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Education is an Uncomfortable Place

ACADEMIA

Portrait of the Grad Student at Orientation

 

Now, more than ever, I understand that my success as an educator depends upon my ability to discern and lead.


On my desk at Mitchell Community College is a stack of nearly one hundred letters dutifully composed by scholarship recipients. We ask those who receive financial aid to write to the benefactors of their funds, in part because it’s a compelling way to thank donors, but also because connecting them together is often a powerful experience for everyone involved. Reading over these letters is humbling for me; students write about adversities that range from homelessness to finances to learning disabilities. The futures they dream of are bright but pragmatic, and the goals they set down for themselves on paper are intimate in their candor.

These letters and the important lives behind them form the fabric of the decision for why I have spent my career in education. I think of these scholarship recipients as my neighbors. In a sense, I’ve always felt that tie to those education must serve. When I graduated from Western Carolina University in 2003, I was obligated by my Teaching Fellows scholarship to spend the next four years in the classroom. I taught with a youthful and crudely formed ideology for why I thought public education was important and a righteous commitment to teaching my students well. On every syllabus I handed out, I included my personal mantra: Education is an uncomfortable place.

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Midweek

As of August 15, 2018, I am:

Frustrated by: insomnia. While I’m not suffering nightly inability to sleep (which, technically, is what insomnia really is–not the occasional issues I have), there are plenty of times like now, in which I wake up at four in the morning and my brain immediately kicks into gear. I am my worst self at four in the morning–or two, or three, or whenever my big glob between the ears decides to wake me up and involuntarily think about all of life’s inane details. I worry, I get angry, I miraculously remember everything I need to do or forgot to do. In short, I stress myself out. I have tried a number of remedies–getting a glass of water, writing down everything that’s on my mind, changing the music on the radio, mindfulness exercises, breathing exercises. Typically it takes me two hours to go back to sleep. Since I woke up this morning at four, and since I was still wide awake at five-thirty, I figured I’d just make a cup of coffee and come downstairs and write.

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Road Trip

FAMILY

Yes, there is definite joy in the American road trip, even the modern ones with Google maps, in-car entertainment, and multi-zone climate control.


We are all tired, all of us on the last night in the last hotel on the last leg of a rolling road trip to visit family in New Jersey. It’s a solid two hours past our children’s normal bedtime, but they are awake, their little blonde heads still damp from swimming in the hotel pool, their eyes sleepily watching cartoons as the air conditioner kicks on to chill us to sleep.

Our hotel is in Front Royal, Virginia, a town that sits along the Shenandoah ridge, one with a friendly looking Appalachian downtown and businesses named Smoots Auto Center and Knotty Pine Restaurant and Lounge. I don’t know anything about this town beyond noticing that there are a lot of what I would describe as motor lodges, a vestige, perhaps, of a time when more tourists pulled off Highway 522 to explore the caverns buried around these valleys.

This trip has been one of constant motion. We’d started this morning in a different hotel a stone’s throw from the Jersey Shore, were treated to breakfast by my aunt and uncle and their grandson, and followed that with an abbreviated but fun board game session. The night before, we’d been at a different aunt and uncle’s house, splayed out on their deck in the mild evening, my cousin’s Pandora channel playing on the outdoor speakers while their dogs yipped about. The day before, a cookout and hours-long swim at my cousin’s house in North Jersey; the day before, time spent with my aunt and three cousins at her townhouse.

In total: we have hugged and visited sixteen aunts, uncles, and cousins and their children at four different stops. In the mornings, we try to explain to our children who they are meeting and remind them how they are related.

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