A new focus

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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…

“I’ll get it done this summer”

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The title of this post is a common phrase I hear among doctoral students. I’ve even said it numerous times myself, a lot in the past week. There’s always this sense that the summer is free–free to work on whatever you’ve been meaning to get done during the year, full of unlimited time to write. Although leaving NHA has certainly freed up some time for me, I have found that I haven’t always had unlimited time for my dissertation this summer. And saying “I’ll get it done this summer” becomes more ridiculous as July winds to a close and the Aug 21 start date for the new school year gets closer and closer. So what have I been doing this summer besides writing?

I have been teaching.  I am teaching an online class– TE 842. It’s a Masters class called Elementary Reading and Assessment. Masters classes require more from the students regarding reading and writing, so that means more grading for me. Online teaching has its pros and cons and it certainly requires a lot of organization on my part. I try to read/grade at least 5 papers/submissions every day, if not more.

I have been coding data. For the first time in my grad school career, I am on a large research project called FAME (Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators–although I always want to sing “Fame! I want to live forever!!” when I work on it). I have been watching videos of teachers in their professional development meetings and meticulously writing down what they talk about, what questions they ask, and how in-depth their discussion is. I have been assigned to write “cases” of two schools and the team is trying to make some conclusions about the teacher meetings for an AERA presentation. I have really enjoyed working on a research project like this and I regret not being able to do this sooner in my time at MSU.

I have been planning. My last commitment to NHA is to teach a 2-day workshop next week on social studies instruction. This isn’t like writing a conference paper, or planning for a class. It’s 9 hours of instructional time that I am in charge of! I am looking forward to teaching about social studies again, and I think I have some fun activities planned for these NHA teachers. It’ll be nice to see some NHA people for the first time since I left.

All of these things have caused me to put my dissertation on hold these last couple of weeks. I have to get back in the game soon though because finishing my dissertation proposal revisions is the one thing I d need to get done this summer.

Working Without a Net

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On Monday, I officially resigned from NHA, a company I have worked for for the last 8 years. NHA was my first “career job” just out of college, and I have worked in a variety of roles for them– paraprofessional, substitute Kindergarten teacher, middle school Social Studies teacher, and Curriculum Specialist.  I got a lot out of working there– more than just my professional classroom experience (although that was incredibly important).  NHA also gave me the opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge on teaching, learning, and assessment through conferences, professional conversations, and supporting me while I got my Masters Degree and most of my PhD. They also helped shape my views on the role of charter schools in education reform, and taught me lessons on how to help teachers. Most importantly, working for NHA gave me an group of amazing lifelong friends that I met at Vanderbilt and the Service Center.

But in the end, what NHA couldn’t give me was time.  I have devoted 4 years to working on my PhD, and I can now see the finish. My biggest take-away from this year at MSU was that my attention was focused in too many places, and I needed to put all of my energy into finishing my degree. At one point, NHA was very connected to my doctoral work, but then over the last couple of years it had been slowly pulling away. Now it is time to let it go and give over this year to writing.

I told my parents I had quit my job, and I could tell they were happy for me. But my dad always has to get in his worries. He asked, “Doesn’t this mean you’re working without a net now?” It was true- after this year of writing, I don’t really know what is in store for me. For this year, I do have a job of writing and teaching (and I will get paid for it), but after that who knows? It’s part of what makes this year exciting and terrifying. When I told my dad that, he said “Yes, Annie. This is why most people don’t quit their jobs– because they don’t know what they would do after that.”

He has a point, but I am honestly not concerned about this decision. It’s part of what is going to make this year monumental for me. It had to be done.

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