On Teaching and Learning

Taking A Leap

Anatomy and Physiology was my favorite course in college. After spending a semester elbow deep in human cadavers, I returned the next semester as a lab assistant and began tutoring the subject to underclassmen. So ten years later, when my parents saw an ad in the local paper for an A&P instructor at a private college in our area, I decided to apply. But not without hesitation.

  • I had never before taught at a college.
  • I had never before taught A & P.
  • And did you catch that ten years had transpired since I had anything to do with A&P?

But I had a few things going for me.

  • I have a Masters degree. In a related field (physical therapy).
  • I have a Masters in Education, too. Colleges like people with degrees. The more, the better.
  • I had teaching experience. It was mostly one-on-one and in math, but hey.
  • And it was mere weeks before the semester was due to start. In other words, the college may have been a little desperate.

Thankfully, they only needed a lab instructor. Lab, in my opinion, is much easier and much more fun to teach. Sadly, we would not be dissecting cadavers.

After just two semesters, the department chair tried to convince me to teach the lecture portion as well. “You know I’ve never taught A&P,” I reminded her.

I managed to hold her off another year–until she realized it was only my perfectionism stopping me. “You on your worst day is better than any other option we have,” she said.

Well, if you put it like that . . .

After two-and-a-half years there, I moved on to a community college. I taught one semester and didn’t accept the offer of summer teaching because I had decided to give myself a one year sabbatical. The department chair said “If you ever find yourself back in the area and wanting some work, give me a call.”

The Best Laid Plans . . . 

Surprisingly not cold, snow shoeing on Rich Lake.

Surprisingly not cold, snow shoeing on Rich Lake.

Fast-forward to December, 2014. When we moved to Schroon Lake I’d told Michael I wouldn’t stay past the New Year. It’s too cold. After not working for nearly a year (by choice), I felt like it was time to go back. And there weren’t many options in Schroon Lake.

But Michael was excited to spend the winter here. The concept that the lake actually froze–to the point one could drive across it–fascinated him. He wanted to try ice fishing, and walk outside in below zero temperatures. I had none of these desires. But I had some ideas.

My Natural High

I couldn’t decide what avenue to take next in life, but knew I wanted to teach. Of all the jobs I’ve had (and there have been many), they have all involved teaching in some form. The more I taught, the happier I was. I’ve read that you know you’re doing the work you’re meant to be doing if, at the end of the day, you feel energized. After I finish teaching, I’m on a high–I’m replaying what worked and what didn’t, excited for what I’ve learned, what changes I saw in my students, eager for the next class.

Don’t Burn Bridges

So two days before Christmas, I e-mailed the department chair at the community college at which I taught four years earlier. Like most colleges, she had her spring semester staffed. But, like most colleges, things changed last minute. And so it was that I was given ten hours of courses to teach each week for the spring semester.

“They didn’t even interview you?” Michael asked.

“Well, no, but I worked there once already.”

“For one semester. Four years ago!”

Never mind that I was teaching two courses I had never taught before.

“What?” Michael asked. “You mean you don’t know the subject?”

“I probably know a lot of it. I took the course twenty years ago.” I was hoping the material in the General Biology labs I was due to teach overlapped with the material I taught in A&P. Michael laughed. “This makes me think about my college instructors in a whole new light.”

Thankfully, one look at the syllabus and I realized I would be okay. Two-thirds of the labs were things I taught in my three years as an A&P instructor. And the other labs would not be that hard to brush up on.

Home Again, Home Again

The college, however, is back in my hometown–three hours south of Schroon Lake. But the universe has a way of providing whatever one needs. The apartment over my parent’s garage, after having been inhabited continuously for more than thirty years by my grandmother, then my brother, then my youngest sister, was available.

And so it is that I’ve become a commuter. I don’t teach on Fridays, so on Thursdays I head up to Schroon Lake.

On Sundays, I return to the apartment that was once an oasis in my childhood: the place where I could escape the loud, chaotic life of siblings and parents, and take my spot on Grandma’s floor to attend her lesson on all things baseball as we watched the Mets games together.

Grandma didn’t just teach me about baseball. She taught me how to ask nicely for things. She taught me that everything must be put back in its place after I use it. She taught me that BLT’s are a perfectly acceptable breakfast food (as are Entenmann’s chocolate covered donuts).

As I open the two-inch think Biology textbook to prepare for next week’s class, I smile as I realize I’m living in the former home of a woman who taught me things I’d never find in a textbook.

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And for those of you wondering: yes,  that list of all the wonderful things Grandma gave us–the one copied onto her tombstone–still sits on the windowsill.

The Joys of Living in Asheville

As I turned a corner in the grocery store, I saw a gentleman standing beside a table of wines.  In the second it took for me to register what was happening, he asked, “Would you like to try some wine?”  Oh – that’s right, I thought, I now live in a state that sells wine in its supermarkets!  As if I needed another reason to love Asheville….

“Of course!” I said to him. Is there any other answer to this question?  I tried the Riesling and then – surprise, surprise – started chatting with him.  I now live in a state where talking to strangers is quite common.  This isn’t just idle chat – people have full conversations with cashiers when checking out, even if there is a line of people waiting behind them.  And the people behind them don’t mind!  Because they’ll do the same thing when they get to the front of the line. I can’t say I miss the impatience of New York life, but my father will feel like he’s on another planet when he comes to visit.  The slower pace of life, however, will be nothing compared to the people he’ll see walking the streets of Asheville, but that a whole other story.  Back to the wine guy.

Turns out my friendly neighborhood wine distributor just moved to Asheville.  This is no surprise.  There are few natives who live here – most everyone has moved from someplace else.  We talked about starting our new lives in Asheville and what we loved about it (the friendliness of people, for one).  After offering me a taste of the Pinotage (Fair Trade wine, no less), he got to telling me about a musician that was playing Friday night downtown.  I should come, he suggested.

So I did…enjoyed some lovely jazz guitar, delicious wine, conversation with all sorts of interesting people.  Before wine guy left, he offered me his extra ticket to the wine and food festival happening the next day (Asheville was voted one of the top 10 food and wine destination in the country.  Nope…didn’t know this when I moved here.) Of course, wine guy knows never to leave a woman alone at a bar, so before he left he introduced me to someone we’ll call guy Number Two.  Number Two suggests we head out for another drink, and whisks me away to his favorite place.  Turns out I’ve been there before, and know the manager of the place.  Met him and his wife at a wedding back when moving to Asheville was still a pipe dream.

I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s a snapshot: the next twenty four hours finds me checking out the newest place in town with an actual local (review : clearly created for hipster tourists, not someplace the locals will ever call home), eating and drinking and meeting people from all over the country atthe Asheville Wine and Food Festival, sharing mixed drinks out of community cups passed among the crowd at the festival (it’s alcohol…it kills everything, right?).  Saturday night finds me sitting on a blanket at the Shindig on the Green listening to more live music with a friend I met hiking a few weeks ago.  We spill the dirt on our lives pre-Asheville, and our dating hits and misses since arriving.

The list goes on…contradancing last night, an invite to minor league baseball game tonight, hiking tomorrow.  Yesterday I did manage to squeeze in an interview with a tutoring company and a meeting about starting a small business, so will soon have money to fund my adventurous life in western North Carolina.  Though you don’t need much – nearly everything I mentioned in this post was free or gifted to me.

This morning I went to meet fellow returned Camino pilgrims at our weekly Pilgrims Anonymous meeting.  “You seemed so excited about living here when you came to our first meeting, I was hoping you wouldn’t be disappointed,” said one kind gentleman. Today he was happy to hear that indeed that wasn’t the case.  Asheville, in just one month, has delivered in every possible way.

Variety

When talking to a parent of one of my tutoring students last week, he asked what I do for work other than tutoring.  People assume I must be a high school math teacher since I’m tutoring their high school child in that very subject.  I told him I teach Anatomy & Physiology at a local college.  He paused and a confused look came over his face.  He made a comment that that seemed so different from this.  I said I liked the variety and already had a sense that this man would think my lifestyle completely absurd if I went on to tell him about the other things I do.

But I hope to one day live in a world where, when people hear the multitude of things I do, they unanimously think it’s fabulous.  Don’t get me wrong – many people do think this.  But I felt sorry for this student who had a father who had done the same thing all his life and probably expected the same of her.  Yet I’m sure she has a multitude of gifts, like all of us, and if she wants to pursue them all I hope she has the courage to go against the grain and do just that.

So next time you hear of someone that does something completely different from what you’d expect (the insurance agent who just got certified in flower arranging, for example), let them know how wonderful that is.  It’s simple, really.  Instead of a confused look across your face, smile and say, “That’s fascinating – how did you get into that?”  It will make our day:)