All posts by Kimberly Williams

What’s In a Name? What I Wish, Part II

What is in a name? Connotation weighs more than denotation. My son is currently in middle school, and any child in his school will tell you that words matter. It’s about at that point in life that we humans learn that lesson if we have not learned it sooner.

I struggle with the word ‘assessment’ mostly because it seems to call attention to something that teachers are doing all the time, and in calling attention to it, it suddenly feels weird. It’s like how normal teaching can be until you realize that you have had a string of mucus laying alongside your nostril for the entire class period. That happened to me last week. It was such a good class until I got back to my office and met my horror. Suddenly, it wasn’t a good class at all, all for a lack of self-knowledge and a tissue. I wondered why someone hadn’t told me that I needed to wipe my nose. Then, I realized I hadn’t asked. With assessment, it’s true you often have to ask to see if you’re getting the results you want.

Notice that I don’t say that I struggle with assessment. I don’t. I only struggle with the word, and, since I am a word person,  that matters to me.

I would say that when I’m teaching I’m assessing every moment. I am reading my students’ faces, their body language, I am listening to what they say and what they don’t say — every gesture and utterance can be a clue when you are teaching for determining how the moment/the lesson/the material can be done better. Then, of course, you can also ask, and oftentimes, I do.

I wish assessment could be called ‘what we are all learning with some specific details’. But I expect that’s too long a phrase. I wish it could be called “overt questions with answers about learning.” I wish it could be called, “check point of understanding.”  I wish it could be called “measuring student growth.” Or, “measuring instructor growth,” as it’s that, too.  I wish it could be called anything but ‘assessment.’

 

 

Those Left Out and What I Hope

I have been in school now since 1975. I started young, and I’ve had a handful of graduations, but for all intents and purposes, I feel that I’ve never left school; at some point, I just switched sides of the class room.

Despite being a “gifted” student growing up, I seldom learned the way that teachers wanted me to learn. I don’t have a great memory.  I’m a terrible speller (considering what I do for a living), and I often begin something at the end and work forward to the beginning. Therefore, I am not linear, and I’m really not even interested in things that are linear because they don’t capture my imagination. I love looking at maps as they spread out and go several ways. You’ll never catch me pouring over a timeline. I’m also not a procedural thinker: I know an answer to a math problem because I know it, and it makes sense to me. I often cannot explain how I got there.

Over the years, education has become what it has through a conglomeration of cultural, social, historical, and economic factors, and it ideally is designed only for a handful of certain types of thinkers.  I worry about everyone else. I worry about the student, like me, who wasn’t served well by spelling lists, whose imagination isn’t charged by summary writing and reports, who doesn’t find meaning in taking a multiple choice test, for whom making meaning is more important than displaying knowledge.

Despite being in education for years and being an English major with two advanced degrees , it took me years to realize that I belong in academia because it’s really not designed for thinkers like me. It took me decades, but I finally learned that I am what is called an intuitive thinker and an intuitive  writer. I take meaning and information from several places and make connections and generate what is new. I learn actively. . I think a lot. I trust myself, have an inkling and  I write. I use information, techniques and skills I’ve picked up on the way, and I see what I produce. Often it’s a surprise.  For example, when I sat down to write this blog, I had no idea I’d create this very paragraph. I wasn’t even thinking about it. It just arrived, and I used words to let it through.

I do enjoy data usually because it’s something to think about. It’s fun to interpret and extract meaning out of. I see numbers as a type of symbolism, and symbolism can be used to make meaning, but in this data-driven, logical realm that often dominates academia, I worry about students like me who interested in the wider perspective, who like numbers, but who also want more. I worry about the students who realize what they know slowly, through processes, not through objective testing and results. I learn from being in a moment and letting all I know and understand up to that moment materialize in certain ways, and there are times that moments cannot be represented numerically or through the collection of data, and if I’m asked to do that, then I’m probably not going to experience success.

I hope that with the diversity of thinkers that we have here on campus that there is room for many types of learners and thinkers. While the human brain works similarly for most people, it is so incredibly complex and unique, and each person has his or her own individual neurological make up and therefore an unique intelligence. I hope we’re building an environment that testifies to that individual beauty. I hope we’re inviting people to learn and be here in their own ways and not in the ways that we insist work best.

 

For Bisia (What Inspires Me Daily)

What amazes me is to see how the lines of lives come together — lead to a single time or a place. I am a big picture person, and I like to contemplate it. When I think about what inspires my work every day at GCC, I think of my grandma, Helen Kobylski. My sisters, cousins and I called her Bisia (pronounced Bee-sha). Bisia was the daughter of Polish immigrants, and she grew up in a Polish neighborhood on Detroit’s west side. When she was in sixth grade, her father died of cancer, and she dropped out of school to work to help support the family. She never went back to school.

Bisia was an avid reader, but she didn’t write much. The only evidence I ever had that she wrote was when she signed birthday cards, “Love, Bisia.” That was it. But she loved Westerns. She loved baseball. She loved a good political discussion. She loved bingo. She was so passionate about what she loved. She was also so limited by her lack of education, not at all in terms of her intelligence, but in terms of her ability to secure good work. Bisia never had a job that wasn’t in retail. She never had a job that earned much over minimum wage. She worked hard for decades, and when she retired, she was on a fixed income. Every single year for Christmas, my two cousins, two sisters, and I received the same gift from Bisia: a single, crisp, two dollar bill.

Bisia was not the kind of grandmother to spoil her grandkids.  She’d be more likely to yell at you to finish your homework or be too busy washing my cousins’ mouths out with bricks of Dial soap than she would be to give you a hug and a kiss. But when I went away to graduate school — all the way from Detroit to Cleveland — and came home on my breaks, Bisia would have a whole collection of food waiting for me. She would give me her bucket-sized government peanut butter, the government block of cheese, her ration of canned ham, and the gigantic rectangles of butter, all generic, all utterly delicious. I’d drive these back to Cleveland with me and share them with my fellow graduate students who didn’t live close enough to home to receive such a bounty.

Despite her own lack of education (and likely because of it), Bisia made sure that my mother was the first in the family to graduate from high school. Somehow, she sent my mother to Mercy College. Somehow, back when women didn’t really go beyond their bachelor degrees (if they went to college at all), my mom went to the University of Michigan for a Master’s Degree in Social Work. She did this before she met my dad and before my sisters and I were born. Somehow, my mother earned a graduate degree in the early 1960s.

Bisia’s story, and thus our family story, reminds me greatly of our students’ stories. So many GCC students come from somewhere else, speak another language, are first generation college students, are negotiating two languages (or more) and cultures daily — the one in public, and the one at home. I look out over my classroom, I listen to my students speak, I read their writing and learn their stories, and, when I do, my grandmother is always nearby. I see my GCC students, and I am reminded of where I am from. Every single day. I think of the tradition that existed only between my grandmother and me, of Bisia saving her allotment of government-assisted groceries, and it inspires me daily to help others achieve their higher education.

Bisia was the first person in her family of origin to live past age 49. Then she made all the way to her 80s. I was 34 when she died. There isn’t a single day when I’m in the classroom that I don’t think of my grandmother. She had a tough life, and she was fierce because she had to be; her energy went into investing in the future despite having very little resources. The lines of her life eventually helped draw the lines of mine. And now I just keep drawing them and extending them. In addition, I am blessed to be in the position of offering the opportunity for my students to draw their own lines to see where they might lead. When it happens this way, and all the lines come together –if even only for a semester or two — there really is no beginning, and there really is no end. It is the most motivating big picture for me ever, and it’s precisely what keeps me going.

 

I Have to Get Out More–with Gratitude

For a few days now, I’ve been thinking about how to write this blog, what to write in it, whether or not to name names. Because we work with so many outstanding people, I’m afraid of leaving someone out. Because words fail sometimes, I’m afraid of not really truly conveying how grateful I am to work here at GCC. I mean the courses-through-your-body kind of gratitude. Surely, the climate here in the Valley of the Sun is grand, and it’s springtime, and life is gorgeously budding right now, filling the air with the sweetness of jasmine and orange blossom. It’s true that we have a library which boasts some unbelievably world-renowned artists.

But it’s not only the environment or the students, it’s the people–our co-workers–that inspire my gratitude daily. I’ve never in my life worked with people whose integrity is so high that it makes me check mine to make sure it’s equal. I’ve never worked with people who care so deeply about their co-workers while still being respectful of personal space. I have always enjoyed teaching and have been thankful that I found a place in higher education. Coming here four years ago from a smaller institution that was out of state, it took longer to get to know people and find my niche than I thought it would. But what I learned has been most important: it was worth the wait. The connections I have made here at GCC have been invaluable to me as a person and a teacher, allowing me to grow in so many ways.

The older I grow, the more things I learn about myself with clarity:

  1. I am a lifelong learner, and allowing myself to be one is vital to my well being.
  2.  I am an absolute introvert, only playing an extrovert when working with students and co-workers.  Work takes most of my extroverted capabilities, and I’m otherwise likely to avoid being social, especially during this past year when life has been more challenging for me personally.

This is how I realized these very essential things about myself in the fourth decade of my life: though working here at GCC where I have found so many opportunities to belong, better myself, and become the best me I can. I can take fitness classes and be supported by those whom I work with (thanks Louise and Margo!); I can attend Weight Watchers meetings right in the middle of my week and be supported by others who are endeavoring towards a similar goal as I have; I can take weekly Wednesday CTLE walks (thank you Dawna and Meghan!) and have interesting and fun conversations with co-workers while stretching my legs.  All of these opportunities have allowed me to grow in small but steady ways and, over time, to make meaningful connections with the people I work with.  I imagine that if I worked somewhere else I might eventually have these self-insights, but working at GCC has allowed me overt opportunities to find this clarity, and these opportunities come from you– those whom I work with and who are reading this blog. That is a mighty big gift to receive  from one’s co-workers and place of employment.

Tuesday of this week felt unseasonably cold for swimming, which is what I often do on Tuesdays at 11:30. I thought to myself: If you’re not going to swim, you better get out and get some exercise.  So I took a walking tour of campus. I made myself leave my office chair, go away from the virtual piles of papers waiting to be graded on Canvas, and walk out into the sunshine and 72 degrees.

As I walked about campus, I noticed all kinds of things I don’t notice when I’m rushing to a meeting or to class.  I noticed, for example, the tree that has fuzzy round blossoms that smell like peaches.  I was surprised by the line of cedar trees by the Fine Arts Center. And I kept running into co-workers who said hello, who gave me hugs, who greeted me with warmth and appreciation for my just being at that very place at that very time. Certain people whom I don’t get to see very often inquired about my well being with great concern and specificity (Mark V. and Lori W.) This is when I’m reminded that my introverted self is so at home here at GCC because I am welcomed and appreciated just for being who I am. I don’t know how an organization creates this environment. I don’t know how to replicate it. I just know that it happens here and that I get to be a part of it daily. I receive encouragement when I need it. I have support problem-solving if I need it. I have company for exercise and encouragement (with concrete opportunities) to pursue my passions–writing, creativity, and teaching. Take this blog, for example. Ben and Jerry’s aside, it gives me great satisfaction to contribute in this way to our community and also to read everyone else’s writing. And if I want to be quiet and just put by head down and work, I can do that too.

So this blog ends with immense gratitude. Thank you, each of you reading this, for being a part of the place where I get to learn and develop into my best self every day. Thank you for being caring co-workers.  Thank you for giving me, in just the three days I’ve taken to compose this entry, more meaningful experiences and interactions that I can even recount or record in writing.  But even if I haven’t mentioned them here, be sure that I have taken them all to heart.

 

 

 

 

Missing Frank

One reason why I love teaching at the college level is because every sixteen weeks or so usher in new classes, a new crop of students, and new possibilities. There’s not really time to get into ruts and coast.

Generally, too, I’m pretty flexible with change. New textbook? We’ll work it in. New course to teach in English? Why, yes, I’ll give it a go.

Some people fear change. What I used to believe I feared more than change were ruts. That said, I’ve had more than my dose of change these past seven months, and with these changes have come the proverbial lessons. However, I’m a life-long student, and, as such, I’m willing to learn.

My father died in July. While he’d been steadily declining for eighteen months, his death still felt unexpected. Since he’s been gone, my entire work life feels different. This was a surprise to me.

However, for my father’s entire career and my entire life time, he worked in higher education as both an academic advisor and an instructor. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended and worked at the university where he worked for over thirty years, Wayne State University, and received half off tuition. My professors were his colleagues, and I worked hard after underachieving spectacularly in high school. My dad was proud of me. I found my niche in the English Department, specifically in creative writing, and I worked on the literary magazine my senior year and did poetry readings about the Detroit area my last two years there. I also minored in anthropology and Spanish. As a social scientist who loved language himself, my choice of studies delighted him.

I continued on to graduate school, and for a little while after I graduated, I even went back to Wayne State and taught English 101 as an adjunct. My dad and I met every Tuesday at a Lebanese restaurant on campus for lunch.

My dad followed my career with great enthusiasm and interest. Even after I moved cross country, he called me at least weekly to check in. My working in academia was absolutely a common ground for us, a way of for us to connect on several levels: intellectually, professionally, even pedagogically. While I don’t think I ever took this connection for granted, I also don’t think I realized how profound it was until it was gone.

When the new academic year started this past August, I wandered around GCC’s campus feeling lost. Even though my dad lived back in the midwest, and I’d been teaching west of the Mississippi since 1999, I still felt his absence acutely. When I received my first full-time faculty position in northwest Colorado, he was so excited that he even helped me drive the U-Haul across five states to get there. When we pulled into the tiny town that sported a community college with dorms and one traffic light, so different than the Bronx he grew up in and the Detroit he worked in for decades, he pulled over on Main Street and said to me philosophically, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to pretend you’re in the Peace Corps.

With my father gone, I had no one to review the batch of new students with, the new semester’s classes, or my latest research or poetry project. At first, I couldn’t understand my own situation. How could a father’s absence feel so acute when daily he lived so far away? I not only felt lost, I also felt confused by my disorientation.

Obviously tbe degree of change varies, and some of how we respond to change has to do with the magnitude of it. When my father was declining and I thought about his being gone, I never considered what effect it would have on me professionally. However, the effect has been large and daily. What I realize only now is this: change, when it’s self-initiated, is a form of control. I can pick my new classes, and often, depending on the course, I can choose my textbooks. Although I don’t pick my course outcomes, I pick the curriculum that helps meet them. But certain changes, the kind we can’t at all control, bring loss and thus grief. And for me grief is the most mysterious of emotions–appearing and then lingering when least expected. This academic year has indeed been a lesson for me in change–the hardest kind. The kind, I guess, that makes me more independent and, inevitably, a stronger person. But it’s also the kind I wish I didn’t have to face.

 

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The Perfect Lesson, Or What I Learned This Week in the Pool

Yesterday, I graded ENG 102 papers. *Why aren’t they getting it?!* I kept asking myself. *Why is analysis so hard for the freshman writer?*

In my frustration, I thought to take a break. I thought to swim.

Having grown up in Detroit, I still marvel that I live in a place where I can swim outside in February. I marvel that I can walk across campus right in the middle of my day, jump into the pool, swish around and get my heart rate up, and then go on with my day like swimming is my own secret I carry with me everywhere I go.

In a way, it is. I have been an avid swimmer my entire life. I don’t much remember life without swimming. My mother cannot swim, but her daughters swam competitively. We even did synchronized swimming in the summers. My mother’s girls can swim.

After shivering for years in the unheated city pool where we swam on cool June mornings in Michigan, I finally understand that through her own inability in the water my mother gave me one of the best life skills I could ever have. There are many times I doubt myself in any given day, but I don’t doubt myself in the water. On one vacation about five years ago, I even found myself in choppy seas treading water trying to help another person who was having a panic attack. We were supposed to be snorkeling and we had no business being out in the water with such high wind and waves. But we had paid our fee, and the company took us out along with a few other tourists. I was the one who didn’t panic. I knew enough to be mindful of the danger I was in, but I also trusted myself enough as a swimmer to keep myself and others safe.

Yesterday, I took a swim lesson. This was probably a full forty years after one of the first ones I ever had.

At first I thought: What could I possibly learn about swimming? Well, apparently a lot. After forty years of swimming, what I know really well is my comfort zone, and when I’m not in the high seas attempting to snorkel on vacation, I generally stick to what I know. Yesterday, I Had to Do a Different Stroke. I had to use kickboard. I held on to the red foam float-able like I was six again and tried to imitate the motions that our instructor gave us. I moved no faster than a canoe going against fierce rapids.  At one point, I actually looked at the numbers on the side of the pool’s walls to confirm that I was going forward. Why wasn’t my body working right? When it came time to add the arms, my lower body and upper body wouldn’t cooperate with each other. It was complete discord. I was failing in the pool.

This is what I learned from this week’s failing moment. It was simple. It was profound. No matter how good we are at something, there is always another aspect of that something to learn. There is always another way to become the student, yet again, and learn about learning.

I watched as my lower body told my upper body to take a hike. I watched myself struggle. Mary Jane Onnen in the next lane over watched me struggle, too. It was the perfect lesson, returning me to a state of gratitude, and returning me to that group of ENG 102 papers later that evening with a lot more understanding and humility.

 

Lo Hice

Professional development is probably one of my favorite parts of my job.  I thrive on changes and possibilities, and professional development keeps life from getting too still  or predictable.

I tend to think of professional development as conferences and research and breakout sessions, but I think any time we push ourselves, either professionally or personally, we stand to develop as humans.

Wednesday night I found myself at GCC’s first bilingual open mic poetry reading. I organized it as part of my job as directing the creative writing program here at the college, so it made sense that I was there.  We were going to have two hosts and some featured guests who would read poetry in both Spanish and English after the open mic portion of the evening.  My job was to be there, represent GCC, encourage community and student members who wanted to read, and make sure nothing went wrong with technology. I had been planning an event like this for a year — not that it took that long to plan, but that I had the idea that long ago, and it just took a while to produce.  Since GCC is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), and many of our  students and community members are Spanish speakers, why not celebrate writing and creativity by offering an evening for expression in both languages?

What I didn’t expect was the following: The host who organized the entire evening, beginning to end, couldn’t come at the last minute due to a family emergency. The host who was to actually serve as the emcee got stuck in Phoenix rush hour traffic and was half an hour late. That meant that I had to get the evening started. I had to speak Spanish into a microphone and have it broadcast before fluent Spanish speakers. Certainly my Spanish is conversational, but speaking in front of a group of people in English is hard enough, even as a teacher (because it’s not my classroom, my students, a zone I am familiar in). Doing so in a different language was scary enough to make me break into a real sweat.

I don’t know how I did.  It was nobody’s job to provide me with feedback, and in the moment I was too panicked to notice anything besides my own panic.  Eventually, the real host appeared and took over. He was charming, funny, and completely fluent in both languages.  The evening went on and my magnified moment of mass uncertainty drifted away.

What I do know is that Wednesday night professional development happened.  To me. I stretched my comfort zone more than a hair. Whether I did well or not seems almost moot.  What matters at this point is that we had the event, it was well attended and fun, and I did what I had to do to facilitate it.  In the meantime, my entire self, like the Grinch’s heart at the end of the book, grew a few sizes that day. I did it.  Lo hice.

 

Learning to Pronounce ‘Siobhan’: Success Is All in the Context

In order to gain energy and inspiration to write this blog, I sat down with the second half of my pint of delicious Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream that I earned last week.  And while it inspired my taste buds, little else happened until I thought long and hard about what made this week successful. At first, it wasn’t obvious.

I have to agree with Beth Eyres on this one.  Week 4 has been tough. Papers are coming due and need attention.  I have had an ear infection all week, and although it arrived without pain, I feel like I’ve been living in a cross between a cave and a wind tunnel that comes with live amplifier feedback directly plugged into my brain.

On top of that, my son has had the flu–a pretty bad case of it.  One day he slept for 20 of 24 hours. He can’t get the flu shot because it’s made in egg shells, which causes a strong allergic reaction in him. I get the flu shot in case he comes down with it.  I didn’t expect to get the ear infection instead.  Happily, today he’s pretty normal again.

At any rate, knowing that by the week’s end I’d have a blog to write, I have been going about my week trying to think of a student success story, or any success story, to share.  But my success has simply been making it through this week.  My success has been that on the Friday in the fourth week of classes, I was to teach 48 students, and 44 made it to classes between two different sections.  I think that’s a pretty good turn out given the types of viruses and bacteria that are clearly running rampant.  My success was also that a (small) handful of students appeared unexpectedly at the GCC Reads meeting that I facilitated this afternoon. Last week, only two people appeared, and only one said that she’d be able to come back. I fully expected to walk into an empty room today. Instead, I was met by four faces, three of which were smiling and excited to discuss the love of reading, pets, and autism. (And the fourth person wasn’t sure why he was there, but that was okay, too.)  Together, as a group, we learned how to pronounce the Irish woman’s name, Siobhan, who is one of the characters in the book.  A student was that interested to ask how to say it, and I was grateful to him for making me look it up on the spot. I quickly learned that I had already read the entire novel once mispronouncing the name in my head.  Apparently, it is said, “Sha-vonne” with an Irish accent, to wit:

My final success of today was that I filed a group travel form for the MEChA nationals conference next month *using the new system* and it worked!

Today’s realization: successes are small and contextual. What makes me feel successful today may not be nearly as thrilling in a different week.  But this week?  Cursed week four?  Well, I’ll take it!

 

How I Make a Difference: A Reflective Moment with Some Self-Deprecation

 

These days, I mostly make a difference by reminding myself (constantly) that I am human.  Of course, I don’t have to make sure to do this, my subconscious, faulty memory, and non-linear nature do this for me naturally.  During office hours today, for example, I sat down to prepare a new assignment  for a creative writing class only to think, half way through writing the assignment This seems oddly familiar. Oh, yes, last week. It was already familiar because I had anticipated my poor memory and had already prepared the assignment. Wednesday, to be specific, I had already written the instructions, fully anticipating that Monday, one of my busy teaching days, I could do something else with that time.  Did I remember that?  No, not until I was half an hour into repeating my own endeavors.

This realization came after seven Canvas emails that I received while I was teaching my first class of the day informing me that the due date I had on an assignment was from 2015.

And then I received the gentle 6X6 email reminder, and I remembered that I forgot to post last week’s entry.

It is so hard to juggle everything.  And I have it pretty good: I already have my degrees.  I live close to work and don’t have a long commute. I don’t have a part-time job on top of my full-time job. I simply get to teach. Our students have such full lives: they go to school and work. They go to school and work and parent.  They go to school and work and parent and have extra-curriculars.  As the average freshman composition writer might note, “And the list goes on.”

As a big picture person, I struggle anymore to get the details right. I think that youthful brain cells used to compensate for my propensity for forgetting the little things. But now that I’ve been teaching for well over two decades, I just don’t have that option any more.  My young brain cells are middle-aged. They are forgetful, muddled, mixed up. They might not make it to the end of the paragraph in time to remember the point. That’s both a literal and figurative truth about my life right now.

My instinct is to be hard on myself. Other people (mostly on TV) make it look so easy. But I think to set a different example for our students. I admit my errors.  I can now even say, “My bad,” without wincing. And I do so in public.  In front of my classes or in conferences with my students or in emails with them.  I say, “I was supposed to set the date for the assignment on Canvas for 2016, but instead it came out A.D. 201, and now everybody’s paper is flagged as late. Who knows why this happened?”

If I see a student trying hard to juggle it all, and that student is willing to communicate with me, I will be flexible. I will be understanding, and I will also encourage that student to see that it’s impossible (at least for me) to remember everything, and it’s OK. I’m slowly learning that  forgetting details doesn’t mean the end of the world, and I try to share that new-found wisdom with my students. Last week a student emailed me, “I got the assignment done. I hit ‘save’, and in my head I was done two days early, and I could go on to my other classes’ assignments. I totally forgot to post it to Canvas though,” she admitted.  At this point, I easily remembered how quickly I, too, forget.  “Okay,” I wrote back. “Post what you have and remind me in the comments section of Canvas not to mark it late.”

Our students need encouragement.  I know this because I, too, need encouragement–that reason to push past the stress and the deadlines and all of the multiple tasks and responsibilities that demand out attention seemingly simultaneously.  While I seem to be forgetting most everything else these days, I can at least remember that.

 

Naming Names

I am willing to name names, and I have two.

First of all, Laura Dodrill.

When I arrived at GCC in the fall of 2012 fresh from out-of-state, I had absolutely no prior experience teaching for a school in the Maricopa system. I was coming from a community college in New Mexico where I had tenure and seniority in my department. I was coming from a school where the number of full-time faculty in the English department (about 12) was about one-third the number it is here at GGC.  In short, I was coming from a place where I felt I made a difference in many ways beyond teaching.  While teaching here felt as fulfilling as it did there right from the start, I was now at a much bigger school in a much more complicated system.  Weeks and semesters were passing, and I was surprised at how long it was taking me to feel a part of GCC in any other way than teaching.  Sometimes, I simply felt adrift.  I would go to meetings in my own department and not recognize everyone I was sitting amongst.

But there was Laura.

Laura was assigned to be my FYRE mentor. FYRE is the First Year Residential Faculty Experience (or something really close to that). That meant that Laura had to mentor me for an entire academic year. She did so willingly and with aplomb. She answered (with incredible patience) my most basic questions, including how to use my office phone.  I would send her emails asking what acronyms meant (FEP, FYE, SOP, FPG…) .  She would answer cheerfully. She brought me a plant for my office.  She checked in on me from time to time popping by my office.  Right from the start, (to use current parlance) I knew she had my back. She still has my back. I can call her, write her, or go to her with any kind of concern. That kind of relationship–the kind where I know my mistakes will be forgiven and my concerns will be heard–is so precious to me that it has made me want to be a better teacher and colleague, and it made me want to find my place at GCC.

And then Laura introduced me to Celeste.

When it came time to plan the 2014 fall schedules (one year in advance in 2013) Laura suggested I join her and Celeste Walls in teaching an FYE (First Year Experience) learning community. Laura and Celeste had already done this together.  Laura would teach a Counseling and Personal Development class (CPD), and Celeste would teach an Introduction to  Communications class.  I would join them by teaching a Developmental Composition course (ENG 091). Because scheduling is planned so far in advance,  I had never met Celeste before the first time the three of us sat down in early August 2014 to align our plans for teaching the FYE that coming semester. We had emailed each other prior to that but had  never met as a threesome in person.

What transpired for me this past fall was far more than being one-third of a learning community. Because Laura, Celeste, and I met so regularly to debrief about our cohort, we formed a bond. And Celeste Walls became the second person at GCC (besides students) who inspired me to be a better person, teacher, and colleague. I wanted my class to match her class.  She has high standards for everyone — her students, her colleagues, and herself.  I wanted to meet her standards.  Furthermore, if I was having trouble drawing out a shy student in my class, I could ask for her and Laura’s advice.  If an assignment didn’t go well, I could debrief with them and figure out what went wrong.  I could present either one of them with challenges I was having in the classroom (and not just the FYE classroom, but in any one of my classes), and they’d respond thoughtfully and make suggestions. But what I love most about Celeste is that she’s really interested in what I say.  She leans forward to listen when I speak. She sets a high professional bar and simply through her actions, those around her are encouraged to reach it.

Laura and Celeste aren’t only outstanding teachers and colleagues.  They are the kind of people who reassure others by making a place for them in the community.  Largely because of them, I’ve been able to settle in. Who wouldn’t be inspired hanging around with people like that?