Category Archives: Uncategorized

Orlando

After the events of last weekend in Orlando, my head is reeling. And my heart feels like a brick. First, for the lives lost in the Orlando massacre. Second, for the fact that this is being seen as anything but a homophobic hate crime.

For many of us who came of age in/because of places like Pulse, the club provided a safe space. That space was violated in an unimaginably violent way last weekend.

SF Pride 1998In the summer of 1998, I embarked on a cross-country trip to San Francisco to do research for my undergraduate senior thesis. It was the first time I would participate in Pride. It was not the first time I wondered if I was bi.

That summer, I danced my way through several clubs in San Francisco, and always ended up at the Cafe. I don’t recall where it was (my memory is the Castro, but was it?) or how I ended up hanging out there; all I remember is the freedom of the dance floor. The safety. The embrace of that dance-beat-mixed-with-sweat-from-strangers-you-may-never-meet-again-but-feel-a-connection-with-because-you-both-stepped-foot-in-the-door.

In NYC later on, there was the Roxy. Cubbyhole. Henrietta’s. Meow Mix. Metropolitan.

Today, as a teacher educator in a cisgender partnership, with a baby and the sometimes fashion sense from the 60s, I tend to present as 100% straight.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

And without the safety of the club, I would never know myself the way that I do now.

I look forward to a day when I wake up in the morning and there has been no attack on communities of color or the LGBTQI community. Some people who were at Pulse last weekend were there seeking refuge from an otherwise hateful, marginalizing, and brutal world. Now many of them will never have the opportunity to be in this world, period.

My heart and soul stand with Orlando and the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives.

Facebookless

IMG_6448I spent the last week without logging into Facebook. To be fair, I kept the Facebook Messenger app on my phone, and messaged with a few people that way. But I removed the Facebook app from my phone, and didn’t log on via computer. Why did I do this, you might wonder? #becausetime

I will always remember the 2015-2016 academic school year as a time when I started missing emails consistently. It’s not for any lack of caring: anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve always been a fast responder. I care very deeply that people know that I’ve heard what they have to say! There are two differences that have created this problem for me this year: 1) I get more emails now than I ever did before, and 2) I have less time than I ever have before.

Thanks to some brilliant friends (who, in truth, I rely on for staying up to date with the latest gadgets and apps), I discovered unroll.me for automating and managing my gmail inbox. But I don’t feel that I can do the same for my work email. Perhaps I should look into it. Because I can’t keep up. It’s just too much!

So what did I discover during this week sans Facebook?

  1. It is possible to avoid thinking in Facebook updates. Earlier this semester, I revealed to a class of graduate students that I sometimes type out Facebook status updates in my head as I travel throughout the day. Sure that this (somewhat embarrassing) revelation would garner some laughs, I was surprised when the room remained quiet. Did I sound whacky for saying I typed things out in my head? Did I sound lame for admitting that I think about my Facebook updates as items worthy of composition? Did I just take a step backward on the respect spectrum for revealing something personal and unsolicited? Either way, I noticed the other day that I had long periods of silence in my head for the first time in a long time. In fact, I can’t remember the last time.
  2. I create false narratives about my friends. I admit that normally, I walk around thinking that everyone’s life is a billion times better than mine, based on Facebook feeds. I know this is slightly ridiculous. I also know I’m not the only one who does it. But in the absence of the constant barrage of information that is my Facebook feed, I felt a sense of calm.
  3. I still had contact with friendsIn the last week, I’ve touched base and/or seen a few of my favorite people, and we’ve shared information via text, phone, or email. Without relying on Facebook for information about my friends, I was forced to be in touch with them — actually be in touch with them. I missed out on a bunch of news without my feed, I’m sure, and I didn’t speak to everyone I wanted to, but I also had some long phone and in-person conversations.
  4. I was focused. Usually when I’m at work, I keep a tab open for Facebook on my computer. I don’t look at it constantly, but when I take breaks, I look at my feed. This week when I took breaks from writing or grading, I did some of the back-logged office stuff I’ve been putting off: I filed a bunch of things, organized my documents, and labeled the book bins on my book shelves. I also read a book and wrote a book review. All in between the normal stuff I have to do.
  5. I started missing a stream in my life. Over the weekend, I attended a two-day conference hosted by SUNY New Paltz and Bard College, the Digital Spaces Unconference. We live-tweeted throughout, which got me looking at Twitter a bunch. A week since I started my Facebook diet, and I’m looking at my Twitter feed several times a day. It doesn’t feel the same, though. There’s something less personal about it. Maybe because I don’t know about half of the people I follow — they’re just people I’ve heard about or I met once and are doing cool #edtech stuff. I’ve been looking at Instagram more, too. But neither Twitter nor Instagram hold my interest like Facebook does. What is it about Facebook??

So the verdict is in: I can get a lot more done when I don’t look at Facebook. But is it worth missing what happens in people’s lives? I hope I can find a better balance, because I don’t want to be a total Facebook hermit — not to mention the academic things that I learn from my brilliant friends when plugged into my feed! But I can’t deny that I’ve enjoyed having a few extra minutes in my days lately. What’s your secret? How do you strike a healthy balance between the stream and real life?

Recently

I was poking around on Facebook yesterday evening, and came across an ad for Recently, a magazine of your life, basically. They print a monthly magazine from your photos. It’s $108 for the year.

At first, I scoffed. I thought, how can we have yet another way of documenting our lives? And why print it when we can scroll through digital albums on so many different devices?

I suppose there’s still this desire to return to print–we are the digital crossover generation in that sense, and the dilemma is likely to follow us wherever we go. I admit that I’ve made many printed photo books and calendars with iPhoto for friends and family members over the years. But there’s something about a magazine that brings it to a whole other level. Is there anything more narcissistic?

AJH at Pujet SoundsAnd then I mentioned it to my partner, and I found myself suggesting that it seemed like a good idea for our baby’s first year. We’re already 9 1/2 months in, but it would be fun to start around now anyway. He’s crawling everywhere and pulling himself up on everything. He’s changing every single day. Capturing it in print would be kind of neat. I’ve got a million (okay, maybe thousands of) photos of him like this one at Puget Sound last week that don’t make it onto my Instagram feed or Facebook wall, and I’ve been wondering what to do with them. I know I’m biased, but the cuteness.

So we’re considering it. $9 a month isn’t so bad.

But REALLY??? A MAGAZINE????

Parenting aside, with my scholar hat on, I’m curious about the draw back to print at a time when screens are capable of so many things. Walls, status updates, tweets, and endless photo albums on social media fill our screened lives. And every day, more and more posts fill this seemingly endless stream. How necessary is it to capture it? Must we capture it? What is the value in doing so? How does making the digital more permanent defeat the purpose of the digital in the first place?

So I’m fascinated by the possibility of this publication–as both a parent and a scholar. I’m curious about the experience. I’m drawn to its simplicity. If I do end up getting a sub, I’ll probably blog about it. In the meantime, it’s making me consider how I teach digital storytelling. More on that some other time soon…

12 Weeks and Counting

So here I am at 12 weeks postpartum. The time at which I would, if school was still in session, legally need to return to my job in order to keep it, according to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). (And keep in mind that FMLA, despite being a federal law, is only honored by some employers). Gratefully, I am an educator, and having had a spring baby, the summer stretches ahead with extra time to spend at home with the new kiddo. I recognize that most people aren’t in this position. So some people might rightfully be all #newmommyproblems with a sarcastic tone, and I get that. But to drive home my point that 12 weeks isn’t long enough — for anyone — I thought I’d write about some of the things that are going on right now. Things that would prevent me from doing a good job at work:

  • I am still waking up 3-4 times per night to nurse, resulting in little sleep; what little I get is interrupted and anything but restful.
  • because of the broken sleep, exhaustion is the norm; exhaustion does not produce optimal work output.
  • my work clothes still don’t fit; I gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy, and still have 20 (give or take) more to lose.
  • my baby continues to change on a daily basis; he just started being alert more during the day than asleep, meaning I get to spend more time bonding and getting to know him. If forced to do so, I know I would struggle on a deep emotional level to put him in someone else’s care right now. My heart goes out to mamas who have had to do this earlier than I will have to.
  • my back is jacked. up. Sometime around 3 weeks postpartum, I sat down funny and jammed my sacroiliac joint. The pain continues to be unpredictable and fierce. Although my partner may disagree, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at grinning and bearing it. I don’t want to miss any of the good parts of these first few months of my son’s life. So despite the pain, we’ve gone on walks. And to a local public pool. And had visits with grandmas and grandpa. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sitting in any one position for longer thirty minutes or so (like at my computer) is difficult. And given that I used all my sick days for my maternity leave, I wouldn’t have any sick days to use if I had to take any because of my back. What a catch 22.
  • I’m having acupuncture and chiropractic treatments weekly for the aforementioned bullet. I feel like I’m always either nursing or running to an appointment, which leaves little time for getting work done. (And anyone who knows me knows I’m a workaholic, so this is hard on many, sometimes paradoxical levels.)
  • this past week, my thumbs, wrists, and forearms started aching. It’s apparently a thing called mommy thumb. It’s painful and puts typing in the category of repetitive movements I should avoid doing too much of. For this reasons, too, returning to work at this point would mean I’d have to cut corners and would perform at a far-below-normal level.

I share this list not to complain (though I realize I might sound a little whiny), but rather to bring into light the physical challenges that follow in the aftermath of giving birth — even almost three months later. I’ve had lower back pain before, but never like this. And healing isn’t being helped by my diastasis recti, or splitting of the abdominal wall. Mine is slight in the whole scope of what can happen during pregnancy and birth, but it’s making the project of strengthening my core muscles (which will in turn strengthen my back and help alleviate some of the pain) more challenging than it would normally be.

I’ve tried working on scholarship (since publishing articles is a major part of how I get to keep my job in the long-term), but now realize why people stop the tenure clock. Hopefully I’ll get some work days in soon. Not sure how that’ll happen, but I remain optimistic that it will.

And to the readers who have commented both publicly and privately that people choose to have children aren’t forced into it, or having children is selfish, or as one reader put it, “If you ‘want’ that child, then you better be prepared to handle that ‘want’ without complaining that people owe you something financially for that choice,” I say: mmmkay. First of all, I never thought I couldn’t handle the want to have a child. And I’m not arguing that I should be given something special and out of the ordinary for my choice. All I’m saying is that workers should be taken care of, and women deal with postpartum issues in relative silence and isolation, sucking up the pain and hardship that follows whether they had a complicated pregnancy and/or birth. And, given that we live in a patriarchal society where women are not treated the same as their male counterparts, I think it bears repeating that having a baby requires more time off from work than most people in this country are given. Time off is not some sort of gift — I’m learning first-hand right now just how difficult being responsible for childcare really is. I babysat as a kid, but that was nothing in comparison — caring for a baby full-time is exhausting, emotional, physically challenging work. And I can imagine that if men were the ones bearing the babies, the situation would be a whole lot different.

But despite all the back and wrist pain, sleepless nights, and overwhelm, there’s this. And it’s pretty darn great.

IMG_2612

The Politics of Having a Baby

It’s not politics, really, and yet everything having to do with juggling your life after having a baby is political — largely because women do the baby-bearing and patriarchy is alive and well in our society. And since my last post was called “The Politics of Being Pregnant,” I figured I’d stick with the theme… And mostly: pregnancy — what happens before, during, and after — is this thing no one really talks about openly. It shouldn’t be a secret, and no one should apologize for doing it. And places of employment should encourage, not discourage, it. At least in my humble opinion…

My son will be 9 weeks old in a few days, and I feel lucky to be in the position that I am. He arrived mid semester, and I was able to be home for the rest of the semester to care for him. Although I have to work at home for part of the time to make up for sick days I didn’t have, I will have been able to care for him, almost 24/7, for nearly 5 months of his life by the time I return to work full time. This scenario is pretty unheard of in our society. While I thought the lack of new-parent leave was problematic before becoming pregnant, my understanding of just how ridiculous it is has skyrocketed since actually giving birth. Allow me to explain:

The Birth Process
Gratefully, my labor and delivery were largely without incident. I went into labor at 3:00am early on a Saturday morning and delivered 18 hours later. My contractions were random and easy for a few hours, but around lunch time, they got very painful (I’m talking the-wind-got-knocked-out-of-me-and-I-can’t-put-words-together-to-make-sentences painful), and by 4:30pm I wasn’t sure if I could handle it getting worse. We called our doula, Mary Riley (who is amazing!!), and headed to the local birth center. The drive was 40 minutes, and I arrived at 9cm dilated. I can’t even begin to describe the pain — I kept saying to Mary, “but I can’t get comfortable!” and she would say, “that’s right — you’re in labor — but you know what? Your body won’t give you anything more than you can handle.” She was right, but wow, did it hurt. More than words can describe. More than I could ever have imagined before going through it. But I didn’t question my decision to do it without drugs, and I kept thinking about something that my partner had read in the book The Birth Partner: “in the end, there will be a baby.” And eventually there was. Allen arrived at 10:06pm, and our tiny family of two grew to three.

And Then the Afterward Part: My Body and Breastfeeding
I had no idea how much blood there would be. Every woman is different, but I bled (like a lot) for days. Weeks, actually. I didn’t know beforehand: I was so focused on the birth process that I never thought to read about what happens next. And I felt like I’d been in a car wreck. Walking, sitting up, bending down — it was all a challenge for weeks to come. I’m currently battling some pretty gnarly lower back pain that resulted from sitting in bed funny one night. Amazingly, I didn’t have back pain during my pregnancy, but it took one plop onto the bed for a breastfeeding session, and I haven’t been the same since. The afterpains, aches, and throbs that would continue for weeks on end weren’t something I anticipated — I kind of (naively, in retrospect) expected that I would just bounce back physically. And, I didn’t have a C-section or forceps or vacuum suction, interventions that many women need that add a whole other layer to recovery. I never heard anyone talk about what it’s like for the mother after she gives birth. And after all, there’s a kid to take care of now — I thought (naively again), maybe our bodies just kick back into gear because they have to.

And they do. Sort of. But to take care of baby; not do that and go back to work.

I now think new moms are incredible superhero-like creatures who do everything and then some. And I’m not tooting my own horn here — dust bunnies are abundant, mail is piling up, and I can’t generally start and finish a task without being interrupted by a tiny being who’s almost always strapped to my body these days. But on a miniscule amount of sleep and while being bathed in a wash of hormones, I’ve managed to sustain the life of a newborn. If that’s not superherodom, I’m not sure what is.

Which brings me to breastfeeding. Another thing I didn’t think to research. I knew I wanted to breastfeed — breastmilk is the most nourishing food you can give a newborn. A mother’s breastmilk is literally tailored to meet the needs of the baby she just carried around for 9 (give or take) months. And I figured it was something innate that would be easy to learn in the hours after giving birth.

Wrong.

While many mothers have no problem initiating breastfeeding with their newborns, many women struggle to lactate at all, others have issues with supply, and still more have a whole host of latching issues. The latter was my issue: it seemed that no matter what I did, breastfeeding was the most painful thing I’d ever done aside from labor. A few hours into my son’s life and my nipples were already bloody. Several weeks (6 and a half, to be exact) of bleeding, cracking, and radiating pain followed before it got markedly better. And I probably would have stopped long before if it weren’t for the support of a group of women I’ve met through a nursing circle in Poughkeepsie at Waddle n Swaddle, an amazing haven of a shop devoted to all things parenting.

Which leads me to the real reason I wanted to write this post — SIX WEEKS OF LEAVE IS NOT NEARLY ENOUGH. I had no schema to understand before, but now, now I get it. At 6 weeks postpartum:

  • I was still bleeding from giving birth.
  • My back had given out and I was seeing a chiropractor twice a week.
  • My breasts were sore from the challenges of breastfeeding.
  • I was (and still am) getting up three times each night to breastfeed, putting my average hours of (broken) sleep per night somewhere around 4 or 5.
  • I was consumed (and still am) by the mountain of information I don’t know about parenting, developmental milestones, vaccinations, and the list goes on.
  • I couldn’t (and still can’t) fit into any of my work clothes that aren’t maternity. And it turns out wearing maternity clothes when you’re not pregnant doesn’t work so well.
  • I was emotionally erratic from the sleep deprivation and ocean of hormones that followed giving birth.
  • I had no clue how pumping worked so that I would be able to feed my baby when I was back at the office (that’s a whole other post in itself).
  • I didn’t (and still don’t) have time to wash my hair very often.
  • I was just (and still am) getting to know my son. He changes a little every day, and I couldn’t (and still can’t) imagine putting him in someone else’s care.

There’s more, but I really can’t fathom how working parents of new babies are expected to go back to work so soon. The recommended six weeks seemed like a lengthy amount of time before I experienced it. It’s not. It goes by in the blink of an eye. And some places of employment require a return to work even sooner, which is terrible. I have such strong feelings about this for obvious reasons right now, but it’s edging on criminal that our society claims to value family as much as it does, but literally punishes people for choosing to have children. I’m glad that legislators are talking about changing the policy to 12 weeks of paid leave. But honestly, even that isn’t enough. In some European countries, parents have up to two years to care for their newborns, and after that, there’s socialized childcare until their little ones are ready to start school. We are doing it all wrong in this country.

But to end on a positive note, this:Allen 8 and a half weeks

 

 

 

The Politics of Being Pregnant

28 weeks and countingI’ve weathered a growing (no pun intended) stream of unsolicited advice, comments, and thoughts on the shape of my pregnant body in the past few weeks, as I’ve begun to show in earnest. While I welcome any bit of conversation about pregnancy from people I know (whether it be family members, friends, colleagues, or students), I am increasingly shocked at how often strangers feel the need (and the right) to comment on my shape, offer predictions, and ask probing questions about name, gender, and philosophy that my partner and I are still figuring out. Of course everyone’s different, and perhaps I unknowingly welcome it, but the comments about what I look like have started to get under my skin.

As someone who was tall for my age as a child and teenager, I have plenty of practice with unsolicited comments about my shape, height, and amount of space I take up in the room. That being said, pregnancy is a very stressful, sometimes unpredictable, often exciting time that is quite personal. And I’m growing weary of juggling the daily challenge of just being pregnant (and everything that goes along with that) and the mounting commentary about my belly, largely from people I don’t know. At the gym this morning, this dialogue with a woman I’ve never spoken to before illustrates just what I mean:

“When are you due?”
(I remove my headphones.)
“End of March. We’re very excited.”
(I smile and put my headphones back on.)
“It must be a girl.”
(I remove my headphones again.)
“No, it’s a boy.”
“Are you sure? You don’t look like you’re carrying a boy. Your body is just so, well, round.”
(I replace my headphones and don’t know (or care) if she’s still talking, and busy myself with another round of reps.)

Other things I’ve heard in passing:

“You’re carrying so high.”
“You’re carrying so low.”
“You don’t look pregnant.”
“You’re huge.”
“Are you sure it isn’t twins?”

And so on…

So what is appropriate to say when someone is pregnant? I’m not sure there’s a rule book. But what I do know is that going through the process for the first time has opened my eyes about it in ways I hadn’t expected. Thanks to the lengthy history of deeply rooted sexism in our society, women are already judged for their appearance in numerous ways. And despite the fact that we are — literally — built to bear children, pregnancy and the resulting physical effects on women’s bodies appear to produce an irresistible topic for conversation that, based on my experience, is sometimes more about the person asking questions than it is about the person answering them.

Again — friends, colleagues, etc. — don’t feel like you can’t ask me questions or engage me in conversation or comment on what I look like. I have no problem with this. It’s the individuals I don’t know who feel the need to insert their opinions front and center that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around.

And all of this takes me to how women navigate our so-called maternity leave system in this country. Well, it turns out that most places of work don’t have maternity leave — SUNY included. It wasn’t something I even thought to question when I accepted the position at a public university. I naively assumed it was part of our contract. After all, we have a union! But after taking up work around Family Leave policy with colleagues on campus, I was surprised to find out that not only do we have to borrow time from our accumulated sick leave, there isn’t a hard and fast policy that helps women know what they’re facing when they choose to get pregnant. (Not to mention that pregnancy isn’t an illness; therefore, using sick days doesn’t make logical sense.)

Since I haven’t gone through the process quite yet (I’m only 30 weeks and expect to work up until my water breaks to preserve the sick days I do have), I can’t speak to what will happen. However, I can say that I have felt incredibly supported by my Chair, Dean, colleagues, and representatives from Compliance and Academic Affairs. While their hands are tied by the official language in the contract and Trustee Handbook, they’re all working with me to figure out a plan that will, as one administrator put it, keep me “whole and healthy.”

In preparation for a Teach-In on Family Leave on our campus last November, I did research on what maternity leave looks like locally and globally. I was shocked to find out that the U.S. is one of only 8 countries in the world that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave:
maternity leave NY Times

I also discovered that there’s been a bill stalled in Congress for over a year that calls for 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. Despite the fact that many countries offer more than 12 weeks, it would certainly be a start.

I could go on, but have said enough for one post. I encourage people to raise awareness about the abysmal state of maternity leave in our country; to talk to colleagues and family members about what has historically been an individually-fought-for, mostly-hidden negotiation in many workplaces; to consider the effect of words when offering them to pregnant women, especially those you don’t know; and to honor pregnancy as something that is exciting and incredible — as opposed to a burdensome hindrance.

I absolutely can’t wait to meet this little boy I’m carrying around with me for roughly 10 more weeks. And while I know it will completely change my life — and my body — in ways that I can’t yet understand, the experience has already shifted my paradigm when it comes to further understanding how destructive and unfair issues of sexism and gender discrimination still are in our society, and how they determine the policies by which we are bound in our workplaces. Till next time…

 

Hands Up Will Still Get You Shot

Racial profiling just got another stamp of approval. That’s not justice.

I am beyond words after reading the coverage of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, this past week. I’m brought back to the anger and deep sadness I felt when the Trayvon Martin verdict came down in favor of his shooter (the photo here is from the march that followed the verdict in New York City). I’m reminded of the disbelief and outrage I felt when Black Hurricane Katrina victims were called “looters” while white victims engaging in the same act — gathering supplies from local stores and businesses during a horrific emergency — were called “survivors.” I think of the shock and taste the bile in my mouth from the first time I saw the truck that drives around local communities near where I live flying a confederate flag as big as a bed sheet.

What is wrong with (white) people??

[And in case you’re wondering: yes, I fall into the ‘white’ category. And yes, I still believe this question needs to be asked, despite how uncomfortable it makes both me and some people I hold dear.]

My thoughts aren’t flowing out of me academically and aren’t even quite fully formed, but as I read and process more, and the rage percolates just beneath the surface of my skin and my eyes, I know one thing for sure: we can’t be silent on this. Michael Brown is just one of many innocent victims of a system that isn’t working — a system that, as my friend and colleague Nelson Flores puts it in a phrase borrowed from Jonathan Rosa, exercises a “fundamental disposability of black and brown bodies.”

Michael Brown died because of racism.

An old friend of mine used to say, during the days of the Iraq war protests when anti-Bush sentiment grew in leaps and bounds in this country, “we’re sitting on a powder keg, and it’s just a matter of time before something wakes us up.”

Well, that was almost 10 years ago, and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to be woken up, America. Something’s gotta give. As long as we stay silent on the ways in which patriarchal, white supremacy plays a role in dictating both the explicit and tacit policies that guide our society, we play a part in allowing what’s wrong to be right.

I stand in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. No justice, no peace!

 

Writers’ Choice

Every semester, SUNY New Paltz sends undergraduate teacher candidates who are just starting out in the Elementary Education program to Duzine Elementary School in New Paltz for their first fieldwork experience. The teacher candidates each partner with a cooperating teacher and classroom, where they spend 40 hours over the course of the semester. I had the privilege of supervising the partnership for the first time this past spring, and it was incredible to see the teacher candidates’ growth as they learned all about literacy instruction from their cooperating teachers at Duzine.

photo (8)When the semester ended, I asked Rebecca Burdett — a first-grade teacher whose love for writing emanates from everything she does — if I could come back for a visit. Every morning, Rebecca and her students engage in Writers’ Choice, a thirty-minute period of time in which students choose what and how they’d like to write. And I wanted a chance to soak in more of this magical space, where students are authors who find their voices without hesitation. They conduct surveys, choose lines in poems to illustrate, observe objects from nature (like antlers, crickets, turkey legs, feathers, etc.), write letters (and then mail them), make signs, add notes to a kindness jar, and the list goes on.

There are many amazing things to me about this sacred time in which students write, uninhibited by curricular mandates, standardized assessments, and all the other things that go along with today’s high-stress educational policy environment. It reminds me in some ways of how I watched my own 5th-grade class transform when I introduced the idea of a Writer’s Notebook. But perhaps what struck me most of all about Writers’ Choice is that it demonstrates the ability and possibility of first-grade students to write because they want to, not because they have to. Each student is engaged, willing, and ready to participate fully, and does so enthusiastically.

Teachers and students in K, 1st, and 2nd grades throughout Duzine Elementary engage in Writers’ Choice in some capacity, and one thing is absolutely crystal clear: students’ choices about their own writing matter.

At the end of my first year as a faculty member, I’m grateful to Rebecca and the other educators at Duzine who have so graciously invited me and our teacher candidates into their classrooms. I can’t wait to return in the fall!

Last Day/First Day

A coughing fit woke me up again this morning, which is how I’ve been waking up most days lately. I haven’t been able to kick the back end of an allergy/asthma attack that took me by storm early last week. I know I’m under a lot of stress and pressure, and with everything going on at work and the new house, I find myself in the midst of a combination of exhaustion, a depleted immune system, and figuring out how to hang on by a string just a little bit more. Which brings me to my love-hate relationship with the tempo of the school year — the whole reason I started this blog post.

People often think that teachers — and especially professors — get the summers off. But in reality, few people in education make enough money to not work during the summer. Whether it’s been taking on proofreading jobs, making pizza, tutoring, teaching summer courses, teaching knitting lessons, consulting, and a variety of other random jobs I’ve had over the years, I haven’t had a summer off in fifteen years. Not until last summer.

photo (3)It was glorious. I had just graduated from the CUNY Graduate Center, and for the first time since college, was no longer a student. I went on a week-long vacation with my family on the Oregon coast, and read fiction for the first time in nearly a decade. If I stare at this photo for long enough, I can almost imagine what that week was like…

This summer, I’m teaching two new courses. Not that I’m complaining — I love to teach, I need the money, and most importantly, I teach my very first graduate class at SUNY New Paltz tonight. I’m thrilled to be teaching graduate students (no offense to my undergrads — I enjoy both age groups very much, but I admit that teaching graduate students back in 2004 for the first time is what made me want to become a teacher educator in the first place).

And herein lies a conundrum with the school year: I love to teach, but if I want to keep my job (i.e., get tenure), I also need to write and publish. Everyone says professors write in the summer. I guess I’m still figuring that one out.

I can no longer count on two hands how many colleagues have counseled me to say ‘no’ to things and have advised me to set aside more time to write. Which leads me to my current challenge — how to find the time, and also find the right “homes” for my work. So far, 0 for Greene in the scholarship arena.

I have submitted two single-author pieces of scholarship for review this year — an abstract for a special issue in a journal that would have been based on my dissertation, and a grant proposal to build something I called SCOPE, the SUNY Community of Practice in Education. SCOPE would have been a learning commons, or a virtual bridge, between SUNY New Paltz and a literacy education project I’m working on in Newburgh City.

Both the article and proposal were rejected. I know that rejection is just part of the process, but it’s hard to buck up and try again — especially when the one person who read every piece of writing you’ve written for the last eight years is no longer around.

I’m not trying to make excuses. I’m just saying: today marks the day that grades are due for the spring semester and the first day of the summer semester…and being able to take a breath (literally and figuratively) seems at once impossible and necessary.

But for now, I’m focusing on tonight: my first class with a new group of students. We’re going to talk literature reviews and research questions, and I’m going to channel the teachings of some of my favorite research and writing teachers — Jean AnyonMaria Jerskey, and Sondra Perl. I’ve learned so much from them over the years, and I’m looking forward to paying that knowledge forward.

If You’re Going on the Academic Job Market

Up early on a Sunday, I’m catching up on emails, and just saw an email with a link to a video I participated in last spring that is about, among a few things, what it’s like to teach in higher ed these days, and how to prepare for the academic job market. After a recent email from a friend who’s going on the job market this fall, I figured there might be others out there looking for advice on how to plan their approach. If you’re up for watching a bit of a video, I wish I’d found something like this, “Teaching in the Modern University: A Conversation between Urban Education students and professors,” when I started out looking for a job as an assistant professor last fall, especially the section that starts at 57:29 and goes to 1:21:17. Either way, read on — below you’ll find some tips for how to approach different stages of the process.

Remember that this is just one perspective, and lots of people out there have advice. There’s no magic wand, but there are things you can do to be prepared:

WHEN TO START LOOKING: The academic job market is a roughly one-year process. Universities start posting jobs at the end of the summer or start of the fall semester for the following academic year. Each listing has its own deadline.

WHERE TO LOOK: You can sign up for email lists through research associations and organizations; look in the Chronicle for Higher EducationHigherEdJobs, and Indeed; do regular Google searches; or visit Human Resources webpages of colleges and universities. I was surprised to find that the latter approach yielded quite a few listings I didn’t find using other avenues — I highly recommend using all of these approaches.

MATERIALS TO PREPARE: Each university has different requirements, but there are a few materials they almost always require.

  • curriculum vitae: make sure your CV is up to date, and accurately reflects the three areas of experience and potential the search committee is looking for: teaching, service, and scholarship. You may want to consider tailoring it to reflect teaching first if you’re applying to a teaching university, or publications and presentations first if you’re applying to a Research I or Big-R research institution. The one I have posted online follows the same format of the one I used when applying for jobs.
  • letter of application: your letter is your first contact with your potential new colleagues, and you want to give them a glimpse of who you are–primarily as a teacher, scholar, and communicator. Make sure to see if there is a central focus or a specific question you’re supposed to answer in your application. Make sure to gear your narrative toward the specific field. Even though I wanted, and gratefully accepted, a position teaching literacy methods, the jobs were few and far between. I ended up applying to generalist and technology education positions, too. I looked for jobs in educational studies as well, but found even fewer of those. I included a version of my letter of application here:

    Download (PDF, 164KB)

  • recommendations: some universities will require two or three written recommendations up front; some, as in the sample, require the names of a certain number of references. Make sure you give your recommenders ample time to prepare their materials as necessary.
  • teaching philosophy: you may be asked to present a 2-3 page statement about your pedagogical approach to teaching. You can see mine online here (keep in mind there are a variety of approaches to this, which vary by discipline).
  • supplementary materials: you may be asked to send writing samples or copies of recent publications, transcripts, sample syllabi, etc.
  • digital CV: before I headed out on interviews, I created a digital CV. I purchased kierstengreene.net and used OpenCUNY.org to host my site. By having a readily available digital presence in this way, I was able to send search committees to my website, demonstrating my seriousness about a life of scholarship and a commitment to staying technologically relevant. I was also able to use this site to house any supplementary materials for teaching or research presentations I gave during my interviews.Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 10.33.14 AM

THE PROCESS: Academic jobs are few and far-between right now. Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back about all of your applications–you are up against hundreds of other people, and some colleges and universities won’t respond to you at all. I heard back from 9, or 75% of the 12 universities to which I applied: 6 were rejections, and 3 were invitations to interview.

  • First contact is usually a phone or Skype interview. Search committees are generally comprised of 4-6 faculty members of the department, program, or school to which you’re applying. They usually ask from 7 to 10 questions.
  • In order to prepare for my interviews, I combed each university’s website, and discovered things I was excited about at the university that I would want to highlight in my interviews. I also took a look at any research or publications by the members of my search committees. I wanted to go into the conversations with a good idea of who I was talking to; the best way to get an idea of this, I felt, was to take at look at their research. I also researched the geographic area. I applied to jobs primarily in the New York City and Hudson Valley regions, as my partner and I wanted to stay in the vicinity of New York. I also applied out in the Pacific Northwest, where we have family. I don’t necessarily recommend limited yourself by geography — it’s a bit of a gamble.
  • The job market seems to be space in which anything goes. It was unpredictable, overwhelming, and scary, but I learned a lot about myself in the process.

It was funny to revisit this post, “And the Search for Next Year Begins,” where I describe the fears I had about the job market when I was just starting out. It was only a year ago, but it feels much longer!!

WHEN YOU’RE INVITED TO CAMPUS: Getting a campus interview is a big deal. Only 2 or 3 candidates are generally invited. Usually all your expenses are paid–hotel or bed and breakfast stay, meals, and travel for one or two days, depending on the structure of the interview.

  • Be prepared. your presentation will generally follow one of two formats, or perhaps both. There is 1) the classic job talk, which is mainly a research presentation in which you present your latest research. I used my dissertation for the basis of any job talks I gave. The other option is 2) a teaching presentation, in which you’re expected to teach a lesson to a class. In both cases, I was expected to present for about 45 minutes. Each presentation is usually followed by a Q & A session. A range of people–administrators, faculty, staff, and students–are generally invited to presentations, so be prepared for the room to be packed (but don’t worry if it’s not!).
  • Know the campus. Have some reasons prepared for why you’re excited about potentially working there–you don’t want to say things like, “I applied because it was one of the only listings I found in my discipline.” They want to feel like you hand-picked them from the pile of job listings, so you should have something to answer with when you’re inevitably asked, “Why do you want to teach at x university?” I had it easy — I was born less than an hour away from the university where I now teach, and my grandmother lived an hour and a half away. In a way, I felt like I was coming home. While it wasn’t enough to say, “the Hudson Valley is near and dear to my heart,” I was able to work that into the conversation. There were a number of programmatic things that attracted me to New Paltz initially, and I made sure to talk about them when I was asked why the job and university appealed to me.
  • Bring sustenance. You’ll be fed, but I found it helpful to have some snacks on hand when I felt my energy waning after the third interview of the day. My schedules included as many as four interviews plus one presentation in a day. It was exhausting.
  • Wear something appropriate. I was planning on pulling some tweed skirts and jackets out of my closet, but my advisor warned that I needed to wear suits. It was an expensive investment, but well worth it. While affordable suit fashion has yet to catch up with current trends of the tapered leg in pants, wearing a suit boosted my confidence when it came time to presenting in front of thirty some-odd strangers.
  • Listen, but also speak. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to show people how brightly you shine. You want to talk about why it is you’re the best person for the position. You want to wow them with your accomplishments and ideas for how you think you can be an asset to the program, department, or school.
  • Enjoy yourself. This was one of the best pieces of advice I received when I started frantically calling people to help me figure out how to prepare for my interviews. You’re going to be wined and dined and the focus of attention for 24, maybe 36 hours, so you might as well get into it.
  • Have a change of clothes for dinner if you go out. I didn’t always change, but I was glad to have options when necessary.
  • Remember you’re interviewing them, too. This was hard to remember at times, but a handful of people shared this same bit of advice with me–you have to keep in mind that you should want to end up at the place that offers you a job. If the feeling isn’t mutual, it’s not a good fit.

There’s so much more to talk about. If you have a specific question, please add it to the comments. I’m sure you’re not the only one.