Tag Archive for mentors

Storying Your Education through an Artifact

“What object would you use to tell the story of your education?”

This question was posed to me by Jenn Fishman, an Assistant Professor at Marquette University, who is today’s speaker at the Summer Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition that I am attending. Jenn asked us beforehand to bring with us an artifact that would help us tell the story of our education.

I thought about this prompt for at least a few weeks before coming to the conference (Isn’t it such a provocative thing to consider?). I even posed this question to my friends on Facebook, who responded with creative and interesting artifacts, including a flute, library, teachers, a spreadsheet, a human skull, and a laptop. Notice that these items were not limited to schooling; instead, these (smart) people looked at education from many different vantage points, including schooling, of course, but also extracurricular activities, hobbies, places, people, and extraordinary objects.

When I began thinking about how I would answer Jenn’s question, the object that first popped to my mind was a Bible. But this was not the story I wanted to tell about myself. I didn’t want to be one of those people who, at least in academia, are often viewed as narrow-minded, predictable, ignorant, judgmental, and hateful. I didn’t want to be characterized, stereotyped, or judged because of this artifact that I might bring.

So I began to ponder other artifacts.

I looked around my office. I noticed the three diplomas hanging on the wall. I considered bringing one of those. I even took a picture of my Ph.D. diploma–just in case I chose to use it. This diploma holds great meaning to me, and not just in ways you might think (but that’s another story).

I considered telling the story about how I overcame a speech impediment when I was young. I couldn’t pronounce my els, rs, or esses. I couldn’t even say my own name correctly. This story has defined me in ways that I cannot fully articulate, that no one else quite understands even when I try to explain. It is connected to why I try so hard at things, why being a valedictorian and getting a Ph.D. mean so much to me. But I couldn’t think of an object to bring. I thought of My Fair Lady but decided against it. I thought of bringing a picture of my speech teacher whose name I can’t remember but who, in the second grade, showed me how, though six months pregnant, maternity pants worked. I couldn’t find a picture.

I also thought about bringing a basketball. Basketball was not the first sport I ever played or the first sport I was good at, but it was the sport to teach me about discipline, teamwork, dedication, and hard work. It was also the sport I loved the most, the sport I excelled at most, a sport I now play today with my own children. I learned about my strengths, my weaknesses. I noticed that some of my strengths and weaknesses were innate (I had a logical mind and could predict where a player would throw the ball and intercept it; I was short and could not block a shot); others were developed in life (I could nail three pointers from all over the arc; I could throw a ball poorly to a teammate and get it intercepted).

I learned so much about myself through playing basketball.

I learned about life and people and love.
I learned about good teaching through both good and bad coaches.
I learned about passion and practice and performance.
I learned how to have a good attitude, not be selfish, how to lose, how to win, how to be a good teammate, how to be a leader, how to forgive other’s mistakes.
Basketball taught me how to experience and live life.

I also thought about bringing one of my all-time favorite novels, The Grapes of Wrath (To Kill a Mockingbird is another favorite of mine.). I read this book my senior year of college. It was in “The American Novel,” the first upper-level English course I took after switching majors my junior year. This book changed me. It changed how I viewed the world. It changed the way I approached people and story. It expanded my understanding of listening, emphathizing, understanding. I identified with the Joads and Tom and the pain and suffering and loss this family experienced. The stories within this book broke my heart. I quickly bought and read as many John Steinbeck books as I could, including Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and Travels with Charley.

John Steinbeck, I might argue, made me more socially aware.

More aware of injustice.
More aware of the terrible ways people treat each other.
More aware that the idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is a myth.
More aware of systemic poverty, racism, classism, and sexism.
More aware of privilege.
More aware of my own subject position.

The Grapes of Wrath gave me reason to be angry. To be raving mad. But it also allowed me to understand the dignity of wrath. It led me to want to fight injustice. It changed me.

Eventually this book led me back to the first book I considered as my artifact: the Bible. And, in the end, the Bible is the artifact I chose. I thought the risk was worth it.

Holy Bible Pink Cover


How I Planned a Teacher Appreciation Banquet and What I Cooked

A few months ago, I had an idea to honor the teachers at our church. Our teachers sacrifice so much of their time, not just on Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Wednesday morning, or Wednesday night when they actually teach, but also in the time they spend outside of class planning and preparing and praying. I wanted them to know that I—as a parent of three children and as a student in several adult Bible classes—appreciate them.

I thus decided to host a Teacher Appreciation Banquet for all the teachers in our church—from cradle roll to youth to adults to men’s and women’s classes. I had been to one of these dinners before at a different church when my husband was invited to be the guest speaker, and I thought it was a great idea then. Nothing like this had been done in the almost three years I have been at this church, so now was the right time.

Without talking to anyone except Shane, I put together a proposal for the elders at our church (yes, I teach technical and professional writing and must practice what I preach when it comes to ideas and suggestions). This proposal was complete with a rationale, budget, and agenda. I then distributed it to the elders who discussed it, thought it was a great idea, and approved it. They even told me they would like to help serve the food. Great!

One thing that surprised me through this process was when I learned that nothing like this had ever been done before at this church (at least according to the people I talked to). I’m not sure why, but I can only guess that it didn’t happen because the people who would have done this are all teachers themselves. Most (not all) of the really involved people at our church teach and would not have planned this for themselves.

I began taking pictures and shooting video footage of all the children and youth. I decided on music for the video (it’s hard to beat Ray Boltz’s “Thank You”), and then our youth minister put the video together. I mailed invitations to all of our teachers, planned the menu, bought the food, ordered gifts, and bought lovely rose bouquets for the tables.

The day of the event comes. I had originally intended to ask parents of children and youth whose kids are blessed through these teachers to help me prepare the meal. I thought that was a great idea, but the dinner ended up falling on Memorial Day when many of our young families were busy or out-of-town. So, it was just me and two other people.

Terrie, a sweet woman who is always quick to volunteer to help out.

And Terrie’s daughter Hollie. I did not know Hollie very well beforehand because she currently lives in another town a few hours away, but she just took a teaching position here and will soon be moving back and wanted to help out.

My Helper!

Hollie, and I had a great time preparing the meal. We blabbed the whole time and the six hours we were there went by very quickly (The only way I knew how long I had truly been up there cooking was by how badly my feet hurt!). Here’s Hollies blog post about the event.

Here was the menu:

Strawberry Pecan Salad

Strawberry Pecan Salad

Applewood Smoked Bacon Pork Tenderloin and Dinner Rolls

Applewood Bacon Pork Loin Roast

Twice-Baked Potatoes
I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe. It is definitely the best recipe I’ve ever tried. A healthy-minded person cannot have these

Twice-Baked Potatoes by Pioneer Woman

Green Bean Bundles
Hollie wrapped at least 200 of these! The Green Bean Bundles I make have butter, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Yum.

Green Bean Bundles

Green Bean Bundles and Twice-Baked Potatoes--Yum!

Dazzle Berry Pie (a light and tart raspberry dish that my sister gave me and I have adapted somewhat)

Dazzle Berry Pie

Here I am holding one of these yummy pies (notice my Sonic drink in the background!).

Holding one of the TEN Dazzle Berry Pies I made.

The tables with the flowers (beautifully arranged by Terrie)

Teacher Appreciation Banquet Tables

Each teacher also received this pitcher as a gift. (I got a great deal on the pitchers, thanks to Jessica Turner at The Mom Creative).

Simple Graces Pitcher Given to All Teachers

I end this post in the same way our video did: In the words of 3-year-old Mallory, “I love you, teachers.”

I hope you have been blessed by a teacher.


Why I’m Uncomfortable with Mother’s Day

When I was in high school, I became really close to one of my boyfriend’s aunts. She was close to her twin nephews because she was very devoted to her sister, their mom. But this woman was also close to her sister’s kids because she didn’t have any children of her own. She couldn’t have children. She and her husband had tried for years to conceive, but they never did. I don’t know any of the details except that she wanted kids and couldn’t have them.

I was sad for her. She had a deep desire for children but couldn’t have any.

She was sweet, loving, kind, gracious, and honest. She was a doting aunt, a confidante, a friend. She would have been a great mom.

As the years went on, we kept in touch (even though her nephew and I had long broken up). I continued to think of her. I empathized with her because she couldn’t have children.

One year in college, Mother’s Day rolled around and I had an idea to send her a Mother’s Day card.

Happy Mother's Day Card

Image courtesy of http://stacy.typepad.com/stacys_paper_crafts/2009/04/happy-mothers-day.html

This card came from me, but I wrote about all the people—all the kids, like me—that she had touched. Even though she didn’t have a child of her own, she influenced so many children. I expressed to her my appreciation for the influence she had on my life, probably one that she never even knew about.

She was touched by my gesture. She told me that she cried reading the card. She had never received a Mother’s Day card before, and this card was so unexpected. I think what affected her the most was that she felt nobody cared about her on this day.

She was left out of the celebration because she wasn’t a mother. Yes, she had a mother (a great one), but she also desired to be a mother and she wasn’t one.

While most people celebrated motherhood, she mourned it.

While (male) church pastors and leaders spoke about how God instituted motherhood and how wonderful it is and on and on and on, she grieved.

When Hallmark commercials came on, (I imagine) she changed the channel, or watched it with sadness, loneliness, and pain.

I love my own mother, my mother-in-law, and my grandmothers. They are special women. But I’m extremely uncomfortable with Mother’s Day.

I’m always thinking about the people left out of the “motherhood celebration”.

Women who have suffered a miscarriage.
Teenage girls or young adults who have given their children up for adoption.
Women who have had abortions.
Women who cannot bear children.
Children—young and old—who have lost their mothers to death.  
Children who do not have the “type” of mother promoted through greeting cards, retail stores, and even the church.
Mothers who do not feel they meet up to societal or Christian standards about what makes a “good mother.”

I’m uncomfortable with Mother’s Day.

My husband does not preach a Mother’s Day sermon for many of these same reasons (However, he is giving a 4-part tribute to the mothers he loves in his life, including my mom).

This Mother’s Day, think of women:

Who are not in the mood to celebrate this holiday, a national one, mind you, not a Christian one.

Who do not have the emotional energy to come to church on that day because of the pain they will feel.

Who grieve every day but on this day, in particular, the grief hurts even more.

Who feel alone and lonely.

Who want to be a mother but can’t.

Who were mothers at one time but decided not to be.

Think of these women when you go to church, when you call your mom, when you talk to friends, when you buy gifts.

Pray for them.

Do something special for them.

Listen to their stories, and let them know you care.


Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my routine doctor appointments last year, pregnant with Levi. After hearing the baby’s heartbeat and finishing the exam, my doctor, who was now seeing me through my third (and final) pregnancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feeling about life and motherhood and work and all the other commitments I have.

She has known me for several years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writing my dissertation. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doctor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doctor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emotions came gushing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my children: about being a working mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not taking them to or picking them up from school because I have an hour commute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my computer too much; about working too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or screaming or being unforgiving.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my job: about having a family; about having children that prevent me from being as productive as some other of my colleagues; about living so far away.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my husband: about him having to fill so many of the typical “motherhood” roles, such as doing the laundry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or carting the kids to and from school each day, particularly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is wonderful!); about every conversation we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep during a movie we’re watching together; about him being the go-to parent so much of the time; about not having time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my sisters, family, and friends: about not keeping in touch better; about not being there more when I want to be; about taking forever to send thank-you cards, or not even sending them at all; about not seeing them as often as I like; about not noticing when they are struggling or going through a hard time; about not calling to say hi.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cooking a homemade meal each week for potluck; about not signing up for nursery duty because my husband needs me to be in there listening and supporting him as he preaches; about not fitting the typical preacher’s wife role (whatever that is); about being shy.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my body: about being overweight; about using food to stifle my emotions; about not having time to exercise; about my body changing through 3 pregnancies and 2 c-sections.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my relationship with God: about not praying or reading the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks without even talking to God; about wondering who God is; about doubt, doubting certain things I grew up believing but that I now question.

Guilt.

About everything.

Thinking and talking through many of the ways I was feeling guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doctor after all). When I was done, she said she understood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feeling so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feeling guilty about not living up to my own or society’s  expectations of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Superwoman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words resonated with me. I went home from the doctor feeling better. I resolved not to feel guilty. My children love me, my husband loves me, my parents love me, my friends and family love me.

I can give up my perfectionist tendencies. I cannot do it all; I am not Superwoman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.


Why It’s Important to Mentor Female Graduate Students and Young Professors

Academic Mentor Cartoon

In academia, talk abounds about graduate education, tenure, getting a job, low wages and poor working conditions, and balancing personal and professional lives. One recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Berkeley Professor Mary Ann Mason is particularly sobering. Mason’s article, “The Future of the Ph.D,” addresses several interesting points about the overabundance of PhDs and the lack of tenure-track jobs. She also points out how difficult it is to have a family and a tenure-track job. Here are a few quotes I found provocative (if you are interested, you should also read through the comments section of her article; so many heartfelt, revealing and personal responses that provide their own form of mentoring):

“In a survey we conducted of all doctoral students at the University of California, more than 70 percent of women and over half of all men said they considered a career at a research university to be too hard-driving and unfriendly to family life.

“A male Ph.D. student in the survey characterized the common sentiment when he wrote that he was ‘fed up with the narrow-mindedness of supposedly intelligent people who are largely workaholic and expect others to be so as well‘.”

“A female student wrote, ‘Since beginning my doctoral work, I have become convinced that very few, if any, female professors are able to have stable, fulfilling family lives of the sort that I wish for (a stable marriage and children)’.”

Female graduate students who do become mothers during their doctoral-study years are very likely to give up on their dreams.”

“Too few universities are paying attention to the needs of graduate-student parents, or providing mentoring on how to balance family and career in a stressful profession in which, arguably, the most serious stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs during the years when women will have children.”

These findings do not come as a shock to me as a professor. I have now experienced what it’s like to be on the tenure track, which is difficult in and of itself. But I also know what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, and a wife in this highly stressful job.

But as a graduate student working on my master’s and then Ph.D., I never would have guessed it was this way–so difficult to “have it all” and find balance between work and home.  I even had wonderful mentors throughout graduate school, but we never really talked about marriage and children or what it would be like to have a family and work in academia.

With results and outcomes like these–where women are leaving the profession because they have babies, or where they leave because they are denied tenure at such high rates (mothers even higher)–we are not left with many options. Even though more than half of graduate students are women, if we do not deal with the intersection of a woman’s personal life with her career, then we are not going to have a range of women in academia. We might still have unmarried women or women without children, but we may lose a large percentage of women who can teach and mentor others about what it means to have a family and a career in academia.

In short, we need mentors. We need mothers who are willing to share their experiences–the good and the bad; the sacrifices they have/had to make; the joys that have come along the way; and why being a mother in academia might still be worth it. We need mothers who talk frankly about having children in graduate school, about having children on the tenure-track, about not having children at all. We need mothers to share their stories, for it is their stories–our stories–that will educate others and better inform female graduate students about the realities of being a mother in academia.

I hope you will share your story; it may make all the difference.


Up In the Clouds or Down on the Ground: When Marriage Is Difficult

A few weeks ago I was on the couch reading a book. My husband was sitting on the other couch reading a book. We had been there a while when I glanced over at my husband. The title of the book caught my eye. Here is what I saw.

What If I Married the Wrong Person?

(Of course, I didn’t take a picture of him actually reading the book, so this picture will have to suffice.)

Before I had a chance to process the title of the book, he caught my eye and smiled. Then he began giggling.

I asked, “WHAT are you reading?”

Apparently, one of his mentors was clearing out some of his books and my husband–hilarious as always–couldn’t resist taking this one. He and a friend even brainstormed all the ways I should “discover” this book, even anticipating how I would react when I saw it.

Knowing the two of them, I laughed. It was a joke. He got the book as a joke. He doesn’t think that about me (whew!).

For several weeks since, I have been wondering about this book.  It’s been sitting on the counter for a while. Lingering. Waiting for one of us to read it. We still haven’t, and I don’t know if we will. But, I finally put it on the bookshelf next to C.S. Lewis, our Bibles, and some library books (for now). Guests perusing our bookshelf will see this…

What If I Married the Wrong Person? Bookshelf

I wonder what they will think when they notice the title.

I haven’t read the book, nor do I think I will, but I do think the book poses an interesting question,

“What if I married the wrong person?”

The week before I got married, I was riding in the car with a female mentor of mine. She had been married for almost 30 years at the time. She told me, “Kara, one day, you may regret your decision to marry Shane. You may come to a point where you do not love your husband. You may want a divorce. You may become resentful, or angry, or discontent. And I want to tell you that it’s okay. At various points throughout my marriage, I felt this way, too.”

As a person a few days shy of getting married, this conversation, frankly, shocked and surprised me (yes, I was naive). I couldn’t believe that this woman I admired and sought to emulate had felt this way about her husband. She always seemed so happy in her marriage. She respected, admired, and publicly demonstrated her love and devotion to her husband.

But she had gone through low times, too. She wanted me to know that if (or when) I felt this way to remember that I was not alone. Others had been there.

My friend proceeded to reveal to me what she did during these times.

She prayed.

She prayed for her husband.
She prayed for herself.
She prayed that God would help her focus on the things she first loved about her husband.
She prayed that God would help her fall back in love with her husband.
She prayed that God would keep her committed to her husband, even when her heart did not feel it.

I cannot count how many times I have come back to this conversation throughout my soon-to-be 10 years of marriage.

I have remembered her words. 

When I was hurt by my husband.
When my expectations were not met.
When I was disappointed.
When I wanted to be alone.
When I was depressed and lonely and sad.
When I disliked something about my husband.

I remembered: Perhaps my immediate situation will not change, but, through prayer, the way I feel about it can change. I can’t control what my spouse does; I can control my reaction. I can control my feelings about him. I can still choose to love him.

My friend may never know how much her words impacted me. And as I was soon to learn, marriage is not easy. But, my friend’s willingness to share something so personal, so real, has been a source of encouragement to me again and again. You see, her words taught me, first, to take my struggles to God. And, second, to look at myself…the only person in the marriage I can control.

Note: I don’t mean to trivialize marriage or the real difficulty of making marriage work. Marriage is hard. It, literally, takes two people to work. I know many people who have tried for years to work on their marriage, only to be met with abuse, affairs, or an unwilling, unbending spouse. I only point out here that being honest and real about marriage–rather than idealistic–can make a difference in the lives of young people about to embark on the journey.