A new focus

Leave a comment

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the day I quit my job at NHA. I started this blog just a few days later, to mark the beginning of what I had expected to be  crazy year, full of uncertainty but also accomplishment and excitement. I was not disappointed with this year by any means. I did accomplish quite a bit, including proposing, collecting data for, writing, and defending my dissertation. I also taught 4 different classes to nearly 100 different students. I traveled the world and the US– to Germany, Austria, Hungary and to Hawaii, Seattle, and San Diego.

My year has been full of uncertainty at times. I often stressed about whether I was making the right decisions with writing, teaching, or life in general. There were times when I was positive I had made all of the wrong decisions, and times when I felt like everything was falling into place. This will be a topic for another blog post soon, but more uncertain times are ahead, along with more times of accomplishment and excitement. Ultimately, I don’t regret the reason why I started this blog in the first place–quitting NHA.  As I said in my first blog post, I will never forget what NHA did for me to develop my professional career, but leaving there was the best decision I ever made. Now that I’ve had a year of hindsight, I can safely say that working without a net this year was good for me. It was nerve-wracking at times, but ultimately worth it.

I called this year and this blog “The Year of Writing.”  But now what? This blog was about my dissertation journey, and the year of working without a net, but now that year is over.  I think this blog needs a new focus, and possibly a new name. I know that every year of my life will be a year of writing, so should I change the “the” to an “a?” Should I blog about my future projects? Or abandon this all together? I am still unsure of what to do next.

I went out last night to celebrate things– graduation, Mike’s birthday, him finishing the Riverbank Run, the end of a rough semester and the beginning of a great summer of relaxation ahead. We went to our first bar for dinner, and once we were seated, I looked up and saw this sign:

one adventure


I thought this was so fitting for what we were doing there in the first place. Maybe my year of writing (and therefore this blog) has to end so another great adventure can begin? I know I have at least one more blog post left in me, but I might need to find a renewed focus to mark the next great adventure…

The big day is here!

Leave a comment

That’s the what the little counter on the side of this blog says: The big day is here! The countdown to my dissertation defense is over. Yesterday, I officially became a Doctor!

The defense went well I thought. Everything is always bigger in my mind than it is in real life, and this was no exception. I prepared a 25 minute presentation about my study that I tried to cut down to 20-22 minutes each time I practiced it. Anne-Lise wanted me to keep it to 20, so I was trying to be brief and not go into too much detail. I wanted to leave something for them to ask me about. I practiced it a bunch out loud to myself, to my cat, to Mike.  My defense started at 2, and by 1:00 I was restless and ready. Mike & I had driven to campus and I tried to do normal things to keep my mind off it– ran errands around Erickson, checked my email while eating lunch in my office, etc.

In addition to my committee, some colleagues and friends of mine were also there– Gerardo, Yuhan, and Sally. Mike was obviously there too. There was a funny moment when the committee told Mike he could ask questions at the end. He replied, “I will be keeping quiet.”

I started in on my presentation and almost immediately Anne Lise motioned to me that I was talking very fast. At that point, I stopped caring about the 20-25 minute time limit and just talked. Then, it was question time… I didn’t get any questions that I wasn’t expecting, and sometimes the questions were mostly comments about things I could revise. Every person preceded their comments with kinds words about the work I did on the study, which made me feel good. Everyone took their roles:

Cheryl had comments for me that were about the One Hen unit and about what I could do to write about it. She kept referring to idea for future writing, not necessarily revisions. Like, “When you publish articles on this…” etc. Peter had sent me his questions that morning, which was so nice. I had worked on some possible answers on the car ride over. Sure enough, every time he went to ask me a question I knew exactly what I would say. Kyle commented on the things in my paper that I knew he would comment on. At one point, he talked for a long time about Chapter 5 and then said, “Would you like to comment on that?” I was ready for his criticism this time, but it was also very helpful to hear it. Anne-Lise helped me with answers when she felt I needed it. It was strange, but as we were all talking I got NEW ideas about different angles to examine this experience and ideas about different pieces I could write about these data. That’s how I knew it was going well. It felt inspiring to chat about the study with all of them. It felt like the beginning, not the end.

I could help but yell in excitement when Anne-Lise came out of their deliberations to tell me congratulations. After that, it was a whirlwind of hugs, signing forms, and Anne-Lise telling me we would talk later about revisions. After they all left, Mike & I just hugged each other, alone in room 116A. We were both a bit teary-eyed. I have had 4 defenses in that room over 5 years–practicum defense, dissertation proposal defense, ANOTHER dissertation proposal defense, and then this one. After each of the others, I left feeling the weight of all of the work I had left to do, and to be honest, feeling the weight that I still hadn’t quite gotten it right. This time, I felt light as a feather.

We had a mini-celebration with Danny, who defended his dissertation right before mine, up in his advisor’s office. It was nice to cram in there with my friends and toast to our success. Then, we all went to El Azteco and split a few pitchers of margaritas. A last hurrah with my MSU crew. I’m not sure when we’ll all be together on the same day again, sadly.

defense celebration


I am writing this blog post the day after the defense, and I have to admit it feels a bit weird to not have anything to have to do tonight. Or tomorrow. I can take some time, but then I need to contemplate my next move. The big day was here…and now it’s gone.


Leave a comment

Yesterday was the official end of the 2012-2013 school year and the end of 5 years as a student at MSU. I was officially given my “hood” and my PhD degree yesterday as well.

It was an early day as I picked my Dad up around 7 am and I went with him and Mike to Erickson Hall for the ceremony. A bunch of us were herded into the Kiva (which seemed quite small with everyone in there) about 9:30. The Kiva is just a large lecture hall, which made it interesting to squeeze into a little desk with my giant gown on. There ceremony was a bit different than other graduations. There were 13 different PhDs being given out in the College of Ed to nearly 60 people. Each person’s advisor came up to say a little about each person: what their research was about, where they’re heading next, etc.  It was fun to hear about everyone’s dissertations. I was unaware of even what some people in my own program have been studying. Believe it or not, we often talk to each other about our work in general terms unless we’re specifically asked about it. “I’m collecting data now” or “I’m finishing soon…” etc. It was cool to hear about what everyone else has spent working on for this entire year.

When I got up there, Anne-Lise said some nice things about me and my work and a little about my journey. To hear someone else explain it sounds nearly impossible that I even did this. I tried to soak it all in and enjoy the moment they put that hood on my shoulders.



Afterwards, we visited with people upstairs  on the 3rd floor. It was nice to have Anne-Lise meet Mike and my dad. It was definitely like worlds colliding there.  I showed them the board on the 3rd floor where all of the doctoral students’ pictures are and saw my picture that was taken in 2008 on my first day of orientation. My goodness a lot has happened to me since then.

I took Mike & Dad to Crunchy’s afterward to celebrate. It only made sense since that’s my go-to place to unwind after some days at MSU. I will miss those burgers being  just down the street. When I took my dad home, I stuck around a bit to celebrate with my mom, sister, nephew, aunts, and uncles. By the end of the night I was incredibly exhausted.

The big debate is whether or not you can call me Dr. Whitlock now, or if I need to wait until my defense is over on Tuesday. The only problem with graduating yesterday is that I know I still have this major milestone ahead of me (and not to mention, a lot of grading to finish as well). I suppose you can call me Dr. Whitlock but I won’t really feel like it until Tuesday afternoon.

Section 6

Leave a comment

Both this school year and last, I taught Section 6 of TE 401 and TE 402 at MSU. These are the social studies and literacy methods courses for the MSU seniors.  The courses are not a year-long sequence with instructors usually. The students are together all year, but the instructors don’t usually stay with the students the whole year. I’m one of the few people who teach both social studies and literacy, so I do get to meet these students on the 1st day of the fall semester and see them through until their graduation. Both years I have been assigned Section 6, which seems to be my lucky number.

Both years, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching some amazing people in Section 6. They’re fun, inspiring, smart, and dedicated students. At this stage in their careers, so early on, they are excited about joining the field of education. Let me tell you that it is so rare these days to have people excited about teaching anymore. I want to bottle their energy, enthusiasm, and excitement and feed it to a lot of people I know. It would be some magic elixir that teachers could drink when they feel frustrated or burned out. I would make a killing if I sold it.

I started my blog with a picture of the students of Section 6 from 2011-2012. They lit the spark for my dissertation and reaffirmed that teaching and research is what I wanted to do for my career. They inspired me to start the Year of  Writing. This year’s Section 6 helped me in a different way. If last year’s Section 6 was the spark, this year’s group was the fuel. They kept me going when I was collecting data–it was great to be able to commiserate with them about teaching elementary school and share stories. When I spent day after day in my house writing, seeing them on Tuesdays was a wonderful break. When I finished writing, I could not wait to tell them.

Today was our final exam. Much like the 2012 Section 6, the 2013 group handed out awards. I won “Best Dressed” mostly because I’m usually the only one not wearing my pajamas in class, and “Best Laugh.” This means they probably heard me laugh a lot.  They dressed in their graduation gowns and we took pictures at Erickson Hall. It was the last class I will ever teach at MSU.


Yes, Section 6 has been very lucky for me. On Sunday, I am actually going to hand them their diplomas on stage at the Breslin. Two of my students are giving the commencement speech based on a poetry-writing assignment I gave them this semester. Another one is being honored for the highest GPA in the special education program. The chair of the TE department is letting doctoral students attend as “faculty” to honor the seniors they’ve worked with all year. I absolutely wouldn’t miss it.


2013 Section 6 flashing our sign

Reflections on Teaching

What I'm Thinkin'

Literary Friendships

Musings on writing, illustrating, children's books and friends.

Building Bridges

"Education is all a matter of building bridges." Ralph Ellison

Musings From The Middle

Middle School: You don't have to be crazy to teach middle school, but it helps!

Middle School Hallways

Just a middle school teacher with some ideas

YA Book Bridges

YA & MG book reviews and how to bridge them to curricuum

Charting By the Stars

Let what I love be the stars to my wandering bark...

Christopher Lehman

Educational Consultant and Author Christopher Lehman's Blog

Children's Literature Crossroads

children's literature meets teaching, reading, talking, writing, and thinking