “real”– am I doing enough work that someone working on their dissertation is really supposed to do? Am I really interviewing for a professor job a my “second home” CMU? The other night Mike and I discussed the possibility of selling our house. Are we really to that stage? I guess so. My life is constantly surprising me right now, which is pretty amazing since I spend most of it locked in my office writing like J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee or some other reclusive writer. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll seek coffee outside of the house and see what happens.

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Fighting for Human Rights in Holland

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It’s time for everyone to go back to school, even the 5th graders from my dissertation study at Lanley Elementary. Except this time I won’t be with them. I am staying home today (and 3 days a week this entire semester) to write about them. I have a little under 4 months to write their story; I officially applied for graduation last week.

The largest part of their story was the last few days before winter break. These days were some of the most rewarding of my entire career, showing me that the type of social justice oriented, authentic curriculum can be beneficial for the teachers as well as the students. First of all, the students spent time at the beginning of our final week together deciding to donate their money to the Barnabas House. We had a great discussion about where to donate where they had to analyze the information from our guest speakers, make a decision (backed with evidence) about why their profits should go to a certain place. (Hello Common Core Standards!!) In the end, the students decided on the Barnabas House. The Barnabas House is raising money to build a huge facility for homeless youth in Holland. I think this organization appealed to the 5th graders because of Michelle, their director. She was great with the kids, telling them personal stories of children she knew that didn’t have homes. Without me prompting her, she just naturally talked to them like colleagues. Like she would anyone else who had taken an interest in helping children. She also gave them choice. When they asked her what their money would help do, she told them that they could personalize their donation and have their money go toward anything that they thought a house would need. This lead to another discussion about what they could do with the money. In the end, I think the students one of the things they wanted to donate was a fish tank, so the homeless youth could have pets to take care of and be able to watch the calming water. How amazing is that?

The very last day before break the school had a Christmas program. We decided that right before the program, the students would present the donation to the Barnabas House and tell the parents what they’ve been up to. The few days before, a few students took on the job of writing a script to read and then the afternoon before break the students practiced what they would say. We also tie-dyed T-shirts (blue of course) as our “uniform” for raising awareness of child abuse. They wanted to make a “big check”, so we did that as well. The last day before break was pretty much entirely planned by the students and guided by us, and they loved it. The other 5th grade had a pizza party and cupcakes and none of our students complained that we didn’t have a “party.” We were too busy having fun learning.

In the end, the students made about $650 profit, which is an insane amount of money from selling the little things they did. This was after they paid back their loans to me. The “Whitlock Store” had collected about $150 in costs from them buying supplies, so I agreed to donate that as well (after all, that was Whitlock Store profit–I can be a social business too!). All in all, we had $800 to give to the Barnabas House. When the students all got up in front of the parents to tell them what they did, and when Tommy read the total amount, the entire audience cheered and clapped. Neither the students or I expected this reaction–the looks on their faces were priceless.

The Barnabas House is buying a fish tank (among other things) with the money, and all the students’ names are going on a plaque by the tank (Michelle is going to make sure of this). But, more importantly, the students now have “real proof” that they are helping a need in the community. After interviewing them for the post-data, I could tell they now have a broader understanding of human rights and human rights issues both here and around the world. If they haven’t completely transformed into human rights activists by the end of the semester, I can say at least One Hen opened the door for the conversation. And, we opened the door for them at age 10, instead of like 18 or 20 when most of us go to college or travel and realize there is a world bigger than us. The students are also planning to help with the Barnabas Winter Silent Auction and even with construction in the spring. They have found their “cause” and passion.

For the 2011-2012 school year, the ISD in our county has  888 students registered as homeless. Of that number, 127 are listed as unaccompanied. A student self-report survey in 2011 showed that 113  8th, 10th and 12th graders had no place to sleep at least once this school year in our community.

These are obviously not national statistics, they are right where I live. And a group of 5th graders did something this year to alleviate this problem. Just that is pretty amazing.

Welcome to 2013: The True Year of Writing

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The title of this blog is “the year of writing”, dating back to when I quit NHA in June 2012.  The start of this blog really marked the beginning of working without a net–having nothing to “fall back on” and just going for the end goal of finishing my PhD. The end of a calendar year always means reflection for me, and I have decided that quitting NHA was the best decision I made in 2012. And to be honest, it hasn’t even been that scary. Since I quit on June 1, I’ve accomplished a lot: revised my proposal, presented at conferences, taught 3 classes, applied for many jobs, and traveled the world. (Yes, I managed to squeeze that in as well!). Being so busy has made me forget that in just a few short months’ time, I will be facing a slew of uncertainty. Nothing reminded me more about that than the beginning of 2013. This year has lots of promise. It has the potential to be the best year of my life–the year I accomplish getting my PhD, which is arguably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The year I get a job that could be my “forever job”, the year I move away from West Michigan (?). The question marks also mean that 2013 has potential to also be truly terrifying. For the first time in my life, I have not even the slightest idea where I’ll be in a year. The beginning of 2013 has made me very, very aware of this. It’s getting closer. This is the real “year of writing.”

Every year, I don’t set resolutions, I set challenges. In 2010, my challenge was to write something every day of the year. I didn’t entirely meet this goal, but I would say I was writing 75% of the year. In 2011, my challenge was to run 700 miles and complete my first half-marathon. That one was much easier. In 2012, my friend Holly challenged me to read one fiction book a month. I was glad I met this challenge because reading fiction did give my brain a break and reminded me that reading is also fun, and something I once considered my hobby, as opposed to work. Total, I read 28 books this year– 12 fiction, 16 non-fiction/professional. Not too shabby. Maybe in the summer of 2013, I’ll have time to dust off Harry Potter again.

This year, though, I am not setting an additional challenge for myself. No diet goals, no running goals, no reading goals. I’ll diet, run, and read anyway. This year my challenge  needs to be singular, focused: GET. THAT. PhD. Write, defend, finish. Related to that: get a job. So I guess I have two challenges. It’ll be work, that’s for sure. But I am ready.

To recharge, Mike & I spend 10 days in Hawaii on a family vacation. It took a while for us both to wind down and relax, but by the end the anxiety of a new semester and the challenging year I have ahead was a distant memory as I laid on the beach at Waikiki. I came back to the snow, a bit of jet-lag, and mostly excitement to get this year going.

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