Sad times

The faculty at my school went on strike yesterday. It’s been a long time coming, and not just in the months of contract negotiations. It’s been years in the making. The very nature of education has changed over the years; it certainly has at my school, thanks in part to consumer mentality. Those of us who have been here a while can say with a good level of certainty that the era of a particular college president forever damaged our culture. He was a man who believed students were customers and education was something that could be purchased, not attained. I can still picture him riding around the campus like a used car salesman in a golf cart going from lot to lot with his forced fake laugh and trying to shake everyone’s hand like a desperate politician. He put everyone on edge. It took too long for the Board of Trustees to acknowledge the damage his tenure was causing, but eventually there was a vote of no confidence and he went on to another unsuspecting college. But what he left behind was a fractured internal community and a Board that felt compelled to step further into the daily operations of the school. It was during this time that the faculty unionized in an effort to protect the distinct working conditions and integrity of teaching.

Of course times change. I know that. People like to say that things evolve, but in my opinion, what has happened to the culture at my school is more akin to disintegration. Our once inclusive, uplifting and nurturing environment has turned into everyday business. The argument, of course, is that our community is no longer the same. High unemployment, the recession, the challenges of our country as a whole means our focus needs to be different. People need jobs, quickly. A college degree is a luxury most people can no longer afford. And our state is broke, funding is gone, so we need to do more with less. Maybe there’s some truth in all that, but why is learning excluded? How did we get to a point where competence is a by-product? Where the art of teaching is no longer valued because it gets in the way—or takes too long?

Just the other day I had a student complain to me that he didn’t see the value in learning algebra. I patiently explained to him that it wasn’t whether or not he’d use algebra at his job that was important; it was the difference in thinking that math was teaching him that would be valuable. The way of looking at problems from different angles and solving them. The way math insists that you stick with it and figure stuff out. Those are the lessons that he could take to his job, even if he forgot every formula. And that’s the secret all good instructors know. Learning content is fine, but the ACT of learning is the key. It’s the act that broadens the mind.

I was lucky enough to go to a liberal arts college where every student, regardless of major, had to attend cultural activities in order to graduate. The message was that a worthwhile education was wholistic. It was inclusive of not just coursework, but the people and community around us. It didn’t focus on one topic, but showed how ideas and disciplines connected and how those connections broadened us and made us better people. I think the faculty at my school get that. In fact, I think most of the employees at my school still believe in education as an ideal.

The Board thinks the strike is over wages and health care and money because that’s their fight. Their focus in recent years has been on the budget. And it’s hard to see faces in numbers. It’s easy to vilify people when you don’t see them. The Board says it’s not personal, but it is. For all of us. Even those of us who aren’t on the picket lines because it directly affects what we do at this school. And it affects our culture. And for a lot of us, it’s emotional. Many of those professors outside today taught me when I was a student here. Several were instrumental in guiding not just my career path, but also my personal growth. The English teacher who used my journal writing as examples of good writing gave me the confidence to major in English. The speech teacher who encouraged me to join forensics instilled in me a love of public speaking. And many more, even now as colleagues, have helped me continue to learn and grow as a working professional. The one who guided me while working together on a community Board, the one who helped me find a graduate program and encouraged me to go back to school. Their fight is my fight, like it is for so many, many people who were privileged enough to take classes here over the years. It’s a fight for learning. And the respect that goes with dedicating your life to the belief that learning, as an act, matters. I’m glad they have the courage to stand up for it. I’m thankful to call so many of them my friends. Our school and our culture here may never return to the times of unity we had years ago, but it doesn’t mean we should give up. I hope, regardless of the outcome, that they always continue to fight for what matters. #solidarity #wearervc

Seriously? Can we just be done now.

The semester is over. Finally. I submitted my research proposal and took my last final exam yesterday. If all grading goes as well as I hope, I should finish this semester with a 4.0 gpa. Yay, me! If not, then, damnit, me. Or, if I were like a lot of the students here, it would be my instructor’s fault, of course. I’d say she just didn’t like me. But I know that’s not the case, so I’ll take whatever grades I get and keep plugging along, especially since my 4 week summer class starts next week. The instructor sent us the 48 page syllabus ahead of time…Gosh, I’m excited about that class. Gulp.

I like putting a period at the end of things. That means I can take a step and move on. I’m wishing that were the case with more than the semester. I found out that the miscarriage is still lingering. I’ve spent the last several weeks having my hormone levels checked with a blood test. Apparently, when a woman gets pregnant, her body starts producing a special hormone (hcg) that increases twofold every 2 to 3 days or so until the later months of pregnancy when it levels off. Blood tests measure it in number, and any number above a 5 is considered pregnant, although ideally the number should be zero in normal, non-pregnant conditions. My number this week registered at 117. I could go into a diatribe about my disappointment with my doctor at the moment and how things have been handled (or mishandled). Let me just say that his response was that something could still be left behind, but he’d like me to wait another couple of weeks to check my hormone levels again. Instead I made an appointment with a new doctor for next week.

In the meantime, my body hates me. I can feel it. I can feel that something is wrong. My regular female hormones are trying to take over in a raging battle that’s making me wish I were a dude. Yesterday was a particularly bad day. I felt on the verge of tears all day and had to avoid any cute baby animal-related videos on Facebook in case someone walked into my office at the wrong moment. Yet at the same time, I wanted to kick something. Hard. I secretly wished one of the posturing geese we have on campus would finally pick a fight. I would have won and it would have been epic. It’s a horrible feeling when you know you’re an emotional mess but you’re incapable of stopping it. You just have to hold on and try to avoid saying or doing anything that causes lasting damage. At one point in the day, my daughter texted asking for a favor. This was after finding out that I needed to stay an extra hour longer at work. And I was nice in my reply,  I really was. I even ended my message with a warning that I was not having a good day and she thanked me for the heads up. By 5 pm, just as I was heading to a new student orientation where I had to be available to answer questions of parents and their kids, I got a migraine aura. For those of you who’ve never experienced this, it’s like when you look into the flash of a camera and the ring of light stays behind in your eyes. I had those flashing, zigzagging lines in peripheral of my right eye which meant that I couldn’t see anyone coming at me from that side. I’m sure I looked like a weirdo constantly looking back and forth just so I could get a complete view of my surroundings. It lasted for almost an hour and  I braced myself for the migraine to follow. But it didn’t. Instead, all my hormone-filling angst of the day disappeared and I felt somewhat normal again. Damn, cruel body. I just saw the new Avengers movie and I realized that I can relate to the Hulk. At any moment, he turns into a wild beast and once he’s back to normal, he feels guilty and slinks away. I’m just hoping that I don’t also turn green.

I’m counting the minutes until I can meet my new doctor. I hope she takes one look at me and feels sympathy. I need to have this ordeal over. I tried to explain to my boyfriend last night how I’ve been feeling. I have to give him kudos for trying to understand, but I know I sound like a lunatic. Everything is horrible! Things aren’t working out. Maybe this is just a sign that we aren’t supposed to have a baby. When I get emotional like that, I miss having my family around. I need to feel connected to someone whom I know knows me. The people who can just laugh at me or slap me (not literally) and make me feel grounded again because I know they get it. I’m not crazy. But I now think Patrick gets it too. He did what I needed. Rationalized things for me. Teased me for being a mess. But also hugged me for a bit and told me things would be ok. Once again, I’m grateful for him. And for my kids, who also hugged me when I got home because I had given the heads up on my bad day. No questions asked first. Have I mentioned lately that I have great kids? So…I know I’ll get through things, like I usually do. It’s been a long time, but hopefully, I’ll have better answers next week. And I’ll try not to take anyone out in the meantime.

August 18

I have a list of things for which I’m thankful today:

Classes started today, which means I get to see more familiar faces on a regular basis and my tenured faculty friends get to share in the daily grind. Although that’s probably not on their gratitude list for today.
I ordered my books for grad school. And got a North Dakota State University binder that I’m excited to use for note taking.
I had lunch with my daughter. It was just leftovers at home, but it was great because said she really wanted me to spend my lunch break with her.
My faucet replacement finally arrived! I installed it (with 3 supervisors watching, my boyfriend and the two puppies) and there are no leaks. Hot water is now functional in the kitchen again!
I did some singing tonight, which I haven’t done in a long time. To the dog. And he did not whine, cry, or bark. In fact, I sang him to sleep. I must be getting better.

May 13

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.