Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back in the Saddle

One of my Facebook friends, a friend from high school days, commented on my return to work by saying, "While being back in the saddle might still be enjoyable, getting back into it is sometimes more difficult!"  That statement is very true.  

I began my new job of teaching English to international students at the CSU-Pueblo on Monday.  Thankfully, Monday morning's alarm did not totally jar me because awaking early and to an alarm occurred on only the second day of our return to standard time.  My body thought that it was 7:00 a.m. rather than 6:00 a.m.  I actually got out of bed as soon as the alarm rang.  I then immediately took a shower.  This act alone signaled a big change.  I had showered, dressed, put on make-up and done my hair by 6:45.  Normally, if I had even gotten up before 7:00 a.m.,  I would still be in my p.j.'s, and would be just sipping my coffee, reading the newspaper, and watching the news on the Today Show.  

Proud of myself for remembering the routine for getting myself out of the door no later than 7:30 a.m., I proudly left the house on time after having eaten breakfast and reading a newspaper.  The campus where I am working is literally a five minute drive from my house.  I found that I was actually one of the few on campus at my early arrival time.  Ah, yes, I remembered, college students and retirees have something in common: they both get a late start in the morning.

By 8:00 a.m., I had arranged my teaching area, written my name and contact information on a large tablet on an easel located at the front of the room, and was greeting my new students as they arrived in the classroom.  I could tell they were as nervous and anxious as I about seeing how this new situation would fit.  They had just told one teacher good-bye, and now they had to break in a new one at the end of the semester.  They wanted me to introduce myself first.  I guess they wanted to see if my credentials were up to snuff.

I have five students who are in the beginning stages of learning academic English.  I have not yet asked if I can photograph them or write about them on my blog, so I will just say that I have three students from Asia, one from Africa, and one from South America.  The class is a wonderful mix of ages, abilities and personalities.  All are warm and welcoming.  Some are confident, others rather tenuous about using a language that still seems difficult to speak.  They have formed a rather tight knit bond of support, encouragement, and friendship.  Their respect and love for each other was much evident.  Their respect and support for me was refreshing and uplifting.  I had forgotten what it feels like to have a student make a slight bow when they greet me or speak to me.  I again felt humbled and honored to be shown the respect that foreign students give to a teacher.  I could not stop smiling.  I was so happy.  

It has been a rough five months.  After losing my 34 year old daughter to suicide in late May, I have gone through a long, hard journey of grief that I hoped would lead to healing.  I lost a large part of myself with her death.  Returning to my profession is helping me rediscover another part of myself that I treasure.  

 I have learned that grief can a times be a solitary journey.  I have striven toward finding an equal balance between spending time in solitude and in fellowship.  I think I have been mostly successful in not isolating myself, but I worried that winter would present a challenge when it came to keeping myself busy.  At just the right time, I was called and offered this job.  The timing was perfect.  I needed something to do, something to get me dressed and out the door everyday without putting a lot of pressure or stress on me.

Being back in the saddle felt just right.  I have not forgotten how to ride.  I can still teach gerunds, and vocabulary, and I can still understand early, fearful attempts at using a language that seems very scary to use when it is not your native language.  I am excited about the enrichment that teaching people from other cultures, languages, religions and belief systems always brings into my life.  I am meeting new friends, experiencing new adventures, and using the gift of teaching that God gave me.  I am continuing to heal.  I am moving on into the future.  I know Julie would be very proud of me.  I can almost feel her arm around my shoulder.  I am smiling a lot again.

Julie and Sally - Walk for The Cure 2008


Linda Reeder said...

I am so happy that you have found what you need to keep leaning forward. My older sister has lost two of her children, one to suicide, and she substitute teaches in her small town and has lots of activities to keep her busy. that's how she copes.
I am curious about your ESL class. Five mature students sound like a dream. How long each day do you meet with them? Are they enrolled in college classes? Are they paying or an agency?. There are so many people in our community who could use this kind of help, so I'm inquisitive.

sallylwess said...

Linda, five mature students is a dream. I meet with them for four hours a day, 8:00 to 12:00, Monday through Friday. These students are not enrolled in University classes yet because their Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores are not high enough to be admitted to the University. Basically, they pay tuition for the courses, they do not get credit that goes toward a degree, but they are working on improving their scores for the exam (TOEFL) that they will take at the end of the semester.

I do not know where you live, but many universities offer some sort of English language institute. Many community colleges also offer ESL courses to adults. Catholic Charities also offer such courses.

I do have a masters in Teaching English as a Second Language, but not all programs require such a degree.

#1Nana said...

Good for you...I was called to substitute this morning and decided that I'd rather wear my pajamas for most of the morning and get caught up on the mail. Yeah, I'm just lazy!

I wish you all the best in your return to the classroom. I'm sure that Julie would be proud of how you have worked through the pain to find your peace.

Arkansas Patti said...

I really can't imagine the pain you have been going through and am just so pleased for you that this class came when it did. It truly was a blessing.
And, what a pleasure it must be to teach those who actually want to learn. Another blessing.
I feel for your students who have to learn such a complex language that at times makes no sense. So glad I all ready know it--well kind of.
Sounds like you all are a prefect fit.
I hope they will let you take pictures and we will get to know them also.

Linda Myers said...

Sally, I have been reading your posts for a while now. I am so humbled by your courage and your candor. Thank you for sharing these personal thoughts.

I am taking an online course so I can tutor English as a Second Language. It is a very scary thing for me, as my career was in high tech. But I know I can be useful, and that's important.

Jean said...

It sounds as if you are making an excellent transition back to the classroom. I'm not sure I could do it. And yes, your daughter Julie surely would be proud of you! You're an inspiration.

Barb said...

Hello Sally, My heart feels sad but also happy after reading your post. I am also a retired English/Reading teacher. I did volunteer work for many years at the CMC in Breckenridge. My students at CMC were second-language learners and teaching them was very gratifying for me. When the grandchildren started arriving, I gave up my volunteering! I see we enjoy some of the same Blogs. Good Luck!

Deb Shucka said...

Dear Sally,

After reading this, I have a better understanding of your last comment on my blog. I was so honored and encouraged by your words. I'm deeply sorry for your loss and in awe of where you are this soon after your daughter's death. What a remarkable woman you are. Those non-native speakers are very lucky to have you as their teacher and I look forward to reading more stories of your time together. Hugs and Blessings, Deb