Thursday, January 10, 2013

Life in a Box (or 2)

There it is.  Six and a half years of work documented in two boxes.  I've been wondering whether a better representation of what I have done since I began my life on the tenure track might be the virtual box that holds my sent mail.  According to my Gmail account, I've had over 10,000 conversations in the last 6.5 years.  Of course, these messages don't include the IM, wiki, blog, text, Google, Twitter, Dropbox, and Facebook exchanges I've had with students and colleagues.  If I printed all of that documentation, how many boxes would I need to lug into the city next week when my tenure package is due?

My life in 2 boxes.  It's a little anticlimactic, probably because it's just one of several deadlines I have next week - and, of course, it's only a portion of my life.  I'm not sure I could document my roles as mom, wife, friend, daughter, or sister as neatly as I have my role as teacher educator.  Then again, I'm not sure these two boxes actually capture what I do or who I am in the world of education.

But they are done, and I will wait to see their evaluation, not idly, as I have many projects on my desk.  This work excites me, and it drives me, and it will continue to make me question the balance in my life.  These boxes, however, represent one big hurdle, a goal hopefully achieved.  And it feels good to close the lids and submit them.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Volunteering at the Intersection

I had excellent models. My mom served others daily as a teacher, tirelessly working during the school day and after hours to give to her students and her school community. When I entered public school, my working mom added to her giving as a volunteer for booster clubs, a classroom mom, and anything else where her talents were needed. Likewise, my dad coached community soccer, he built sets for the spring musicals, and he chauffeured princesses in his MG for the Homecoming parade. My parents taught me that education is a three-way intersection, where schools, parents, and students connect to make the community strong.

So of course I volunteer. Despite the fact that I work a demanding job and raise two children, I find time to give to my community - because I need it and it needs my talents. I never understood why my college sorority had "service requirements" where giving time and energy became a checklist of completion. I had a hard time accepting that some of my classmates did the bare minimum and that some did not even do that. Service is part of me, and I struggle to understand why so many people find excuses to disconnect from others.  Why don't they want to make their communities strong?

In the last few years I have watched several non-profit organizations struggle. The preschool where I volunteered as board member talked openly about lack of parental support to run events. The membership of the service organization of the Junior Woman's Club dropped dramatically even as the same core of people picked up the volunteer slack. The local sports teams send multiple requests to fill their roster of coaches. And currently I am I hearing the same discussions in the local PTO, where, as an executive board member, I participate in strategic discussions to increase volunteering.

In all of these organizations, a few are shouldering the work, and in the current dilemma of the PTO, we are wondering how we will meet our funding goals if others in our community do not contribute their time and energy to our events. We agonize over how to let parents know that our work supports educational opportunities for our kids - programs that will be cut if we do not provide the funding. I regret that we have to have these conversations, yet I know that we are not alone in our struggles.  From schools to firehouses, volunteers are hard to find.  Where are the people that want to make their communities strong?

By happenstance last night I participated in a meeting of a group's reorganization. The facilitator asked each person present to identify the talents that she brought to the table. One woman shared her creativity. Another noted her optimism. A third said, "I'm blunt. I tell it like it is." We may not all be firefighters, but we all have talents. We may not all be able to be president of the organization, but if we look hard enough, we can carve out some time and put those talents to work. Our communities need it. Our schools need it. And our kids need to see it. They need to know that life is not a one-way highway. It's an intersection where we all can meet to make our communities strong.