Archive Page 3

One Day at a Time

War lady with babyBy Heidi Hemling – Imagine, if you will, that you are a first year student in a master’s program filling the beginning of the semester with the intensity of attending orientation, becoming acquainted with those in your cohort, meeting professors and advisors, and attempting to survive your first lectures and assignments. You are spending every second of spare time reading, researching, and writing, and struggling to shake out what your daily routine will look like in light of this new and exciting challenge.

Now, imagine that you are embarking on this journey while also being the mother of an infant.

The first year graduate student you are imagining, hiding out at a table in the back corner of Raynor with books and syllabi scattered all around, making a desperate attempt at getting all critical due dates onto a calendar, is me.

I enjoyed every sweet second with my daughter, as we were able to be home together, from the day she was born until the day I began my graduate studies. I planned and prepared for the change that would come along with my return to student-hood. I organized sitters, made meal plans for my family, and fully embraced my Type-A personality in all its multi-tasking glory. I drove to campus on my first day feeling confident, excited, and primed.

And then, as I walked down the hallway to enter my first class as a graduate student, I stopped. My eyes began to well up with tears and my heart caught in my throat. I began to cry as I realized the precious newborn chapter of motherhood was closing. Up until that moment, I had only been away from my daughter on a couple of short occasions. Our only time apart had been during quick trips to the grocery store or while I ran out to grab a cup of coffee. (Even then, more often than not, those things were done with her in tow, asleep on my chest in a baby carrier).

However, I was now choosing to be away from her for a few hours each day in order to pursue an achievement that meant a great deal to me and for a split second this felt selfish. Thoughts of my daughter’s beautiful face flooded my mind and I considered turning around and running home.

Thankfully, the voice of reason (which usually sounds like my husband’s voice, ha!) pushed its way into my whirling mommy-mind and gently encouraged me to remember all the work I had done to arrive at this point. I had sacrificed so many things, worked so hard in both career and academia, and had such a loving and supportive crowd of cheerleaders in my family and friends who were waiting to hear about my first day. I thought of my daughter and the example I want to be for her — a strong, empowered, dedicated, committed, and successful woman.

I wiped the tears from my face, took a deep breath, and continued toward the classroom door. It may sound silly but as I turned the doorknob and walked in, I felt a surge of energy. I was filled with the positivity, focus, determination, and frame of mind I needed to get through that first day.

Even now, a few weeks into the semester, I am able to remember and channel that energy when I need it. As I grow accustomed to being a graduate student and the mother of a young baby, I have promised to be kind to myself. I will read the stacks of books, find time to research articles, take notes, attend lectures, and get all of those critical due dates onto my calendar.

However, I will also commit to self-care throughout my program and ensure that I am engaging in mindful behavior; being present for my family just as I am present for my studies. I will not allow my Type-A personality to infringe on my time with my daughter and husband.  I will take it all one day at a time.

Please don’t misunderstand me, as we are still merely wading into the school year, I am well aware of the fact that the struggle has only just begun. And as I attempt to assimilate into this new graduate student culture, I can guarantee you will catch me in the library surrounded by textbooks, notes, articles, and calendars with a disheveled appearance and an extra-large coffee.

However, if you look closely, you will also see me flipping through the camera roll on my phone and smiling as pictures of my sweet daughter motivate me to be that strong, empowered, dedicated, committed, and successful woman I want her to see when she looks at her mother. It is that motivation that will channel the energy I need to accomplish each task, one day at a time.

Wherever you are in your student, career, or family life I’m sure it is evident to you that transition is all around. Change is an integral part our lives and we can either trust the process or rail against it. Closing chapters in order to move forward can, at times, be an emotional process. But my hope is that each of you will be able to embrace the period of transition you find yourselves in, that you will discover the excitement, hope, and possibility within the change you face, that you would be able to surround yourself with those you love as you enjoy the journey, and that you are able to channel the motivation needed to drive you toward your goals one day at a time.

On Not Taking the Miraculous Gift of Language for Granted

imagesBy Amanda Szramiak – Hi everyone. This semester, I am taking ENGL 4110: Exploring the English Language. I was so excited to take this course because communication absolutely fascinates me.

Before I switched to education, I was pretty far into my communication studies major, so technically, I have finished a minor in communication studies. I also thought about switching to speech-language pathology because language absolutely intrigues me. I feel like the world of education encapsulates my interest of both communication and language.

This past summer, my family went through a pretty rough time. My uncle, who I am extremely close with, developed Guillian-Barre Syndrome. This life-altering disease causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, leaving you paralyzed. Luckily, the disease is reversible over time. On Father’s Day, my uncle had tingling sensations in his hands and feet. After two emergency room visits and multiple misdiagnoses, my uncle was admitted to the ICU three days later.

At this point, my uncle was paralyzed. A speech-language pathologist came the day after he was admitted, and she gave him a swallowing test. Unfortunately, he aspirated and was immediately put on a ventilator. The worst part about this disease is that my uncle was still highly functioning, but he could not move or talk.

While my uncle was intubated, my family and I used a new way to communicate with him. My uncle was capable of nodding ever so slightly so we relied on his head gestures. We would recite the alphabet, and he would nod when we got to the letter he needed to use. Although it was incredibly time consuming and frustrating, he was able to communicate with us.

Thankfully, my uncle is recovering at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. He can talk, and he is slowly gaining movement back. I want to share his story because we take communication for granted to the furthest extent. We forget how absolutely amazing and miraculous language is on a daily basis. Imagine not being able to communicate for an entire day. I would even say not being able to communicate for an hour would be almost unbearable. I ask you to recognize and appreciate this miracle.

So although I am currently cursing the International Phonetic Alphabet, I leave you with a quote Professor Hartman Keiser placed in my syllabus.

“Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other’s minds. The ability comes so naturally that we are apt to forget what a miracle it is.”

-Stephen Pinker

The Language Instinct, p.1

The Moral of the Privilege Line

scales-303388_640By Shannon Bentley – Hey readers! In the summer, I had these positive and negative recurring thoughts in my mind after the privilege line activity at City Year’s Basic Training Retreat.

Over 100 corps members, senior corps members, and staff stood in one gigantic line holding each other’s hands like a society that is deemed equal. Everyone smiled and talked amongst each other while waiting for the statements to be shouted by our facilitators. The privilege line shows members of a group where they stand in society when it comes to privilege. Participants respond to certain statements that pertain to their lives growing up by either stepping forward or stepping backward. The statements may be based on race, socioeconomic status, education, culture, and/or values.

Some City Year participants’ faces remained neutral and some showed signs of anxiety and eagerness.

Unfortunately, the results were not promising.

The gigantic line split between more than five lines. There were Corps members who were 20 steps ahead and other members who were 20 steps behind. I was one of those people closer to the back. When the activity ended, everyone was silent – some people were in tears. I felt tears running in my eyes, not because I was jealous or angry at the people in the front – I was angry with how my life became very underprivileged. My experiences with privilege were based on the decisions of my parents; however, I pushed myself to work hard and attend college and be in the position that I am today.

I told my mother about the experience and to my surprise she was fairly disappointed at my response. My mother believed that no one should have been upset with the line because we have overcome and conquered the stereotypes that the privilege line places upon people in society. We all have graduated high school/college and even have our future careers set in stone in our minds.

Even though the corps members and staff came from many backgrounds, we all have one similar goal – educating students who need the attention the most. We learn the same processes, we have unique conversations, we are getting to know each other, and we are developing those teacher-student relationships. We all have something in common with our goals this school year, and we all want to reach those goals before our service year ends. We don’t see the privilege going against the underprivileged.

My mother was right – we shouldn’t be upset with our past but more so focused on our future. As a City Year corps member, we need to give those same students who are in the back of the privilege line the same motivation so that they can succeed like us. We are not the back of the line – we are the underdog. In the end, other corps members were able to acknowledge their privilege, give their support and try to be understanding as much as possible. Conversations were formed and minds were opened.

The moral of the privilege line is that it doesn’t matter where you come from – it’s where you are going matters the most.

Welcome, Oscar

sand-768783_640By Oscar Guzman – There was a knock at my door. I had just finished getting dressed and had my backpack hanging over my shoulders. When I opened the door, reality was standing there. We were looking eye to eye. Hi, I greeted and offered a friendly smile – however, I blinked twice, and in an instant, I squeezed between it and the door frame and bolted down the stairs. I could hear it following me – I could feel it breathing down my neck.

When I entered the lobby of McCormick Hall, there was no one at the front desk – in fact, there was no one anywhere, but I didn’t bother stopping. So I just kept going.

The streets were empty. The sidewalks were desolate. The breeze felt nice as I sprinted to my 8 a.m. class on the first day of school. The sun shone nicely over the clouds that seemed to collide with each other.

As I got closer to the streetlight, I saw a lady waiting to cross the road – she must have not realized there were no cars in sight. However, as I got closer, she raised her head, stared at me, and gave me a huge, sincere smile – it was my mom. Mom, I yelled, mom!

I ran to her. I ran so I could give her a hug, but before I could, she gestured her hand so that her palm was facing me – she wanted me to stop. She smiled and shook her head, and as I reached for her hand, she disappeared.

I could still see her face, and her beautiful smile. But before I could even bother to question what was going on, I felt reality’s hand reaching for my shoulder – so I started running. I crossed Wisconsin Avenue, and when I did, my dad was standing there. And not just him actually; my brother was there, and my sister, and my grandpa, and my grandma, and my godmother, and my dad’s seven brothers and four sisters, and my mom’s six brothers and five sisters, and my eighty cousins. All my relatives were there, but they would disappear one by one as I passed by each one.

Then, before I could even open the door to Straz Hall to go to my theology class, I was stopped by my grandpa – my grandpa who passed away four months ago. He was standing there, one hand on his cane and the other in his pocket. Abuelito, I whispered with my hand covering my mouth in shock, and tears streaming down my face.

He walked slyly towards me, limping as he did. We were almost chest to chest when he took his hand out of his pocket and placed it on my shoulder. His eyes were as brown as mine, maybe even browner. Although I never really saw the resemblance, my parents and relatives made note of how similar we looked.

You’ve come so far, he whispered in his fluent Spanish tongue, you will do great things. He smiled. I smiled.

What if I’m not ready, I worried.

That’s why we’re here, he replied – referring to my family – as he wiped my tear. We will always be here.

Maybe he had a point. I come from a family of five – dad, mom, brother, sister, me. But my extended family gets complicated. I have family living in Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Texas, Washington, and Mexico. In just my hometown, I have twenty five cousins, many of who are around my age. Leaving home a few weeks ago had to be one of the hardest things I have had to do. It wasn’t just because I was leaving them – because I knew I would see them again – but because I felt like I was saying bye to my childhood.

What’s going to happen next, I cried.

That’s all up to you, he replied and chuckled, squeezing my shoulder even tighter.

I’m scared.

Being able to admit your fear is the first and most crucial step in overcoming it, he advised.

In regards to my education, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t feel pressure to do well. Having parents who immigrated from Mexico and received very little education, they taught me the value of education at an early age and that I must take advantage of what I am offered. Not only did that motivate me to do well in school, but for so long I have been trying to fight against the stereotypes assigned to Hispanics, the most popular being that Mexicans are illiterate and won’t amount to much as either an adolescent or adult. This influenced my upbringing both negatively but also in a positive way. It upset me to know that not many people expected much from me and didn’t think I had potential to go far in life; however, those who did believe proved that the power of faith and hope can go a long way when achieving goals.

There I was, sharing a conversation with my deceased grandpa. I knew this was a dream. I knew all I had to do was open my eyes – but I didn’t want to. I wanted to absorb my last few seconds with him, and my last few seconds of adolescence.

Arriving on campus has been an overwhelming experience – and many others might agree. Being the first generation in my family to go to college, I don’t have many relatives to share the experience with or even get advice from. I now know how it felt for my parents to leave their home in search of a better lives not just for them, but for myself and my siblings – and I am grateful they did.

Don’t forget about us, he whispered, go and make us proud.

Then I woke up.

There Are No Rules and All the Rules Have Changed

rot appleBy Claudia Felske – A great man once said (actually it was Tom Brokaw last week on Meet the Press): “There are no rules and all the rules have changed.” He was talking about the trumpification of politics, but he might as well been talking about the state of education since it’s become clear that all the rules in education have indeed changed.

Incidentally, the alternative title for this blog post was “I Just Lost My Two Best Friends.” The two titles are, in essence, one: I lost my two best friends because all the rules in education have changed.

We three began our teaching careers together, same year, same high school. The year was 1993—she, the beautiful new French teacher, he the handsome, smiley guy of the math department, and me somewhere in between. Over the next 22 years, we became best friends, our social lives and families deeply intertwined. Naturally, I assumed we’d also share a retirement banquet decades later.  

Now, somehow that dynamic French teacher and that gifted math teacher are no longer in the classrooms down the hall, no longer at my lunch table, no longer in the faculty lot when I arrive in the morning or leave after school. And I’m heartbroken, as are many of their students. It just doesn’t feel right. It feels like someone broke the rules because there were rules after all, unwritten as they were.

Broken Rule #1: Loyalty is a two-way street.  Our school district was good to us; and in turn, we were good to our school district. Teaching in a small rural school, we were immune to many problems faced by larger districts. We knew this, and we were grateful for it. We educated generations of students, and we knew our students, our curriculum, and our community inside and out. This was a win for our students, our district, and for us. We could also rely on predictable pay scales with a clear path to increased salaries over the long haul. For all of these reasons, we stayed put. Whenever someone left, it was for one of three reasons: retirement, a serious health issue, or a change of vocation altogether. Teachers didn’t leave in order to teach somewhere else. We were “Lifers,” and many town residents had the same teachers as their parents. Classroom stories were passed down generation to generation like sacred folklore. 

broken rulesCompare that with our current reality: Three of our teachers recently left to teach at other high schools, two left within two weeks of the new school year. And this is hardly an anomaly; it’s happening on a much larger scale in districts across the state. Act 10 and decreased state funding (the “tools” Governor Walker gave localities) have forced many districts to freeze or decrease their payscales. This has led many teachers, with mortgages and college tuitions looming, to surf the job market. Talk to any superintendent or principal in Wisconsin and you’ll hear the same story: I spoke recently with a principal who’d lost 14% of his staff the month before school started. Imagine the long term consequences here: wealthy districts landing the most qualified teachers and poor districts, the least. The gentrification of teaching. Hardly the ingredients of free and equitable public education.  

Broken Rule #2: Faculty is family. As cliche as it might sound, faculty was family. The shared goal of providing an excellent education to our students fostered a “we’re in this together” attitude among teachers, an attitude often absent in the private industry. Teachers weren’t looking over their shoulders at other teachers or other districts. The new paradigm? Frozen pay scales, lack of bargaining rights, privatization (vouchers and charters) have all contributed to suspicion in the faculty lounge, decreased collegiality, and a greater tendency to view co-workers as transitory acquaintances rather than lifelong friends. All of this has greatly affected morale and job satisfaction.   

Broken Rule #3: Kids first. It’s all about the kids, right? While you would be hard pressed to find a single teacher or administrator who would utter anything to the contrary, the reality of education in Wisconsin sings a different song. When hundreds of classrooms across the state began the school year with a substitute teacher instead of a qualified, content-certified teacher, clearly it’s not all about the kids. And it’s the learners who are the biggest losers here, not teachers, administrators or taxpayers. Increasingly viewed as widgets and data points by politicians, textbook and testing agencies (Pearson & the College Board leading the way), and the larger powers that be (ALEC), kids are treated by many as dollar signs instead of the pillars of our future. It’s clearly not all about the kids.

Brokaw was right.

There are no rules, and all the rules have changed.

In Remembrance and Gratitude


“As we express our gratitude,

we must never forget that the highest appreciation

is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

— John F. Kennedy

When It Happened


By Aubrey Murtha –  I remember when it happened.

American Airlines (AA) pilot Captain (CAPT) James C. Condes, shows his son Christopher, the inscribed pilot's name of the ill fated flight 77, CAPT Charles Burlingame, prior to a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery for the 184 victims of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

American Airlines (AA) pilot Captain (CAPT) James C. Condes, shows his son Christopher, the inscribed pilot’s name of the ill fated flight 77, CAPT Charles Burlingame, prior to a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery for the 184 victims of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.


I was in the first grade. My teacher knew that my dad was an airline pilot for United—one of the airlines involved in the incident—so we did not discuss it in class. Instead, I heard the older kids talking in hushed tones in the hallway, and I was left confused and unaware.

I walked home after school, and I found my mom sitting on the couch, tears in her eyes as she nervously watched the media coverage on T.V. and awaited a phone call from my dad, a call to assure us that his aircraft was not one of the hijacked planes. He called, thank God, and as she sobbed, I watched the footage of a plane crashing into a very tall building. I saw lots of people on the T.V. crying and lots of pictures of the American flag and lots of brave looking men and women in uniforms heading toward the flames.

I remember it all like it took place this morning. School children are impressionable. It is wild how some things can stay so fresh in your mind, memories as clear and crisp as that morning in early autumn 14 years ago.

Never forget.

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