But what you Not gon’ do is sht on education

This here goes out to everyone who wants to throw shade on people with degrees. For whatever reason. You don’t believe in them (OK.); didn’t finish (not my fault); didn’t get to go (I’m sorry.)

My higher education is a privilege I would not have had access to decades ago.

Yes, I’m going there. Because you can’t use black history in your Black Lives Matter protest posts and exclude the rights and privileges we now own, which you reassign as assimilation for me. Not fair.

I also don’t want to hear about the final value it provides (or doesn’t) because lesbehonest everything you do and say ain’t for the people. And you can tap your holy crystals on that one. Besides, my two Masters cost me less than $5000 combined (See Perks of Working in Higher Education.)   …..p.s. that isn’t a real post yet.

Obtaining a degree takes discipline; sacrificing immediate pleasure for a delayed one. It takes pushing through, even when you’re tired, confused, frustrated, uninspired. It takes discovering a you that you didn’t know existed. If the definition of integrity is doing what you’re supposed to do even when you know you won’t get caught, then obtaining a degree will shed an entire beacon of light on your integrity. Just ask any college or university’s Dean of Students office about the number of academic dishonesty charges they receive every term.

I made a self-conscious decision to better myself and the world around me by learning the ideas and philosophies of many men and women who preceded me, on many topics and interests, in a discipline I was intrigued by. And, no, I’m not saying all the methodologies are right, but I do feel I am better able to make informed decisions knowing all sides of an argument as opposed to solely those I was taught growing up, and in the very limited perspective of the world I was in.

Going to school presented an outlet for me. And something I could do, without anyone being able to take it away from me.

I left my dad’s house when I was 17. There was no college fund, no cushion account to get started on life, no car, no guarantee, no clue. I wasn’t allowed to participate in extracurriculars in high school. High school was one of the most confusing, frustrating, depressing times of my life.

But school I could do. College I could do! I could succeed. College was my first major decision that depended solely on me. And when distractions presented themselves I cracked down in the books, on the papers, with the readings even harder. The semester my mom passed I was taking the heaviest load of my college career, just to distract myself from what we all knew was inevitable.

When my mom was sick, I remember visiting her in Crawford Long one day. I didn’t visit often, even though Georgia State was right down the street. She kept saying, “You never come see me!” and my reply was always, “Mom, I’m working and going to school.” Then she said to me, “Well, good to know it’s more important than your Motha! I know one thing, you better make sure you go farther than I did!” That moment stung. Her words were painful. My mom could be a master manipulator of feelings. But, through her words, I gained strength. I kissed her forehead and promised I would.

I think she’d be proud of me.

I still haven’t gotten good at balancing work-study-family, but we’ll save that for another post.

My education is more to me than papers, than letters, than debt.

I don’t feel entitled; I feel empowered.

I have pride in my accomplishments. No one can take that away.

(I’d like to close by saying: If this submission made you feel some kind of way, perhaps I wrote this for you.)

And there was tonight…

This time last week I was pretty convinced I’d made a big mistake in “deciding” to teach English abroad. I put deciding in quotation marks because I’m clearly not going anywhere just yet, but I’d made my mind up a long time ago as if it was a done deal.

Well, at least I thought I did. Then last week, I re-made it. Or unmade it.  *shrugs* (don’t judge me; I’m not teaching English in college. Just the basics.)

I digress. I was so intimidated. I was anxious. I was confused. I was discouraged. I was tired.

I feel like I’ve just been chasing one goal after another, for yearsssss now. And I mean Years. Every year, I was choosing a new goal to achieve. And then, when it was achieved, I needed a new goal. Yes, admirable. On the other hand, exhausting. I don’t know why I am that way. From what I remember, I’ve always been intrinsically motivated. Call me a goal digger.

So, here I was, in week 5 of my TEFL Certification program and had an assignment to make my first lesson plan. I freaked all the way out. Because what that assignment meant is not just that I was midway into a program to teach non-English speaking students one of the (so it is said) most complicated languages to learn, but that I, ME, I was going to be a Teacher! Sure, traveling the world, experiencing new culture, living in a different country is all part of it, but my duty was to be education.

“I can’t do this. I’m not a teacher. I don’t want to be lonely.”

Those thoughts ran through my head like WTH do you think you’re doing girl. And if that’s not enough, the fact that I’d be quitting my job, leaving my dog, leaving behind all that’s familiar, comfortable, English… I just couldn’t.

I’d reconvinced myself of how I wanted my future to look.

Until tonight. Tonight I was in my second observation of an ESL classroom, and I looked around – at the students, at the teacher, at the board, at the observation notes I’d been taking. I saw the passion that started this dream almost five years ago now. I saw the possibilities. I saw me, in front of the classroom, bubbling with enthusiasm, rich with knowledge, willing and eager to share.

And I know all days won’t be golden days. But, tonight I’m relishing in the fact that I see those days again at all. I see it, therefore I can achieve it. It’s been a motto I’ve lived my life by for many years now. Yearsssss.

The Director and Founder tapped on the window to get my attention. Upon seeing him I realized I needed to get my Practicum log signed. We chatted for a bit, and then he offered me the opportunity to be put on the schedule as a substitute in the new year!

My heart fluttered a bit. Initially out of nervousness, but then immediately out of excitement. Here it is. What I’ve prepared and worked so hard for. And I didn’t even have to search for it, it landed right in my lap. One minute I was posting on Instagram about struggling in the class, which my friend saw and connected me to his colleague, who answered all my emails diligently and offered me to come observe, and now I’m only half-way through the course looking at a possible teaching opportunity.

My cup overfloweth. With gratitude. With confidence. With openness. I’ve softened my thoughts to let my heart talk a little, and give my brain a break from thinking about every single possible negative thought. I’m listening to my heart now, and I must say, I like the way it feels.

I’ve decided to start journaling my journey. So, here’s to part 1!

So you have an education… Now what?

I’m about to finish my third degree, and while that is an awesome feat to accomplish I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the challenges that I see it comes to individuals with higher education degrees. Even the term “higher education” can be deceptive, and as an employee of a higher education institution, I have an interesting perspective about how it all fits into greater meaning.

To me, intelligence is crazy attractive. But, can one be “intelligent” having earned the bear minimum education? Are there also educated dummies walking around with multiple letters behind their name? Yes, and yes.

One thing I’ve noticed from working at my institution (granted, I’ve only worked at one higher education institution, but I can’t imagine they are much different in many aspects, including the one I’m about to discuss) is the politics involved. The word politics has grown to put a bad taste in people’s mouths. But, to be clear, my reference to politics is the use of authority to dictate procedure, in a top-down fashion, and absent of shared opinion. In short, politics govern the policies and procedures that get dictated to those who rarely have a seat at the table to offer input on the that which will directly affect them.

I’ve seen politics affect when employees will be paid, how much of one’s check will be devoted to healthcare, and whether or not individuals qualify for overtime. I’ve also seen the affects of politics as it pertains to the student body – verifying one’s lawful presence to attend a public research institution, who gets admitted versus who doesn’t, and more recently who gets to graduate and who doesn’t.

It bothers me that current policy has been adjusted to focus on numbers primarily; that quantity has replaced quality.

How many students are graduating from college because they’ve just been shuffled along? Far too many, and the number is rising. It makes me question whether we’ve moved from putting value on education, or just assigning a diploma that verifies you know how to complete something. I see too many students as seniors, which indicates by this point you should have established a sound ability to communicate your thoughts in writing, who cannot form a complete, professional thought. It’s concerning, to say the least. Are students paying thousands of dollars simply to exit as ill-prepared, surface-deep, unproductive members of society?

To what end is education valuable? Who determines what value is and what it isn’t?

Earning a degree in higher education can open doors to you that otherwise would not have been. Earning a degree past high school teaches you invaluable lessons like diversity, humanity, socialization, time management, and the importance of deadlines. Completing a post-secondary education degree has provided a strong foundation for many to continue on to bigger and better.

An overwhelming majority of graduates, however, do not even use the material they learned in college. With the exception of professional degrees (think professions like law, medical, dentistry, etc.), lately I’ve questioned more and more whether the value of the time, effort, and money I’ve put into pursuing a degree is wholly worthwhile.

Do you learn theories and perspectives of others, to regurgitate said “knowledge,” or actually develop a meaningful contribution toward society? I think both can be answered yes and no.

My first master’s degree, in education with a focus on Adult Education, was no walk in the park. I read no fewer than 20 articles per course in a given semester. Can I recall any one, just one, of any of them? No. I do remember the theories, which I guess I could develop into my own meaning and how I will apply that education to further my career goals. Or, is it all just a waste of time? I won’t deny that graduate school is hard work. It takes dedication, time management, critical thinking, and a juggling of multiple tasks. But, at the end, sitting here now on the cusp of completing my second master’s I cannot help but inquire, “What’s it all for?” Just to say I did?

Well. This post is less one to offer a solution than it is to present the questions. I don’t have the answers. I can say I’ve known some extremely intelligent individuals who completed only high school, as I will admit I have worked with some blatantly unintelligent individuals with PhDs. They are, perhaps, experts in their area of study, but blindly insignificant to larger matters of the world.

I do believe education serves a purpose. Like I mentioned earlier, those core values one develops from being on their own the first time, learning to prioritize between desire and responsibility, managing one’s time when multiple demands are thrown at once – these skills don’t just get cultivated by reading about it; you have to go through it.

So are those skills worth the hundreds and thousands of dollars of debt our country’s educated are finding themselves in?

Congratulations, you can add this to your resume!

Resumes can’t be converted into money in the bank, however. And, isn’t that what the end goal is? Or to hold philosophical conversations? Perhaps both.

I’ll let you decide.

Leave nothing unfinished

2017-02-21-16-19-25-1This year marks a significant milestone for me: I will complete my Masters in Public Administration, with a concentration in Educational Leadership. This degree was by far the most difficult of the 3 degrees I’ve earned because my heart wasn’t in it. I started the program back in 2013 with the intention of “just getting a Masters.” I work in the college the degree is housed in, so I knew I’d have the support of my superiors to take classes and that the admit process would be pretty seamless. After 2 semesters, however, I realized how disinterested I was the public sector and public administration. It is no doubt a strong, marketable degree if you’re interested in working in higher education, the non-profit sector, or government. I decided to give it one more semester (following the advice of my academic advisor) to see if it was for me or not, since up to that point I’d been taking the most difficult core courses. His advice was to jump into my concentration courses and judge from there. That didn’t work. So before the midpoint of the semester, I made a resolve: I’d quit the program and pursue a degree I actually had some interest in. I began searching for an online degree, convinced that sitting in a classroom was the most annoying part about being back in school. This tactic was a horrible way to “find” a degree because there are so many out there and I didn’t want to repeat the same effortless mistake I’d made with the MPA.

My coworker/friend/work-wife/life consultant who I affectionally call “wife” was also looking at pursuing a master’s degree. She was fundamental in my decision-making process, asking me pertinent, soul-searching questions that would make me think much deeper beyond my surface-level desire to “get a Masters.” What do you like about your job? What don’t you like? What would you like the degree to mean for you? And so many more.

My work responsibilities over the past year had shifted dramatically. I went from being #2 of a two-person team to the lead of a larger group. I was responsible for training new employees on our team – from organizing training sessions and materials to facilitating the training topics beginning to end. It was exhausting. Mainly because I was training new people while balancing the same responsibilities as well. Mind you, I was lead, so I was point of contact for nearly every question or concern in our unit – which pretty much occurred multiple times during the day. So, yea, exhausting. I discovered also, though, that it was rewarding. I see new employees’ brains as a blank slate. They come to me with the easel and canvas; I supply the paint, brushes, and accessories. From day 1, I know what the final piece should look like, but a good artist understands there are different ways to get there. My goal is empowerment, knowledge, and self-sufficiency.

My first training session was a chaotic mess! Notes were all over the place. I mainly spoke; there was little in the form of supplemental documents and visuals. And I learned from that situation! I found myself repeating things over and over… “I know I taught that!” I’d say in my head. It wasn’t that I didn’t go over the information, but rather I failed to help them make a connection.

And this is where I began to see my perspective shift. I began understanding it’s not so much how often you deliver something. If you fail to provide a connection, you might as well put yourself on auto-repeat, and expect to do so often. I revised my training when the next employees came on board. And every session got better than the next. It got to the point where I saw myself developing a stencil for the art piece, to ensure it always turned out the same – and that’s what we want (when it comes to training you do want consistency). I began noticing the training period got much shorter, because there was less redundancy. My pupils, if you will, reached their final piece much faster. And seeing that lightbulb in their head go off, when they felt comfortable enough to add their own colors (and they be the right ones!), develop their own brush strokes (that complimented the piece!), and show me a finished product (that was exactly the way I imagined!) – That, good people, is success. And That feels good.

As exhausting as training was for me, it became less burdensome because I enjoyed the process, and I especially took joy in knowing I wouldn’t have to worry if the employees were delivering the right information when I suddenly got fewer calls, IMs and emails from them. I knew I had equipped them with the right skills. I could trust they would make the right decisions.

This evolution led me directly to Adult Education. I found it by searching “corporate training jobs” online. I realized that I loved teaching, but did not want a degree in early-, middle-, or secondary education. I was interested in teaching adults, or perhaps for a company for which I could travel and train – bonus! (since traveling is another passion of mine). I hadn’t heard of “adult education” as a discipline before then, so I was surprised to find that it was, in fact, a huge umbrella encompassing many opportunities of which I had interest – including teaching English as a second language, corporate training, and education administration.

So then it was settled. I knew I wanted to do some level of corporate training, I knew I wanted my Masters, I knew I didn’t want to sit in a classroom. Insert: University of Georgia’s (new online) Master’s of Education program with a concentration in Adult Education! The course had previously been taught as in the traditional classroom format, but, if interested, I’d be among the first cohort in the 100% online program. My interest was piqued. I found out about the program through GeorgiaONmyLINE’s website. Because I am an employee at Georgia State University, I can take advantage of TAP (tuition assistance program) and attend any institution within the University Systems of Georgia at virtually no charge. Whoot! I enrolled. I loved it. I LOVED it! There were some challenging moments, I won’t say it was all roses and butterflies. However, the difference between the M.Ed and the MPA is that I loved the program and was passionate about it, so the struggles were less challenging to push through. There were many nights I went to bed late because I was bogged down by thousands of readings. Some semesters I felt I was always in class because – it being an online course – I think some instructors thought our whole life was school. I also had to pay an extra tuition that was not covered by TAP because my program included a special “e-rate”, thereby why I said “virtually no charge.” But it was worth it! And I was determined to push through. And, last summer, officially August 5, 2016, I completed my program.

During the spring of last year, though, while I was nearing wrapping up my program at UGA, the thought of leaving the MPA unfinished kept nagging at me. It got to the point it drove me crazy. I just couldn’t settle knowing I’d worked so very hard the first year and never got credit for it.

So I visited my academic advisor to find out how close I was to completing the degree. After reviewing what I’d taken, discussing the option of creating an individual concentration – thereby allowing the transfer of two of my UGA courses – and reviewing the remaining requirements, she showed me what was left. And circled: 4 classes and an internship.

“What? That’s it?” I was in disbelief.

“That’s all, Dani!” She was so supportive. I needed a moment to let it sink in.

I spent about a week or so toggling with the idea of whether or not I wanted to return. “4 classes. That’s two semesters. That’s not even a year. And I’ll be done.” … “4 classes.” .. “Just 4, Dani. You’re so close!”

I met with her again. I needed to know exactly what I was looking at. “What four classes are we talking about?”

The internship coordinators would not waive the internship requirement – oh trust me, I tried! – but they did agree to allow my job to count provided I do “something” in addition to my work responsibilities. Fair enough, I thought.

Of the four courses remaining, I should probably focus on getting the hardest ones out of the way first. I knew that if I was only one semester away after it was over, there was no way I wouldn’t finish.

After some deliberation, I hastily completed my re-entry application before I changed my mind!

My M.Ed was conferred in summer; I was back in classes in the fall.

And hated every minute of it!

I was grumpy, annoyed, tired, and uninspired. It was, hands down, the hardest semester I’d ever had. I can’t tell you how many times I cried from being completely and utterly tired. I studied so much I stopped getting invitations to go out from friends – I was always studying. At least when I was working on the M.Ed I was in a relationship and had the supporting help of my partner to handle things like walking the dog and picking up groceries. But now I was very single, with a very stubborn tendency to not ask for help. It was hard, y’all. Hard. The material was dense. Perhaps if I’d liked the information, comparatively like I did in the M.Ed, it wouldn’t have felt so challenging. I always felt like I was pushing a boulder. Uphill. In socks. Right, picture that. On top of that one of my instructors was… well, let’s just say I didn’t have many kind words to say about him. But, because I know the instructor’s place, personality aside I recognized he needed to teach me something, and I needed to learn it. Or, at the very least I needed to be able to duplicate his teachings to a fair level of understanding on the exam. I spent countless hours studying, and many more in his office for one-on-ones. I refused to not succeed. But there were many moments I questioned my sanity. “Why am I doing this again?? Just to say I did?” But there’s something about a challenge to me… I have to be able to say I gave it absolutely everything I had before I can admit defeat.

So. I got through it. More than got through it – I closed that semester out with 2 Bs! Not my best work, but honey I finished and that’s all that matters, dernit! Besides, there’s no Honors recognition in graduate school. Over-achievers.

So, here I am, in my last semester. And I did it just right. This is by far my easiest semester, of both my graduate programs! Y’all. I have resumed an active workout life, social life, and started this blog! I couldn’t possibly even think of an extra anything in the past nearly 4 years. Imagine that.

It’s in the bag lol I’m so checked out. If senior-itis were a thing you could get at any level, I have it bad. I’m still working, don’t get me wrong. But I’m so not working hard. I already know the minimum grades I need on all my assignments just to get a satisfactory grade! I made an 85 on my first assignment in one class. She gave the class the option to revise for a better grade. Guess who did NOT resubmit anything. Mmhmm.

This thing is in the bag. And I’m not “giving up,” I’m just enjoying the fruits of (literally) my labor. I strategically built the last 2 semesters to go this way – struggle up front, then ride that thing on out. I completed my internship over the Thanksgiving break, my final requirements being a 10-page paper and a group discussion.

Graduation is May 5.

When I tell you Cinco de Mayo this year is about to be more than tacos and tequila, you just don’t understand what I’m telling you!

I wrapped up this journey like it was nothing, but it’s been anything but. I’m thankful to ALL the amazing people I’ve had in my corner – encouraging me, reminding me what’s important, listening to my long rants, being a shoulder to cry on, walking my dog, hell, the ones who brought me dinner because I was so knee-deep in assignments I was forgetting to eat. My graduation celebration will be a celebration for everyone! I could not have done this alone.

I could not have done this alone. And we really never do.

So here’s to finishing what you start!

And if you need help finding your niche, I have the perfect life consultant to recommend you to. She holds a special place in my heart. She doesn’t it do it for a fee (yet!); she just genuinely is a good, smart, honest person.

At any rate, though, I’d like to close in saying: just #startsomewhere