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This week has brought some big steps for me.  These steps indicate that an end is near. Although I am not sure how I feel about the end of my “year of writing”, I am encouraged this week.

First of all, I spent a lovely Saturday getting to know some new/old friends from Twitter at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. It was nice to socialize with some people that previous to this I had only conversed with on Twitter. And I got to spend a day discussing books, reading, writing, and research with some super-smart people. That is a good time any day and it was much needed to get me out of my stay-at-home-alone-and-write funk that I was in.

Being alone much of the week must have been somewhat successful because I accomplished a lot writing-wise. I submitted a draft of my Ch 5 to Anne-Lise (a chapter about the classroom teacher in my study–another blog post coming on this) and I submitted a journal article for publication. The journal article came back within two days with a resubmit (“This really didn’t come alive for the reader”–blerg) and a deadline to resubmit within the week. More writing ahead!

I also got a call for another on-campus interview at U of M Flint. I had a phone interview with them a long time ago but since so much time had passed, I had written it off as a rejection. It had been so long since any news on the job front that I had resigned myself to not having one next year. This perked up my spirits a bit and helped me see that I need to stop being so discouraged so quickly. I have such a hard time being patient and my mind tends to go to a dark place where I assume the absolute worst. They want me to come out next Thursday. Mike said “Don’t they know it’s March Madness?” I don’t even care that I’m missing my favorite “holiday”–that’s how excited I am to go there.

I also decided to get out a bit more to break my cabin fever. I had dinner with friends and family this week and babysat my 4-year-old nephew. It was kind of nice to spend the afternoon dressing up like super heroes, schooling him in  Just Dance on the Wii, and playing with his Star Wars action figures. His collection rivals any adult nerd’s, trust me. Even I was a bit geeked to see his Millennium Falcon, compete with Han Solo at the helm.

babysitting

 

But by far, my biggest news is that I have an official dissertation defense day set. The big day is Tuesday, May 7, at 2:00 pm. I booked the day so nonchalantly that it took me a couple days to realize what that day represents. It represents the last day of my MSU doctoral career. I started back in August of 2008, a middle school teacher that needed to read every article for every class with my Dictionary app in front of me. Five years later, I have turned into an educational scholar. And I truly feel like I have. I feel more and more confident in what I know with every passing year. I’m assuming this confidence will continue to grow regardless of where my career takes me after this. On May 7, I unveil the biggest work of my career this far. And I am really excited to do it, not nervous at all. Yet. I changed the date on the countdown clock on the side of this blog from a general day to the specific time. Time to keep working toward that end.

Spring Break

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Spring break is neither spring nor a break…discuss.

coffee talk

Seriously though. I said goodbye to my students on Tuesday for the next two weeks and it hardly feels like anything. I’m not planning a giant road trip like last year, or excited about sleeping in, getting my hair done, and catching up on TV shows like I used to do during Spring Break when I was teaching middle school. For me, Spring Break is just more of the same–write, write, write.

The last couple of weeks have been tough. I actually had two different blog posts composed that I deleted because they sounded too depressing. I’ll be honest when I admit that I didn’t know how lonely writing could be. Now I know why authors are so depressed sometimes–you get stuck in one world for such a long time and that can really mess with your head. No joke, I dreamed about curriculum integration last night. I dreamed that I went back to Lanley Elementary and interviewed the teacher and students again. I don’t get a break from thinking. Usually teaching gets me out of whatever funk I’m in because I get to escape the house, focus on other people, and do something creative, and that is a great recipe for inspiration and a refreshing new outlook. However, the last couple of weeks the commute has been so anxiety-inducing thanks to the insane winter we’ve been having that I can’t get inspired to teach either. I also got the news that I was not offered either of the jobs I interviewed for at CMU, which was a major bummer.

Yesterday, I forced myself to get out of the house and get out of my head space. I went with my friend and former colleague Tiffany to visit the school where we used to teach. I still have several friends there, so we grabbed lunch and brought it to the teacher’s lounge like old times’ sake. Everyone always says never to eat in the teachers’ lounge, but I never subscribed to that theory. It’s different when you work with your best friends. The week before, I drove out to Tiffany’s school in Grand Rapids where she is now an administrator and volunteered to do a center in a Kindergarten classroom for the 100th day of school. I had fun in both cases, but it made me miss K-12 teaching! Missing the little ones combined with the fact that I now have no real job prospects on the horizon, makes me think that if I were offered an elementary teaching position right now I would take it. 🙂 So it the experiences me nostalgic and worried more than inspired.

Mike has been nothing but encouraging during these rough weeks. He reminds me constantly that something will happen for me and tries to keep me positive. He reminded me last night that worrying about job prospects, or snow days, or whatever just detracts from the dissertation writing and I’m coming up on the home stretch. He indicated that I have forgotten a bit that writing the dissertation and just completing this 5-year journey of a PhD program is such a huge deal in and of itself. So, time to embrace my reclusive writing self. I made another timeline today that is now broken down into weeks, not months. And, there are only 8 of them left.

 

 

 

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A good thing that came out of these last two weeks is that I sent off two more chapters for Anne-Lise to read. I have plans in March to write the other 3 chapters with a tentative goal to defend at the end of April. I’m also making plans for a May 3 graduation. This is happening regardless and that’s definitely something to be happy about. The month of March begins tomorrow, and even though the above picture indicates that I have a lot of work to do next month, March has always been my favorite month. It means warmer weather, marks the beginning of another great year in my life, and indicates the end of the school year is near. It means spring and new-ness, and I am so so ready for it to be here.

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.

A stressful semester

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I don’t want to spend this blog post bitching about how stressed out I am. Everyone I know is stressed out a lot of the time, so to continue to announce it to people gets pretty redundant. However, I think it should be noted that this semester seemed tougher than most. My dissertation data collection stressed out way longer than I wanted it to (I won’t be done until Friday–blog post on that forthcoming), I struggled with completing grading and writing without losing my mind, and in the month of November alone I made not one, but two trips to the West Coast. Nothing stresses me out like airports. But I got the sense that other people have been having a rough time too. The teacher I work with for my study frequently seems stressed, many of my students had a tough semester, Mike is stressed out at work…it seems like everyone is having a difficult time. Not to mention the news lately. Michigan is not-so-slowly turning into a conservative wasteland, and of course, there is the school shooting in Connecticut last Friday. I imagine if Mitt Romney had won the election, I would be in a mental institution right now. Or living in Sweden.

The school shooting news made me incredibly emotional, more so than stories like these usually do. Clearly, it’s because of the nature of the violence and the setting. This man murdered 1st graders for chrissake. This happened in an elementary school–a place where I spend Every. Single. Day. (Especially this semester). I am so saddened by it, but there have been so many mixed emotions as well. I cried so hard hearing about teachers who gave their lives for their students because I totally get it. I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t worry about their students, feel proud and brag about their students, and yes, wouldn’t stand up to a man with a gun for their students, even if it meant possibly losing their life. Just like a parent would.  I hope this makes the general public see (especially the Michigan legislature) that teachers are incredibly important people in a child’s life that should be protected and treated with respect by society. Ask the parents of those kids in CT who survived how thankful they are for their child’s teacher and they can tell you. I’ve seen stories that we should arm teachers and train them to use deadly weapons. I’ve seen a story from a complete idiot who said that this maniac would never have made it into the building if there was just a MAN around to protect everyone (the CT school principal and most the teachers were female). These disgusting stories completely miss the point. You want to protect kids, you start with putting the people who would give their lives to protect them on a much higher pedestal.  Teachers don’t need guns, they need respect.

Life is stressful this semester looking for jobs. I got flat-out rejected from three positions–the one that hurts the most was Hope College. I really thought I had a chance there, but apparently neither of the search committee chairs that I met at LRA and talked to on the phone late one night thought I was very impressive. It sucks because that job meant I could possibly stay in Holland, but who knows now. Good news is that I do have an on-campus interview at my old stomping ground, Central Michigan. I am a finalist for two positions there– elementary social studies professor and introduction to education professor. I think on Jan 31, I’ll be heading up there for a two day visit of schmoozing people, talking about my research, and teaching a class! I am very very excited about this. Hopefully it turns into something positive to turn this semester around quickly.

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The Literacy Clique

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Grad school sometimes is about labels. I was often told I had to define myself as either a “quantitative” or “qualitative” researcher, someone who wants to work “in academia” or in the “K-12 setting”, “secondary” or “elementary.”   Labeling myself has always been difficult. I do mostly qualitative research, but I have done quantitative studies too. I do want a job as a professor preparing teachers, but I worked as a curriculum specialist in the K-12 setting for 3 years as well. And elementary or secondary? I was a middle school teacher, so good luck defining that! I was literally both! Another label people want to give you is by subject area. I guess I would be considered a “social studies person”, since I taught social studies and my dissertation is mostly social studies. However, I will not be getting a PhD in “social studies.” My PhD will be in Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education. I have a lot of interests that go beyond social studies.

Most of my time at MSU I have dabbled as a “literacy person.” I have a Masters in Reading, and I am a certified Reading Specialist. Throughout my teaching career I was very focused on improving my students’ content area literacy skills. In fact, I originally came to MSU to study content area literacy with Nell Duke after I had done a quantitative Masters thesis. In the last few years, I have veered more toward the social studies realm, as being a “literacy person” at MSU required a lot more literacy and a lot less social studies. I decided I wanted to be a “social studies person” who dabbles in literacy, as opposed to a “literacy person” that dabbles in social studies. This choice meant that I would not be really known as a “literacy person” among my colleagues. But that doesn’t stop me from horning in on their universe.

I teach a literacy methods course. In this course last year, I introduced my students to Twitter as an attempt to increase their own digital literacy. Twitter itself can be considered a form of literacy; one can be Twitter-literate (or illiterate) as much as someone can be mathematically literate, or develop historical literacy (which I also teach in my SS methods course–see! Both worlds!). I submitted a presentation on this study to the Literacy Research Association as part of a symposium with other MSU “literacy people.” We all traveled San Diego last week and I should off a poster on my Twitter study. Although I was only in San Diego for really one day, and I barely went outside, I did manage to snap this pic:

San Diego

LRA was a great conference that I mostly spent talking to new people– “literacy people”– as opposed to attending sessions. I did see Sam Wineburg speak, who is a “history person!” I felt very welcomed into what I call the Literacy Clique.  I want to explore more in this area, definitely submitting a journal article about my Twitter study. I am also applying for social studies jobs and literacy jobs. I applied for social studies jobs at Hope College, Central Michigan, and Oakland, and literacy jobs at Central Michigan, Grand Valley, Oakland, and UM-Flint. We’ll see how these places label me when and if I get interviews anywhere.

One small step

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I’ve had this blog for about 4 months now and as of a few days ago hadn’t actually written anything for my dissertation. However, I can actually say that I have made progress on this front. This past week, I wrote ONE draft of ONE chapter–the literature review. A full 22 pages of both “old” work (from my proposal) and “new” work (readings that I wanted to add based on the new stuff I have read this month). A literature review, for those lucky enough to never have written one, is essentially where you outline the research that’s already been done on your topic (or parts of your topic) so that you can place your study somewhere in the mix. This means you need to read. A LOT. I have been essentially reading about my topic since February, so knowing what to read isn’t the issue. For me, it’s organizing what I’ve read in order to make a coherent analysis of what I’ve read. This needs to be more than “This person said…and then this person said…” I need to work on how to integrate everything I’ve read around the argument that my study belongs with all of these other great studies.

I feel pretty good about what I’ve written so far, but there’s always more to read, and therein lies the problem. It is possible to not know when to stop reading and start writing. This is the first year I have actually visited the MSU library to check out books, and there are just so many good ones up on the 4th floor East Wing that I keep finding. I also like their organizational system:

It makes me feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland for some reason to follow the lines on the floor to my destination and then at the end… books! (I am partial to the black line, which always leads me to the section where they hold all of the super old books about social studies instruction from the 1950s and 60s. I checked out a book the other day where the first “due date” stamp was from 1972!) You can also “recall” books. This is where you can request books that are checked out by other people and they have to return them so you can check them out. I always feel kind of bitchy doing that, but oh well– books!!

My goal though is to finish reading whatever library books I currently have in my possession, add their insights to my literature review draft, and then send it on to my advisor. Because no matter how much I write for a first draft, I am already preparing myself for many many many rewrites. I was talking to a first year doctoral student the other day who told me she hated rewriting–she just wanted to write something and be done with it. I wanted to just give her a hug and tell her the life of writing something and leaving it alone is long gone. If I handed in a first draft of my dissertation and called it good, then I could probably write the thing in a couple of weeks.

My life isn’t all small steps. October is Data Collection Month– I have begun to teach 5th grade social studies and collect data! This is a big step that is news for another blog post I’m sure. I am also submitting two job applications this week, which is a HUGE step. Wish me luck on all my steps, big and small.

What’s the priority?

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It’s Week 4 of the fall semester, and just like every other fall semester of my doctoral studies, Week 4 is the “holy shit, I have a lot of work to do this semester” week. For some reason, it’s always Week 4 where this hits me, and this makes sense. It takes a couple weeks to get out of summer mode which is still productive but let’s be real, far more relaxed. It takes a couple weeks to start making commitments for the next few weeks ahead, a couple more for the first assignments and deadlines to come in, and then…you’re in Week 4 and you realize that you are in deep. Whenever I have gotten overwhelmed in the past, I always try to prioritize. Trouble is, everything is a top priority right now.

Top Priority: Looking for jobs. Since I have previously mentioned numerous times that I am now working without a net this year, you would think trying to find a net would be my most top priority at the moment. Applying for academic jobs is surely far more complex than anything I’ve done before to get a job. I need to prepare a cover letter that brags about how awesome I am in the shortest amount of words possible, a CV that certainly has holes in it that I’m hoping job interviewers overlook (that publications section certainly is thin…maybe that should be a priority…), letters of recommendation from my committee, transcripts (even from my undergrad days at CMU!), and a teaching statement. Surprisingly, I have never written in words what I believe about teaching. I’ve certainly espoused it enough to my friends and family, but writing it? That could take a while. As of now there are three jobs in West Michigan that I am applying for, one even here in Holland at Hope College (2 others at GVSU).  I am excited about job possibilities in this area, so this needs to be top priority. Or should it be…

Top Priority: My dissertation. Hmmmm. Perhaps this should be top priority, especially considering  that I have now met my students that I will be studying and I really want to put my best effort into planning a great learning experience for them. This week I interviewed them, assessed them on their knowledge, talked to their teacher about what they are like and what they know and I am really excited to give them the experience of One Hen. I’m beginning to now picture how chapters of my dissertation could go. I’m getting excited to get more into my writing. So, I guess this should be top priority. Or should it be…

Top Priority: Teaching. The good part about Week 4 is that it’s the week where my classes really start to gel. Last week we went to the historical museum together, and nothing bonds a class like a successful field trip to a fun place like a historical museum. I realize this sounds like sarcasm but it really isn’t. The Michigan Historical Center is a great place to learn Michigan history, it’s very interactive and well done, and my students loved it last year too. When we have the experience of going there together, and then have a class where we start to talk about students’ needs and learner diversity and we discover we have a common bond of caring about students…then it all clicks. I had some great classes this week and I want to continue my commitment to these future teachers. So maybe this should be a top priority. Or perhaps it’s…

My husband? My friends? My fantasy football teams? (Both 2-0 so far this season, thanks!) All of those are top priorities too. Turns out, everything is.  Sigh. Well, in the words of Academic Tim Gunn:

 

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