17 November 2019

Graduate School, Round 3 . . .

In the above picture, I am video chatting on Zoom with 15 members of my newest graduate cohort. I am in my third graduate program . . . This time for education through Teach-Now, an online graduate program that specializes in teacher certification. I am about half way through my program, expected to graduate in May of 2020. My degree will be a Master's in Education combining Teacher Preparation with a Globalization in Education Focus. Each week we meet on Monday nights and have class. We come from all over the world, with the bulk of us teaching in China and Korea.

We've never met in person, but I love my cohort! We have WeChat groups and WhatsApp groups and talk to each other almost daily. Every week we have homework--sometimes as many as three assignments that are due. And each assignment has numerous parts and sometimes includes collaboration between us. So, this program takes coordination and dedication and a fair amount of lonely nights editing videos and writing blogposts. That's the other thing: and maybe my most favorite part . . . All of our assignments are submitted using the newest programs, apps, or technology. We can turn assignments via Snapchat feed or Instagram stories or by making videos or writing blogs. It's super cool.

It is not lost on many, and especially not lost on me (or my bank account), that I like to be in school. However, my educational path is wiggly--at best--and unique. I often look at my relationship with education as if it were a marriage: some years were amazing and some years, it was a massive struggle . . .

I remember in high school, when everyone was applying to schools, that I was hellbent on attending Texas Tech in Lubbock. I heard that they had an incredible design department. My hope (at the time) was to be an interior designer. I took drafting classes--and was the only female doing so--all throughout high school. So, it seemed like the perfect fit. I had only ever driven through Lubbock, and never actually made it to visit the school.

I don't remember my parents taking me around to look at schools much. I think it was just hard to organize with my dad living in New Jersey and my mom being a full-time teacher in Plano, Texas. But I do remember my dad taking me on a road trip to visit Stephen F. Austin State University. It was small and in the woods. Seemed nice, but not for me. He also took me to visit a school in New Jersey.  I went down to visit Texas A *and* M with friends, and liked it very much. But it still didn't seem like the right fit. If I had it all to do over again, I would've taken 5 years between high school and college to make this kind of decision . . . But in the early 90's the idea of taking a gap year (or years) was not an acceptable thing to do.

As it was, I ended up at Collin County Community College in Plano. At the time, we called Quad C. I did not like that I had to live at home, and work full-time and try to keep up with my classes. But it was the first place that I fell in love with art and the arts community, and for that I will forever be grateful. Still to this day, I think of my photography teacher at Quad C: Byrd Williams. He was so passionate about taking pictures and really taught me how to see things.

From Collin County Community College, I transferred into The University of Texas at Austin. (Finally, I had found my people! My tribe!) By the grace of God, I was accepted to The University of Texas at Austin and never really looked back. I declared my major as ART and straddled a full-time load of classes between UT Austin and Austin Community College. This was around 1995. I have Liza Donatelli (my roommate at the time), Shane Sullivan (my academic advisor), and Susan Clagett (my parent's college buddy and the Vice President of Administration and Public Affairs at UT) to thank for their support in my application to and success during those first several years at UT.

About 4 years into my degree at UT, I got very excited and impatient about being out in the world. I was going to be an artist, after all. Once I left school, white-walled galleries would open up their spaces to me and I would show my work and receive the creative acclaim that I desired. (It doesn't really work this way, folks.) But, my impatience got the best of me.

My father started pressuring me around 1999 to graduate. But I just wanted to keep taking art classes. I was like a SPONGE! Completely engrossed in contemporary art history classes that were standing room only, obsessed with clay and photography, and staying in the painting studio until 2 or 3 in the morning. It was the greatest, most creative, time of my life! And I did not want it to stop . . . But I ended up leaving school.

After I left school, I had a variety of jobs. I coordinated weddings, painted people's bedrooms, weeded yards, painted wooden shoes, taught art at various museums and in after school programs, started art teaching studios at several YMCA's, and worked as an installer in galleries. I made a lot of art, but could barely (if at all) make ends meet. In 2003, I started a teaching studio in my house that I ran for about 5 years in both Tennessee and Wisconsin. I taught homeschoolers, adults, ran birthday parties, and taught after school programs for all ages of young people. Nothing teaches you more about being a teacher than teaching. And this is when I realized that teaching was something I really wanted to do. But I wanted to teach art because I wanted to teach young people everywhere that art should not be taken for granted and, if focus was involved, art could change people's lives.

I ended up going back to school at The University of Texas in Austin in the spring of 2007. When I reapplied to school, my academic advisor (from all of those many years before), Shane, told me that this was my last chance to get it right. So, with the help of my boyfriend at the time, I worked really hard and ended up graduating with honors. I met so many new and wonderful young people when I went back to school. I was as old as molasses, but loved being around all of these creative, young, and inspiring people. I am happy to say that I am still very close to these same people I met during this time. And, the professors I had blew my mind. It takes a while for all of that information in those formative college years to really sink in, but that second time around in my undergraduate program changed my life forever.

I found a new source for my passion and soaked up every bit of information that my professors were feeding me. I took an amazing class on gems and gemstones and learned how to facet a diamond. I took a class about the environment and became so incredibly obsessed with recycling that when I got rid of a couch we had, my boyfriend and I stripped the entire thing down and recycled every ounce of that couch. I met Margaret Meehan who taught me so much about contemporary art that I honestly didn't think my brain could possibly hold anymore information. And, I ended up doing a study abroad program in Italy and had the time of my life rummaging through Rome and Venice and Florence. 

Going back to school was incredible, and something I never for a second thought I would ever get the chance to do. I've never regretted the path that I took to obtain my undergraduate degree in studio art. Everyone takes their own time to get places. And once I realized I could get my undergraduate finished, I didn't stop there. 

I immediately applied to MICA and was accepted to their 14-month Community Arts MA program (it has now been turned into an MFA program). I don't think I have ever been stretched and pulled and worked so hard in all my life. But, it was also a blast. I learned how to sew and teach and write lesson plans. I planned huge events that involved lots of people and wrote long, heartfelt poetry. I gave presentations on the fly and met all different kinds of people who were creative and passionate and changing their communities (and the world). 

Two years after I graduated from my Community Arts program, I found my first overseas teaching position. I started working in Singapore in 2012, and by 2013, I had enrolled in an MFA in Studio Arts program back at MICA. The Studio Art program was a 4-year, summer intensive. My cohort and I spent every summer in Baltimore creating all sorts of artwork. We wrote papers in the fall and spring semesters, and visited MICA every winter during MLK week to critique the artwork we were making during the months that we were not on campus during the summer months. During the summer, we made things, attended lectures, learned how to be professional artists, and critiqued each other hard. But it was incredibly fun! I now look back on those four years as "adult art camp". We danced a lot, talked a lot, and created friendships that last a lifetime. I graduated with my MFA in August of 2016, just after my first and last year teaching in Qatar. 

For a second, after I graduated my MFA program, I enrolled in an Art Education PhD program in Florida. But, I could tell right away, that it was not the time for me to do this. It was a 6-year program and I was not ready to make that kind of commitment. I didn't feel like I connected with the program like I had hoped, and I was not happy teaching in the United States. It was too hard to work full-time and try to attend my classes and do the work I was expected to do. So, by 2018, I found myself back overseas and teaching in China. And by May of 2019, I had enrolled in my current program, an MEd focused on Globalization in Education. 

Here are some of the video projects I have completed for various assignments in my current program . . . 

I am still in the teacher preparation part of my graduate program. The Globalization in Education part starts in February. But I am loving all of the new things I am learning about how to be a teacher and how to truly get my students to be the very best versions of themselves that they can be. And I love that I now have contacts and collaborators all over the world--literally all over the world!! I can't shake school, you guys. It is a privilege that I am able to do this . . . Of course, it gets in the way of me doing other things. Like having a family and saving monies. But there is something so worthwhile about new experiences and meeting new people and learning new things! I am so very grateful for this life of academics and travel and fun that I have created for myself. So. Very. Grateful.  

I can't wait to see what's next!!! More soon . . . XOXO!