Every New Beginning…

Photograph of Seattle skyline with Mount Ranier in the background. Sky is a shade of purple

Photo by Zhifei Zhou on Unsplash

[Note: There’s an announcement in this post. I’ll bold it if this is tl/dr for you.]

I quoted from Semisonic’s “Closing Time” as the title of a blog post at the end of my first semester as an Assistant Professor at CSULB. In that post, I talked about the challenges of mothering a 6-year old through transitions from a bilingual program we loved to a new unfamiliar school system, designing new syllabi, transitioning professional identities, and finding strength in my voice as a teacher educator. I also talked with joy about the opportunity to live out my dream of teaching teachers, a dream which might not be a very ordinary dream, but which was mine. I quoted from kind student comments in our end of semester reflections that grounded me in the heart of this work.

Today, I am, in many ways, a similar person — a MotherScholar, a teacher of teachers. I am a very human person who continues to struggle with bouts of imposter syndrome and tries hard not to compare myself to others.

I am still a MotherScholar who consistently wrestles with the tension between what is best for me and what is best for my family, who feels pulled in multiple directions, but grounded in the enduring love of the people who are my home.

I am still a teacher of teachers who loves teaching and teachers and is constantly learning from teachers and about teaching in ever evolving contexts.

I am still someone who struggles with comparing myself with others, with wondering whether I am good enough, with thinking about whether my work is the right kind of work, with doubting that I will live up to the expectations of others.

And also, in those 10.5 years, I have grown and changed. Just days after that post, my nephew would survive a mass shooting that would change our lives and my heart forever, making my grief and thoughts about collective grief a core of my public self. It would make this blog not just about an academic journey, but about a personal-professional journey because I would realize that the personal and professional (for me) are inextricably connected, that we are bound together in our humanity (if we let ourselves be), and that community is at the core of moving forward. (Note: I am aware that collective and public grieving is not the way for everyone, but this blog, at many moments, has been a source of deep connection to other grievers and to finding healing in my own humanity.)

I now see myself as a researcher, something I might not have said 10 years ago. I have been able to explore research on teachers and teacher educators in ways that have moved me and have helped me learn so much about myself, about teacher candidates and teachers, about teaching (my own and that of others), and about the ways structures and systems can often act to perpetuate the push up and push out of so many incredibly talented people from classrooms.

I am working on trusting myself and trusting my community, trusting the faith they have in me and that their love and respect are well-placed. I am working on the grace and humility necessary to respond (rather than react) when I am called-in and pushed to grow. I am working on trusting that the right opportunities open up at the right times, and it’s not for me to decide that I’m not good enough.

And so in all of that, I am invoking the lyrics of Semisonic once again to announce a new beginning:

Beginning January 1, 2024, I will be the Boeing Endowed Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington (Seattle) 

I will be staying at CSULB through the end of the fall semester 2023 to support the doctoral and masters students whose work I am chairing, as well as to support transition to a new department chair and finish up some grant work and curriculum development. I also get to teach one last class.

Our family will transition in time, the details of which are beyond the scope of this blog, but in a way which we’ve collectively decided is best for us.

This is a big next step for us, and for me, one that I have been processing for a couple of weeks, and am just now starting to fully embody and take in. If you know me, you know that the importance of this move is not in the title or institution themselves, but in the opportunities this position opens up for collective movement towards the greater good. I am grateful to be entrusted with these opportunities. And beyond all of this, I am so grateful for community, for the colleagues, friends, and family who literally made this move possible. I truly am because we are.

Uncharted Waters (Final Reflection Fall 2020)

Dark sunset over water

Just over 10 months ago, I accepted a new position.

Just over 9 months ago, the world, and with it the educational world that I had previously known, completely shifted.

6 months and 3 weeks ago, I started a new position.

Just about 4 months ago, I began the fall semester, teaching courses I’ve never taught before, in a new university, using a new LMS, with new administrative responsibilities, in a very different educational world, with a child starting online bilingual kindergarten in a language that neither her father nor I know, with another child starting 9th grade, with everyone at home.

It has without a question been the hardest semester of my life.

I can only completely feel the weight of this as I look back.

During this semester, my primary goal was to make it to the end, to survive.

I kept focused on what was directly ahead of me at all times, moment by moment, facing directly ahead and moving forward.

I hoped desperately that my family would be alright, that my students would learn something, that I could contribute to my program, and to the many individuals and communities that I hold dear.

But honestly, I just wanted to survive.

To do this, I had to draw from everything I’ve developed over my lifetime that has helped me to survive: hard work, years of classroom teaching, my love for teaching and learning, an adeptness with technology, my partner who loves me wholeheartedly and supports everything I do, my community who reminds me to care for myself, my refusal to do less than I’m able in any circumstance, therapy, tears, and incredible focus.

I made it. I survived. My family did well, all things considered. My students reported learning.

But surviving has come at such a cost.

It is my first real moment to sit down and reflect on it all, the victory and the cost.

The Victory

There is always beauty in the growth of my students. They grew so much and brought so much to our classes and our community. I got to bring in friends and educators from across the country to speak to these talented future teachers. I got to teach subject specific methods in my three credential areas which was a joy.

My program co-constructed a beautiful collective vision. It can become our North Star, and move us forward towards transformation. I got to co-facilitate beautiful and powerful professional learning workshops with an incredibly talented colleague and friend (shout out to the brilliance of Dr. Kristal Andrews). I got to work alongside some incredible educators and future educators. I got to work with leadership that sees transformation as the goal of our work. We are building with the help and support of the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity. I’m making fewer mistakes.

While I try to limit the pictures of my (home) family I post here, I am so proud and grateful for them. They have somehow thrived in this time, of all times. My 5-year old has learned so much Korean in the last four months. My 14-year old and I have made a tradition of Tuesday-Thursday hot beverage runs and he has largely self-managed himself to an earned 4.0 in the first semester. My husband still loves me despite taking on a large portion of the childrearing responsibilities while working full time from home.

My communities have been a constant encouragement. Whether they are colleagues from my current or previous institution, whether they are friends and/or friends turned family, whether they are church family, social media connections, they have helped me, encouraged me, walked alongside me, loved me, empathized with me. I couldn’t have made it without you.

I am so grateful.

The Cost

I am so exhausted. I am spiritually, emotionally, and physically drained. I was listening to the brilliant Season 2 Episode 7 of the Black Gaze Podcast and the concept of taking on too much as violence against the self hit me hard.

To survive, I have begun in the last few weeks to read books for my survival: Healing Resistance, Emergent Strategy and How We Show Up and I have fought for my survival through therapy (individual and collective) and the message from God and the universe have been consistent. I cannot keep contributing from emptiness. If I am to engage in non-violence, I cannot continue engaging in violence against myself, giving away my time, energy, heart and life to institutions and systems without consideration for myself and my community.

There is a lot of unlearning, relearning and learning to do if I want to move past survival into a life where I am thriving.

These are perhaps the most terrifying uncharted waters.

But I keep being led here.

I keep finding myself washed up on shores and looking out at the horizon, but wandering the same ways to find something better.

I am not where I was 10 months ago, or 9 months ago, or 6 months ago, or 4 months ago. I am not where I was yesterday. I am where I am, and choosing where to go next.

There is power in choosing anew every day.

Tonight is the winter solstice.

Tomorrow the days get longer; there is a bit more light.

May it guide my choices.

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.

Moving through Critique

Another semester, another set of evaluations.

Evaluation time always stresses me out, to be frank.  I’m still working towards tenure and although my evaluations are generally high, I know they’re vitally important to the tenure and promotion process so I worry.

But it goes beyond simple self-interest.  If it were just about not getting tenure, it wouldn’t be so important.  It’s also about self-improvement.  Part of why I dislike the end-of-semester evaluation process is because it’s a one-way conversation.  I would have liked to genuinely sit down with critical students and engage with these critiques earlier in the process, not because I worry about the tenure process, but because I believe in what I do and I believe in the value of understanding when what I do doesn’t land with students the way that I intend.

This semester, I had 2.5 critical evaluations (2 sets of critical comments; 1 set of semi-critical numerical markings with no comments) out of 57 students in my pre-service credential courses.  It’s a 95% approval rate, my best friend pointed out to me.  You can’t make everyone happy, my husband told me.  I know, logically, that these are still high evaluation marks, particularly given the stances I took last semester in the courses I taught. These things are true, but the critiques I received offer points of reflection.

The two major critiques that I received in the Fall had to do with responding respectfully to student concerns (by 2 students) and bias in the course that I held on the day following the election (1 student).  Another critique was that I shouldn’t assume people have time for endless reflection (1 student) and that there’s too much work in my courses (there is a lot of work, but, to be fair, I gave warning of this at the beginning of the semester…and frankly, good teaching is a lot of work).

So, here’s the thing–I don’t want to actually spend this reflective moment justifying myself.  Some of these critiques (reflection, hard work, advocacy) are part of who I am and my professional identity.  I embrace and accept that those things.

But, I am listening to the critique as well.  I have been thinking a lot, in this post election era about the importance of listening and empathy.  No, it wasn’t my intention EVER to disrespect or belittle a student.  It also wasn’t my intention to create an unsafe, biased space on the day after the election (in fact, it was my intention to do the exact opposite).  But, I am acutely aware of the power that I have as a professor, and respect for students is at the CORE of who I am, so I want these students to know that (whether or not it was my intention or even whether or not I agree with them), I hear you; I get that you were left in a space where you felt disrespected, and I am using your critique to think about ways to be more vigilant in expressing my intentions and creating a space for dialogue where more voices can be heard. We can only ever move forward if we can begin to listen to one another instead of staying safely in our own camps.

And, if the student who wrote the evaluation that referred to being a “failure of a teacher” if their students don’t vote is reading this blog, I want to apologize if I said anything like that.  I honestly do not recall saying this, and I think it’s an incredibly problematic statement, given that some students (undocumented students, immigrant non-naturalized students) don’t even have the right to vote in this country AND given the complexity of teaching–no one point makes a teacher a failure.  We are all trying our best.  I do think that it’s important to teach students civic engagement.  I don’t apologize for that.  I do think that students need to participate in their families, communities, and society in productive ways. And, I think it’s important to vote.  Voting is one of those ways.  But, I certainly wouldn’t ever judge a teacher’s success based on the voting rate of their students.  So, for that, if I said that or left you with that, I apologize.

But, here’s the thing.  We are all trying our best.  I am too.  I’ve been at the teaching thing for a long time, yes, and the human thing for even longer.  But, I am imperfect.  My beliefs and intentions don’t always match my actions or how I’m received.   Sometimes they do and we’ll disagree.  Granted.  Sometimes they don’t and my actions will get misinterpreted. Granted.  Sometimes, I need to be more thoughtful about how I speak out of emotion about the things which I am passionate about.  Granted.  But I cannot let the critique stop me from action, from advocacy, and from engaging with that which I fear.

And that is why, despite the fact that I also don’t have so much time for reflection, I do it: because I have to keep acting every day; because the course of a semester is long and I have just begun a new semester where I am certain to make mistakes; because this work is my calling.  I have a deep love for my students and their future students. Personally, I want to keep improving. And as a member of this society, I constantly see openings for action that call me to do better. But I refuse to be driven by the fear of critique.

The work is hard.  And critique is hard…particularly when you are trying to step out and be heard. But, all of this is necessary if we are to be the change that we wish to see–whatever one’s version of that change may be.

“Hsieh Miserables” : The revolution, the redemption, the reflection — Final Reflection Fall 2016


It has been quite a semester, particularly in the last 6 weeks.  Teaching during this electoral season was difficult, personally and pedagogically. In addition to what’s being going on in the world, there’s been a lot going on with my family and me.  Through injuries and illness, strained relationships and ever-present concerns about the scarcity of time and money, I’ve struggled to keep present to the work that is so important to me, the work of preparing educators to be the best that they can be.

But, in the midst of struggle, what I have learned is that there can be joy.  That joy comes in moments of focus on the work that is mine to do.  For me, it came in listening to my students share what they were taking away from this semester–new understandings, new perspectives, stronger professional senses of their professional identities and commitments.  Here are a few things they shared with me:

Joy also came in figuring out an authentic research agenda based on how who we are impacts our teaching (who we want to teach, how we teach, etc.) and feeling really inspired to develop my work in that clear direction.  Joy came in making my practice public, in serving my colleagues, in challenging myself to teach a research methods course, in sitting on two dissertation proposal defense committees, in helping my Masters students (many of whom had little to no experience with educational research) draft action research proposals, in joining my church choir and social justice committees, in hugging my children, in the awe of my daughter going from no words to 3 word phrases and from crawling to running, in watching my son go from dreading school to taking pride in his academic performance.  Joy came in the journey, the rocky, but beautiful, journey of this semester.

At the end of the semester, one of my classes presented me with a basket of thanks including the above poster:


It was a touching (and hilarious) gesture of thanks, reminding me to continue doing this work even when the going gets tough…perhaps especially when the going gets tough.  But I am the one who is most thankful, to do this work I love, to invest in the present and future of education and educators, and to dedicate my life to contribution.

With the Time You Are Given


It’s tenure file time around my university.  Having finally made the decision not to go up early, the deadline is not looming over me, but I do have friends and colleagues going up who have been updating me on their progress as they reach the finish line and submit their files.  One of my dearest friends and colleagues started her narrative with the question, “What will you do with the days you have been given?” and I thought this was the perfect topic for reflection this week.

I was thinking while driving yesterday (a dangerous thing for an academic as I’m liable to keep driving past my destination) and conceptualizing what I hope will be my next research study.  My mind automatically went to what the simplest study would be for me to conduct, related to a topic that I find relatively interesting in an area in which I know there’s relatively little scholarship to date.

After attending a meeting of my church’s social justice committee, however, my friend’s words struck me, “What am I DOING with the days (in academia) that I have been given?” Is my research a reflection of what’s important to me? Of my real life’s work? Does it represent who I am as a person? Or is my scholarship safe and somewhat divorced from my core commitments? Do I do the work that is easiest for me to do (for a variety of reasons) or the work that pushes me to be the person I want to be? This led to some furious brainstorming of a different study/ topic that I’m passionate about, combining my life’s work with my core passions and commitments around teacher support, development and issues of equity.

I realize this isn’t the first time that this tension has arisen for me.  Before accepting my first teaching position, I was encouraged to apply for a position at the middle school where I student-taught.  Though diverse, this school had more of a suburban feel and higher performing population than the urban site where I ended up accepting a job.  I would have loved teaching at my student teaching site, and it would have been great, but it wouldn’t have felt authentic to my core commitments.  It would have been doing good work, but not necessarily MY WORK.

And that’s something I’m growing in and towards–knowing what my work is and how I want to put myself out there in the world, as a person, an academic, a professor, a lifelong learner, a person of faith, a mother, etc. It’s a life of inquiry.  But there’s nothing else I’d rather do with the time I’ve been given.

What’s More Important than Lesson Planning, Grading & Evaluation?

There's so much still to do...

There’s so much still to do…

Yesterday was an incredibly long day.  Now, it needs to be said that as I’m nearing week 37 of pregnancy, most of my days are somewhat long as sleep can be elusive, it’s the end of semester rush of assignments (I currently have 35 in my dropbox to grade), and I’m trying to get everything tied up at work and at home in preparation for my daughter who will arrive sometime in the next few weeks (or days, or hours).

And I expected yesterday to be long.  Thursdays are my long days with back-to-back afternoon-evening classes.  It was my final lecture of the semester (with the following two weeks reserved for conferencing, presentations and closing activities) and I started the afternoon with the full sense of pregnancy exhaustion upon me (even after 3 morning naps, eating a healthy lunch and hydrating).  Leaving the house, I felt a little like crying, overwhelmed by the rest of the day ahead (or perhaps pregnancy hormones).

But, what I didn’t expect was that yesterday would be a day that would remind me of why I truly do what I do.  What’s more important than lesson plans, grading and evaluation?  Humanity, integrity, and love.  Let me explain.


I left my house feeling fully in my own humanity–exhausted, pregnant, unsure of how I’d make it through the afternoon.  But, in my humanity, I forgot my privilege.  Yesterday, I had 3 students who confided in me major family crises that had come to a head over the semester.  At the secondary level, this happened to me a lot, but as one student said, “Once you get to college, it’s different.  You don’t really talk with your professors about what’s going on with you.  People just expect you to handle it.” It really struck me, as an educator, this perception that post-secondary instructors “just expect you to handle it” and that this particular student hadn’t come to me to discuss what was going on earlier.  It reminded me of the importance of being open to students’ humanity no matter what level I am teaching at.

I ended up spending most of my evening lecture dividing my time between a student who was going through a pressing family crisis that had completely unraveled throughout the day.  Dividing my time and attention between two equally (but differently) important and urgent tasks (my final lecture and counseling my student) is difficult with a full brain, but with my current limitations, it exposed another layer of my humanity to my class.  My lecture during this session (which also happened to be the class in which evaluations were administrated) was definitely less than my best in terms of structure and organization, but one of my students kindly called out, “On your worst day, you’re still better than everyone else on their best day” (Thanks, Brittany!) and I appreciated the amazing graciousness of my students in the face of my split mind.  They trusted my need to be out of the room as they were working on various activities and came up with AMAZING project ideas when I returned to check on them.


The nature of these particular crises that my students were experiencing with their families touched upon various personal and professional experiences that I’ve had in my own life and woke me up to the fact that there’s so much more to who I am as an educator than just designing and delivering good lectures and evaluating student work.  Being in integrity with my own professional identity means being someone that students can trust to always have their best interest in mind, being someone that shows up for them, cares for them and pushes them to be their best.  It means doing what I do even when that may not show up on the evaluations (because of an administrative error that I discovered after the fact, I’m not even sure that my evaluations last night will count).  And, integrity means showing gratitude in the face of the exhaustion, giving my best 100% of the time (even though that best will vary), and always teaching by example.


Last night, my 9-year old son woke up in the middle of the night and came down the hall to my bedroom.

“Mom?” he said, tentatively.

“Hi, Son.” I responded.

“Mom! I’m so glad you’re home!  I missed you so much last night!  It’s not the same here without you.” It had been a couple of weeks (because of Spring Break and online sessions) since I had been gone the entire evening on a Thursday and he definitely felt it last night.  He gave me a huge hug.

As I returned his hug and told him how much I loved him, I was filled with a sense of peace–that in this crazy time at the end of the semester, if I continue to honor who I am, that things will turn out okay–and a sense of immense privilege, that I get to come home to such loving arms.

So, today I’ll tackle (some of) the 35 submissions in my dropbox, my 4-hours of meetings, my uncertainty about when my baby girl will arrive, but I’ll do so knowing that my humanity, integrity and love will carry me through these end-of-semester days and the many more after them.