Today was our faculty/staff development day at work. Or as my daughter put it, teacher punishment day. That seems to be the common consensus on a lot of campuses, college and secondary schools alike. I’ve had friends who teach in a variety of settings complain about their own development days. It seems ironic that educators dislike these days so much. Yet the idea of professional development isn’t the problem, it’s the issue that’s at the core of all student complaints: how am I ever going to use this information? Why do I need to know this? This isn’t in my area of interest, so why must I suffer through it?? Now, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I adhere to the philosophy of a well-rounded education. I think the more areas you’re introduced to, the broader your view becomes and the more curiosity has a place to roam. It’s also easier to see the connections between ideas and theories and disciplines. Yet, as we get older, it becomes trickier. During a day such as today, the “development” topics often seem irrelevant or overdone or pushed upon us and, therefore, condescending in some weird way. Since we’re forced to attend, we feel at the mercy of administration and their agenda (although there is supposed to be input from various committee members from across campus). And maybe there’s some truth in that. It is a way for administration to disseminate information to or gather feedback from hundreds of captive employees at once, without suffering the pains of sending out unread emails or flyers or phone calls, hoping for responses. Throw in economic restrictions on bringing in celebrity speakers, and on some level, I understand why the topics aren’t always engaging or exciting. Yet, I do believe that even in the workplace, there is still benefit to knowing how departments work both within their own particular confines and within the (in my case) campus as a whole. What our marketing, recruitment and admissions areas do drives enrollment, enrollment drives classes, and what and how faculty teach and interact with students keeps the process going, which makes all of our jobs possible.
Of course, I’m interested in people and communication and how things interact, so I have a natural curiosity about workplace dynamics. That being said, I also believe development days should foster growth in our own particular work as well. I wish some of our breakout sessions would involve conversations about our own personal areas of interest. Visiting scholars, perhaps. Faculty and staff from other colleges coming in for content discussions that could be joint-development days for multiple schools. Business leaders who could discuss the attributes they look for in the students we hope to graduate. Something that is inspiring and energizing as we enter another academic year. Therefore, I have to admit that today I was just as guilty as others of being a bit underzealous about being “developed.”
But there are some things for which I’m grateful. Our new president is easy to listen to and, I believe, is working hard for the college and all the employees. We have new programs that should be exciting and beneficial to our community. We have not only a Faculty of the Year award, but now also an Employee of the Year award, and the first recipient today was a guy who really deserved it. Having all employees together means being able to socialize with colleagues with whom it’s normally difficult. Our college still provides lunch (a box lunch consisting of sandwich and chips) but at least it’s from a good vendor. And it includes a cookie. I learned some new technology in one of my sessions. I got more information on a local business I was only vaguely aware of. Finally, putting together a day of activities for hundreds of reluctant people can’t be easy, yet the day always flows well and is organized. I am truly thankful for those who do it and the time and effort they put into it.
I had a lunch meeting today with a couple people to discuss one of my upcoming projects. We are going to revive a long-dormant forensics program at the college and yours truly will be the speech coach. I was on the speech team when I was in college, and since I’m starting my masters degree in speech this fall, it seemed like a good fit. The discussion today was productive. One of the men is generously planning to fund the seed money to get our program started. He has done well for himself financially and wants to give back to the college in this way. At one point, I laid out what I felt would be obstacles to getting a forensics program off the ground, which led to some interesting ideas on how to collaborate with the local high schools. By the end of our lunch I was both energized and daunted by the possibilities this project will bring. It’s an area I’m obviously interested in, and I’m excited by the idea of starting anew from the ground up. And the “investor” is a guy who is not only generous but well-connected in our community. It will be interesting to get outside involvement in the program. Yet he made it very clear that while he will help out however I need him to, he has no personal agenda outside of wanting to provide a way to involve students in leadership roles with potential scholarship opportunities. Basically, he gave me the reins and told me to let him know what the budget needs would be. I hope someday I’m in that kind of financial position. I left lunch with a hundred ideas going through my head. And came home to a puppy crated too long and a mess to clean up and immediately wondered what else I had gotten myself into. In a month I start classes myself and now have a forensics program to build, a day job to maintain, a puppy to potty train, a half-painted house to finish…Good thing I don’t have time to have people to my house a lot. I have the feeling the dust is going to build up. I’ve been able to talk myself out of panic mode lately (most of the time), which is a good thing. I know things will come together. They always do. The puppy will grow up. I’ll have one daughter back at home soon to help out. And for that I’m thankful.
Tonight after my college’s graduation ceremony, we had a reception for faculty and staff. I almost didn’t go. My allergies were bothering me again, and I wasn’t sure I was up to socializing. However, I was part of the committee that put the reception together, so I did feel a small measure of guilt for wanting to skip it. So after a nap and some medicine, I put myself together and went. I ended up talking with a lot of people I don’t normally get to see on a daily basis, which was fun. There was also a recognition of the newly tenured faculty and our provost had a very touching speech he gave thanking them and the rest of us for the role we all play in our students’ lives. Later, more people danced than I expected, which was a pretty interesting sight to see. Overall, It was a good evening.I ended up staying later than I planned to, but I’m thankful tonight that I went.
My semester is officially over! I love working on a semester schedule. I love the sense of renewal it brings. This week is also graduation, and it’s been a pleasure to see how our grounds crew has been sprucing up the landscaping with white flowers. They’ve also been mowing this week, and I will never tire of the smell of freshly cut grass. The downside to the end of the semester and graduation is knowing that there are students who will be leaving. I will miss seeing the familiar faces, some who have been working in my area for over a year. It’s always a little bittersweet saying goodbye, but I’m excited for them, knowing that they are moving on to bigger things. Today we also had a reception for several faculty and staff who are retiring at the semester’s end. Retirement receptions at my college are a slightly formal affair. The division dean or director reads a resolution, which is basically a list of the person’s accomplishments over the years, oftentimes with humor injected, and always ending with it’s our hope that his/her happiest days lie ahead. Then the retiree is presented with a gift. It’s really a rather touching ceremony. As I sat and watched today, I was reminded again how thankful I am to work where I do. There are many, many people on campus between employee groups and students, but it often feels intimate, especially at times such as the reception. We employees take the time to get to know each other. And if we’re lucky, we have and take the time to get to know some of the students who come and go. And that’s what life is about for me, the people who surround us who make a difference in our day to day.
My morning was interesting. I had a terrible night’s sleep (again) and woke up feeling just as lousy as I did when I went to bed. Sore throat. Chest cough. Only this morning I got the added bonus of an allergic reaction to something at some point during the night. My eyes were almost swollen shut. At least the left one. Itchy, red, swollen. I actually sat in bed and cried for two minutes, which only made it worse. So, I got up, put cold water on my face, took my allergy pill–which, by the way, I have been doing daily for the last several months–and stood in a hot shower for a while. It only helped a little. It’s so frustrating because I have no idea what triggered the allergy. I haven’t changed my detergent, my pillows, or anything else on my bed. I had also just washed everything a few days prior. All I can think is that I must have my body worn down to the point where I’m overly sensitive to something. Maybe it’s my down pillows.
However, my tears this morning were mostly triggered by the fact that I had planned to go with my daughter to a college visit and at that point, I could literally see my own eye out of the corner of my eye. That’s how puffy they were. I didn’t want to drive that way. I also hated the idea of meeting people while looking like I had been in a fight. But I sucked it up. A couple of ice cubes helped a little with the swelling and a liberal dose of makeup camouflaged the redness a bit. And my daughter decided to drive, which was good and bad. Her car is so much smaller than mine. As we backed out of the driveway, I swear I looked eye to eye with a robin sitting in the yard.
At any rate, I’m thankful I was able to go. We had a great time chatting on the way there. And the college presentation was extremely interesting. She’s checking out SCAD (Savannah College of Arts and Design). It’s a school totally devoted to the arts, and she wants to go into animation. It could be a good fit for her; she’s very artistic. Actually, by the end of the presentation, the dormant artist in me was ready to sign up as well. And later, on the way home, we stopped and did a little shopping. I’m glad I didn’t let my morning dictate my day. It was a good day, puffy eyes, sore throat and all.
Today I am thankful that I got a chance to see my sister and niece for a short visit. They stopped by my place yesterday and spent the night on their way to my niece’s college. She had an orientation today, and I happen to live along the route there. While I didn’t see them but to say a quick goodbye before they left today, we were able to hang out a little bit last night. Well, my niece hung out with my daughters, while my sister went to dinner with me and some of my friends. Overall, we had a fun, albeit short night. At one point, my niece made the comment that she could always come to my place on holiday breaks instead of going all the way home, which was actually a welcoming thought. Not one I think my sister would prefer, but I liked the idea that my niece may feel comfortable doing that. It also reminded me of how much I wish I had family who lived closer. For most of my adult life, I have not lived in the same town as anyone in my family. I’ve gotten used to it, of course, but every once in a while I long to be able to simply drop in on a sister or my parents. Just to hang out and stay for dinner. Or have them do the same to me. In the absence of that, I love that sometimes impromptu visits like yesterday’s happen. And now that my niece is going to be away at college next year, maybe the visits will become more regular. That would be cool.
I honestly found it difficult today to think of something I am grateful for. I was crabby for most of the day. It was cold and blah. My work day dragged on. I had an afternoon meeting I wasn’t excited about. I had to force myself to go to the gym after work. I couldn’t find anything exciting in the refrigerator to eat for dinner. Really, all I wanted to do was complain.
So I stopped to think about the big picture. Nothing dreadful happened to me today. That’s a really good thing.
And then I thought about all the little things in-between my complaints. I have a job and I got there today because my car started, even in this weather. During my day, I spoke to numerous friends and acquaintances, some who simply checked in to say hello or emailed funny photos they thought would make me smile. My daughter stopped by my office to laugh about how she stalled her new car on her way to work. Then texted me later to say how she stalled it about 20 more times going to her dad’s house, but made it there safely. My niece sent a message, saying she got accepted into DePaul University, something she’s been hoping for and planning on for a long time. I had the chance to see several colleagues in my afternoon meeting and had an interesting discussion about teacher/student expectations during the learning process. A friend I hadn’t seen in a while met me at the gym and we had the chance to catch up over an hour on the treadmill. Then we made plans to get together again over the weekend. And because I found nothing decent to eat, I ate junk. Well, I added cheese to my popcorn, so I think that counts as something halfway good for me.
Once again, when it comes right down to it, I really don’t have much to complain about. Not every day is exciting, but there’s always something to be thankful for. Even if it’s just in the details.
We had a reception at work today honoring our college president. He recently decided to leave the school, hopefully on his way to better, even more rewarding ventures. It was a lovely reception, with a lot of visitors from on campus and off. It reminded me of when he first came to the college, 8 years ago. We had a similar reception, although it had a different feel to it then. It wasn’t as bittersweet as it was today.
The work of a college president is, in all effects, a tightrope walk. Like any position of high authority there are politics involved. At a college, those politics are played out not simply on campus, but also within the community the college serves. The business of education is complicated and intense. It seems so simple on the surface; students enroll in school and faculty teach them what they need to know. But what do they need to know? And how much of it is necessary? Everyone has an opinion, and that’s when it gets tricky. Depending on the community, the what and how can fluctuate. Part of the duties of a college president is to work with the community to find out those needs and how the college can work on programming and funding to supply it. It was my opinion (shared by many) that our president did that well. But I’m biased.
See, I was fortunate enough to get to know him a little bit outside of his job title. I was part of the welcoming committee when he was first hired and from the beginning had an easy rapport with him. I found him to be approachable and welcoming as a person. He was the type who would walk through the halls and wave hello. Or stop by someone’s office and sit and chat for a while. More than once, he had sent me a quick note congratulating me on a job well done in a meeting or on a task. And he made it clear that if anyone had a concern or idea, his door was open. So once, I even met with him for career advice. I’m going to miss seeing him on campus. It felt like saying goodbye to a friend today. But I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work for someone so giving. I hope he left knowing that he will be missed.