Position, Publication & People: What I’m Thankful for this Thanksgiving

It’s Black Friday, aka the morning after Thanksgiving, our yearly American celebration of abundance; and I wanted to take a moment out from today’s post-Thanksgiving-rush-to-mass-consumerism (in which I probably won’t be taking part) and time-to-set-up-for Christmas-ness (in which I probably will be taking part) to actually engage in some professional reflection and to give thanks publicly for the blessings of this work.

The first thing I’m thankful for professionally is this position at all.  There’s been a lot of press recently about adjunct professors, particularly in light of an Op-Ed piece published about the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko (you can read the Slate response to that piece here).  While I did take a large cut in salary (from middle school teaching!) to join academia, before hand, I taught an adjunct course at a large public university where I would commute two nights a week after teaching 135 8th graders everyday.  It was exhausting work and while it did look good on my CV for my eventual academic post, it didn’t afford me time to do any research writing.  I am thankful for a search committee that banked on my potential scholarship and my professional experience, for the recommendations of the faculty I worked with and for the unwavering belief of those in my life, thankful to be in a position that I can write a blog on “the life and times of an assistant professor.” I am very aware of my privilege and thankful.  I wish that many of my fellow scholars also had a more balanced and sustaining position.

But, beyond the position itself, I’m especially thankful this year for a pending academic publication and several opportunities to present on my work in various academic and practitioner settings.  I’ve written several times in this blog about the difficulty of writing and finding my academic voice.  While personally, I try to move beyond the need for external validation, professionally, the validation that comes with a peer-reviewed publication is a necessary part of pre-tenure life.  I often found waiting for my first academic publication (something that many people have before entering my position) to be like waiting for an execution’s axe to drop (despite the genuine support of my department chair, dean and fellow faculty members).  Until I received the e-mail notifying me of my piece’s acceptance, I didn’t “feel” like a real academic, and although there’s still A LOT of writing to be done, I feel like a temporary reprieve has been issued; I’ve been given the gift of more time.

Finally, and most importantly, I’m thankful for the people in my life.  I’m thankful first for amazing colleagues and mentors.  As a young, woman of color coming from a large public research university into a large public research & teaching university, I had prepared myself to figure out academia on my own.  I knew those around me would be busy with their own academic and professional projects and was prepared to put my nose to the individual grindstone.  I’ve been so fortunate, however, to have amazing colleagues who have helped guide me, support me, and nurture my ideas.  I’ve been able to express my thoughts and passions without feeling concerned about what someone might think about my right to express those ideas.  I’ve been fortunate to write, co-teach and present with like-minded colleagues in my department. I’ve received assigned time and funding to attend conferences from my dean. These gifts of mentorship and support have been absolutely invaluable–gifts that I will pay forward as I continue on this journey.

I’m also incredibly thankful for my students.  This semester, I was so fortunate to have some of my former middle school students (now Sophomores and Juniors in high school) come visit my university campus and talk with my credential candidates.  Seeing the interaction of these two groups of students that I absolutely love was really inspiring.  In fact, working with credential candidates inspires me (almost) everyday.  From amazing digital stories, reflective blog posts, fieldwork observations & lesson/ unit plans to conversations that I am privileged to have in office hours and e-mails updating me on successes after leaving the classroom, what my work lacks in monetary compensation, it repays in inspiration and motivation (not that more monetary compensation wouldn’t be great too).  What a privilege to be a teacher and even more so to be a teacher of teachers.

Above all, I’m thankful for my family and friends.  Without my husband to watch my son while I’m away presenting of teaching an evening class, I really couldn’t do this work.  Without my son & daughters, I wouldn’t understand intimately, from the parent as well as the teacher/professor perspective, how challenging negotiating the educative system is.  I couldn’t have the same level empathy and compassion that fuels who I am in the classroom. Without the friends in my support network to encourage me to keep on keeping on when all I wanted to do was go back home and close the door to my classroom, I wouldn’t be here today.

In the past year, since I began this blog, I’ve grown a lot and gained a lot of balance (yoga really helps, seriously, although, of course, the pun is intended) and I appreciate this opportunity to publicly give thanks.  I wonder if friends would be willing to post what they were thankful for, personally and professionally as well.