This is the first fall I didn't go back school in more than 30 years. *Insert record scratch here*
I thought I was going to be telling you something surprising, but then the gravity of that sentence hit me. I've just broken a trend I've been sticking to for my entire adult life and most of my childhood! Let's get into it a little bit.
My teaching career started in the last 2 years of my graduate degree when I accepted a teaching assistantship at the University of Maine. I was taking classes in Feminist Literary Criticism and teaching Composition to first year students, making a whopping $12,000 a year and getting my Master's tuition waived. After the first semester of dividing my mental space between feminist criticism and first year composition, I had an epiphany. Though I'd grown up loving reading (and I still do!), I found I loved teaching others even more.
I saw the "aha"s in my learners' faces when something clicked and I was delighted. A student told me my class helped her read her first book, cover to cover in English and my heart swelled. Another student told us about his summer wakeboarding accident and I cringed at the reality but marveled at his choice of sensory details. Yet another student came to office hours frustrated and tearful and left smiling and feeling confident about their next steps and I realized the coaching aspects of teaching were pulling me in.
I didn't fight it.
I switched my focus from feminist criticism to composition studies. I wanted to be the best teacher I could be for my students and learning as much as I could was my first step. My composition courses were my favorites. Learning about how to communicate, connect, teach, encourage, challenge... I couldn't get enough. I finished my graduate program wanting to teach full time and I was lucky enough to be able to do that the next fall at Georgia Southern University in the Department of Writing & Linguistics.
At GSU, I found my passion in learning and development. I can thank my colleagues for recruiting me into the Georgia Southern Writing Project after my first year at GSU. They pulled me into an immersive, transformative, 5-week summer intensive that changed how I approached teaching and reminded me of the joys of writing for fun and community. I began as a teacher consultant and then became the go to classroom technology person and a few years later, I was co-directing GSWP with my originally assigned mentor from that first summer intensive. I loved getting to create and facilitate trainings for local school teachers and my college colleagues. Getting to learn alongside other engaged faculty was a dream scenario -- teaching and learning in an iterative way that benefits our learners directly. What could be better?
The 12 years I taught college writing in Georgia, I was able to hone my teaching skills and become better and more effective each semester. At GSU, I moved from a temporary instructor to a lecturer, then a senior lecturer, finishing as Assistant First Year Writing Program Coordinator.
All this brings me to the present... Fall 2022 and for the first time since kindergarten... I didn't go back to school. I'll have more to say about why later, but I just want to clarify that it isn't at all because I've lost my love of learning or teaching. I'm still super passionate about both. I just think there can be other ways of engaging in the learning process outside of the traditional school system I've made my career in thus far.
It's not news to any of us that learning happens everywhere, not just inside the walls of classrooms. I'm looking to explore those non-classroom spaces these days. How do we learn outside the standards; outside the defunded, asbestos-filled buildings; outside the lines? How can I jump in and impact the way others see learning? How can my passion help someone else find theirs?
For now, I have more questions than answers and that's a fun place to be! So much possibility. So many options.
I said at the top of this post that I didn't go back to school this fall... but that's actually not completely true. While I didn't go back to the classroom in the ways I'm used to -- creating a curriculum, building a course, distributing a syllabus, and teaching about a hundred new learners -- I went back to being a student and soaking up as much as I possibly can about my new options.
I'm currently finishing up a credential through ACUE (Association of College and University Educators) that is focused on Effective Online Teaching.
Though targeted to faculty educators, much of what this credential focuses on is adult learning theory and instructionally sound course design.
I'm also in the first few weeks of an Instructional Design course through ELVTR with the super knowledgeable Liana Griffin.
In this course, I'm learning that so much of my education career translates directly into the instructional design world. I'm following her curriculum to build out a course for a professional audience that will show off my instructional designer chops in my portfolio. I'm also meeting a lot of other great folks who are moving out of the education system and into learning and development. My ROI on this class is already solid. :)
So though I didn't go back to a traditional campus this fall, I'm feeling that new outfit, new notebook enthusiasm in a different way. Each time I log into Canvas for my ACUE course or Google Classroom for the ELVTR one, I get that rush of excitement that shows I'm in the right place. I'm still learning and always will be.
As long as I have that, I have all I need.
What have you learned recently? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!
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Amanda J. Hedrick
Story collector, recipe enthusiast, educator, striving for a constant input and output of all things art and learning.