When my daughter was born five and a half years ago, life became a lot more complex for my wife and me. So enrolling in the MAED program at Michigan State less than a year later seemed like the logical choice. That was 2008. Now, in early 2013, I have been enrolled in school for nearly all of my daughter’s life, the entirety of my three year-old son’s life, and more than half the duration of my marriage.
I started this program with a flexible but important goal. I wanted “to become a leader in independent school education as a teacher, community leader, and/or diversity practitioner.” Essentially I wanted to put myself in a position to more ably work toward a safer, more inclusive, more equitable, more accessible future by working toward safer, more inclusive, more equitable, more accessible schools. I committed myself to big ideas with enormous potential outcomes. There would be no end and no right way to get there. Just better processes and better results along the way.
Almost five years later, I can say that I am more informed. I can say that I have consumed, processed, evaluated, analyzed, considered, interpreted, synthesized, integrated, compared, practiced, researched, uncovered, critiqued, and absorbed mountains of content knowledge, skills, theories, arguments, perspectives, interpretations, processes, books, articles, videos, presentations, discussions, and more. I have done a lot of good learning, and I am better equipped to pursue the goals that I laid out in my admission application years ago.
In my professional goals statement, I made note of the fact that
…I have to consider my own practical learning context and environment. Being a husband, father, and primary income-earner, I must continue to work. Working at an independent boarding school, my schedule is unique and requires a certain degree of flexibility. The online program affords me the flexibility to work within my own personal and professional contexts.
Over the last five years, although trying to find an appropriate balance, I have ignored, impressed, annoyed, stressed, shortchanged, made proud, set aside, and slighted my family and professional obligations in pursuit of my learning. I have done a lot of good loving, living, and bonding with my family. I have also done a lot of good teaching and engaging with the community. But not enough of either. And sometimes I wonder whether it was all worth it. Whether pursuing my goals by furthering my education was worth the costs of time and attention to my work and to my family.
Looking back across all that I have done, seen, learned, and accomplished over the last five years, I think that it’s going to be.
A lot has changed in my life since 2008.
Even between the time that I applied to the MAED program and was (provisionally) accepted, I changed roles within the same boarding school. I stepped into leadership roles for some of the jobs that I had done previously (from Dorm Parent to Head Dorm Parent, Assistant Coach to Head Baseball Coach) and moved from teaching four classes and playing a minor role on the Admission Committee to Associate Director of Admission and teaching one class. By the spring of 2009, my (then pregnant) wife and I were both offered teaching jobs at an independent day school in North Carolina, which we accepted, expecting to find a more sustainable work-life balance than we had while I was traveling for admissions and working and living in the dorm along with my wife and our one year-old daughter. So, we bought a house and moved from New Lebanon, New York and a school founded partly on the principles of peace and equality to Matthews, North Carolina to teach at a school founded due in part to the impending educational challenges of busing for public school integration. That fall our son was born.
Reading back over my 2008 goals in 2013, my commitment to those same goals has not changed, but the contexts in which I am pursuing them and the complexities of my life have changed significantly. But I think the struggles and strains will have all been worth it.
I feel much more equipped to understand the myriad contexts in which I am working. I can make better sense of the social, political, cultural, economic, historical, and ideological complexities of my school and the importance of continued commitment to my goals. I understand the value of teacher-leadership to the overall health and success of school communities. I understand that the road will be long, that it will need constant maintenance, and that it will lead toward a better place that may never be reached. And I know that pursuing these goals, becoming a more able leader, working toward a more safe, inclusive, equitable, and accessible school will be worth it. And in fact, the stakes have gotten even higher for me and for my family.
Our family life is thoroughly integrated into our professional lives. My wife and I are committed to building long and valuable careers at our school. We hope to build worthy futures for and with our students. When our daughter began TK (Transitional Kindergarten) at our school this past fall, we became even more invested in that goal. When our son (hopefully) follows his sister in 2014, our entire family will spend each school day immersed in the same school culture. We plan to build our lives in a place that we love and to build the future that we hope for our children.
My professional goal statement, written in 2008 has gone beyond a goal. It has grown beyond just me. It has become collective imperative.