Tenure and Promotion

The “official word” of my tenure and promotion

Come Fall 2018, I’ll be looking for a new name for this blog.

Yesterday morning, as I was working on prepping my summer school course, the e-mail that I had been waiting for all year arrived: a link to the Provost’s decision letter, making my tenure and promotion a reality.

It has been a journey.  From the first days captured on this blog until today, there have been beautiful, unforgettable moments — moments of joy and inspiration.  There have also been moments of incredible struggle, sorrow, shock and grief.

When I think back to my life as an assistant professor, I remember many things. I remember the professional: my first year struggles with the transition from the K-12 classroom to academia and questioning whether I would be enough to “make the cut;” many final reflections from each semester that focused on how my students left deep and lasting impressions upon me; the struggle to write and publish; new opportunities for learning and growth; activities promoting engagement and reflection in my classroom; thinking through new curriculum and courses.

I also remember the personal.  Some of which was captured vividly and painfully on this blog: the horrible December day that my brother called me as he was on his way to Sandy Hook school to pick up my nephew; struggles with complicated grief and the personal legacy of losing my mother as a teenager compounded by my own struggles with my eldest daughters; the process of caring for and losing of my aunt; the struggles with work-family balance.  Some of which was marked by noted silence, like the birth of my youngest daughter 3 years ago, in the middle of the journey towards tenure.

As I’m writing and linking, I’m also realizing that these themes of the personal and professional, of constructing a professional identity as an assistant professor span many of these posts and much of my early career (N=177 posts over 6 years seems like a decent number for a self study to me!).

Professionally, as someone who studies teacher identity development and is increasingly committed to examining teacher educator identity development, this blog has been a gift to help me think through my own complex development.  But, as a person, this blog has meant so much more.  It has been a sacred space for writing and sharing things that I sometimes can’t say out loud without bursting into tears, or that I sometimes didn’t even know I needed to say. It’s been a space to be fully myself, exposing my humanity, vulnerability, and highlighting my joy and triumphs along the way.

I have the summer to think about how to transition this site, but for now, as I have so many times before, I will just express gratitude for the time and space I have to reflect on this journey, for I am truly blessed, and truly grateful.

The Gift of the Present

Commencement 2018

It’s the end of another semester and the end of another school year.

Tuesday was a great day at our university commencement.  With joy and pride, I was able to celebrate (alongside family, friends, fellow faculty and students) the accomplishments of my former credential, masters and doctoral students as they crossed the stage in a beautiful ceremony.  This year, a Jumbotron magnified every moment on the stage, and, from the crowd of graduates and their loved ones, there was the usual excited buzz and energy of elation at the culmination of the accomplishments we had all gathered to commemorate.

It was a lovely way to end what has been a tough semester for me.

I was coming off of a rough fall semester, scrambling to submit my tenure file and spending many hours helping my family through the illness and eventual passing of my aunt.  The spring semester didn’t seem like it was going to be nearly as difficult. I was only teaching one course; my student teachers were much closer than they had been the previous semester; and, although I knew the advising load would be heavy as my masters and doctoral students moved towards finishing their thesis and dissertations, I felt like it would be a breeze compared to the fall.

But, I came into the spring semester already spent.  Despite the fact that I had taken 2 weeks off in the winter, I just couldn’t get my head back in the game.  I got really ill (flu + stress) twice in the semester. And all semester long, I felt like I was playing catch up, even though there was (relatively) less to do than in the fall.

I was reflecting on my running season on Monday with my team, and I talked about the humility of preparing for the OC Half Marathon.  As I did in one of my more recent blogs, I drew connections between this humility and how the semester had gone for me.  And I ended up committing to more self-care.  Because I can’t be my best, if I can’t be present.

I am grateful for this semester. I was shown incredible generosity by my students who still reflected on taking much from this semester’s courses.  The work of my student teachers, masters student and doctoral candidates (now official Drs!) inspired me.  They were moments of joy that brought be back to the present.

As I transition quickly from the spring to the summer session, I am reminded to breathe, and to enjoy the beauty of life around me.  This is the hardest thing for me, as I am always in the “doing” of things. But every so often, I am reminded to pay attention, to be present, and that there are many gifts to be found in that presence.

The gift of the present, as illustrated by my beautiful family

I am richly blessed.  I am also someone who will continue to put the needs of others before my own. I know this about myself and continue to try to find balance. I know that balance will allow me to give the best of myself and to experience the beauty of those blessings.  For now, I will be thankful for the gifts of the present.

The Complexities of Mothers Day

Where I usually spend part of Mothers Day — paying respects

Happy Mothers Day!

Now that the simple is over, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the complexities of Mothers Day for so many of us, including me. I know others have done this, probably more eloquently than I have, but hey, it’s ostensibly my day, and my husband has taken our children for a bit, so here I am, writing, one of my favorite things, on Mothers Day, a really weird day for me.

Usually, on Mothers Day, particularly since moving back to Southern California, I go, during the day to visit my mother. That is to say, that I visit my mother’s gravesite, where she is buried alongside my grandmother (who helped my mother raise me until she passed when I was 7) and now, my aunt. My aunt, in her last days, last Fall, brought me so much closer to my mom through sharing memories with me that were dear to her, and these three women were powerful influences on who I am today.  Today, I won’t go because my uncle will go instead, which is bittersweet. Even though I’m not there physically, I’m there in my heart, as I know my brother and cousin are.

For mothers who have lost mothers, Mothers Day is a real mixed bag.

It’s been 23 years that Mothers Day has been extremely complicated for me without a mom. This year, several people close to me will be going through their first Mothers Day as mothers without their mothers.  Please know that I see you. I know it can be conflicting (if not today, then at some point probably soon).  And, however you are today, it’s fine.  I’ve spent the last 14 years (as a fost-adopt mom first then a biological mom) trying to figure out if I should just try to be happy for my kids or acknowledge my humanity and my longing to celebrate with my own mommy.  It’s not either/or.  I’m a human being.  It’s both/and.  And, that’s okay.

But this isn’t the only complexity of Mothers Day.

As I’ve written about before, mothering is complex every day.  While my biological children are thriving, my adopted children are struggling.  It’s hard to celebrate Mothers Day when you have a child (of any age) that doesn’t acknowledge/accept/ or want your mothering or when they are struggling and you just can’t help.  I mean, I’ve come to accept my life for how it is, and my relationship with each of my children for how it is, and to always respect their choices to have me in their lives or not (well, at least with the adult children.  The under 18 crew is stuck with me for now) and how close they choose to be with me.  But, it doesn’t actually make this day any less painful. Part of me wants a perfect ending to the mothering story. Don’t we all?  But, life isn’t perfect, and my children are wonderful, but they are not perfect either, and my mothering is far from perfect, and our family situation is tough.  It’s complex.  A greeting card, bunch of flowers or even a phone call wouldn’t make it less complex, but I guess it might make me forget for a moment.

But it’s not just complex for me.

Through all my own struggles with this day, I am aware, and see my friends with other struggles on this day. Some similar to mine, and others different. In addition to my forms of struggle, I know friends are struggling with having lost children to miscarriage, still birth, premature death, illness, and violence.  I know there are some that desperately want to be mothers, but have struggled to have children or legally foster/ adopt children.  There are also people who don’t want children and deal with the constant questions about when they might have children or why they don’t want children.  There are people who are mothers every day to countless students, other family members, youth in their places of worship or communities, but who don’t get recognized as official “mothers.” There are single moms or moms in difficult relationships who don’t get the luxury I get to have a “day off.” I’m sure I’m forgetting folks, but I want you to know, I see you, wherever you are.

And I am so grateful for you and your lives.  You matter to me, however this day is for you.  I love you and hope you are having a Happy Mothers Day.

It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Marathon

Photograph of 3 medals from OC Half Marathon

My medals from the last 3 years of running the OC Half Marathon

Some wise, more senior colleague once told me that an academic career is not a sprint, but a marathon.  Yesterday, I finished my 3rd OC Half Marathon (running as part of Team World Vision) and my 8th half marathon overall, and never have the meaning of these words been more real for me.  It was an incredibly tough training season as twice, after hitting the 10 mile mark in training (and particularly busy and critical times in the semester), I got hit with the flu, and had to take 7-10 days off of training.  Here’s what I learned from this season:

  1. Pace yourself: While I didn’t get an overall PR in this race, despite the two major training set-backs, I did get a course PR of almost 5-minutes.  This is because I was able to keep a relatively even pace throughout the race.  I ALWAYS go out too fast and then right around mile 8, I slow down…a lot.  Sometimes, there has been a 4-minute difference between my fastest and slowest mile splits — 4 minutes! Consistency was key in helping me finish this race and finish it well.

Check out those splits! (Ignore the monster hill at mile 11…)

This is also something I need to learn in life, especially my work life.  I always am doing too much (especially at the beginning of a school year or summer or semester) and then I end up getting super sick or super stressed, and I either force myself through it, which has major consequences on my physical and mental health, or I begin dropping the ball which makes me feel terrible and that I’m not giving my best or doing my best.

2. We go farther together; Collaborate: Yesterday, for the first time ever, I ran with someone during the race.  On our training runs, my friend Cheryl and I had stayed together most of the time, and I knew we ran at a relatively similar pace.  My goal was to stay with Cheryl.  While I helped her with pacing at the beginning of the race, she kept me going during mile 8 and beyond when I wanted to give up (despite the relatively tempered pace that we began with).  Her encouragement, her partnership and her commitment to me made an incredible difference in my completion of the race and my success.  I was so thankful to celebrate with her.

Cheryl and I after the finish!

This is also true in my work life.  I’ve been really blessed in my life as an assistant professor to have a wonderful mentor who has walked (run) alongside me, supporting me with balancing all the demands of academia. I’ve also been super fortunate to build up networks of colleagues and friends (and colleagues who have become friends) from around the country and the world. Through working together, and working in and with communities, my work has not only become better but more meaningful and powerful.  This is the power of collaboration in a world that is so normatively isolating.

3. Take time to be grateful. People make a difference and they need to know it. This morning, inspired by my team captain, Darlene, I created an infographic to thank those who had contributed to the fundraising part of my run.  They came from various communities over time: my family, former teachers (who have become family), college friends, former colleagues (when I taught and worked in public schools), former (and current) students, church friends. It was so moving to me to take the time to think about all of these people who have come along with me on my 6-month training journey.  And, that was just the monetary support.  My team, my family, and additional friends have been cheering me on and providing support and encouragement throughout my training.  Again, the power of collaboration in an isolating world.

My team who are also my friends and support

This year, I was able to say thank you to my dear friend and mentor, Huong, who has supported me since I entered the university, by nominating her for a couple of mentoring awards, both of which she won.  Acknowledging the support that others provide is so important to sustaining collaboration. People make a difference and they need to know they are appreciated.

My mentor, Huong, and I at the AERA REAPA SIG meeting where she was honored with a mentoring award.

4. If you don’t take the time you need to rest and recover, you make life so much worse for yourself. Okay, so everything else has been lovely, but here’s where things get real.  I am terrible at resting.  And when I am sick, I am terrible at recovering.  When I had the flu the first time, although I did postpone the race that I had been training for at the time (the Oakland Half Marathon in March), I still insisted on holding FaceTime meetings with groups in class from my sick bed.  When I had the flu the second time (less than 3 weeks ago), I literally hobbled to class (very ill) because I decided that I had to teach.  Class the following week was fully online, and I needed to model second language practice by lecturing in French. Really?! Probably not the best life decision ever.  I also only took 1 full week off of training, ran a half marathon 2.5 weeks later, then helped to lead a college meeting today (the day after said half marathon).

This is just not sustainable.  I recognize it.  I admit it.  I know I have problems. I recognize that approaching tenure is not solving these problems. I also know that I continue to try to sprint out and then I have to hit a wall before I realize that I am struggling and am forced to slow down.

5. You can change even when it seems impossible. I have to say that reflection point #4 troubles me. There’s something confronting about confessing the level of workaholism you display in your day to day life and looking at it on a screen.

But, also, I made it to the finish line yesterday, in the strongest finish I ever had.  I didn’t feel great, and I didn’t have energy to “kick it in” at the end, but afterwards, I was proud of what I had accomplished and the even pacing of the race.

I know I need to change.  I’ve known if for awhile, although it is tough to admit, because I care so deeply about everything I do, and I do too much. I also know that I can’t change alone, that I’ve got to focus on a few goals, devote time and energy to those goals and keep moving forward in community. I know these things are hard, but that if I can do them, I’ll be a lot better off in the long run.

An academic life, especially one in which a person is deeply committed to research, teaching, service, family and balance, is a process not unlike training for a long run.  Both are, at times, energizing, and at other times exhausting.  Both are, at many points, overwhelming, and certainly not for everyone.  But, both can also foster important collaboration and make a huge difference in one’s life and the lives of others, in community. It’s been a humbling training season, but perhaps the best race I’ve run.