53 + 9: How Your Dreams Become Reality (Realiseer je Droom)

I’m in the city of Gorchiem in the Netherlands on an educator exchange between Johnson County Community College (U.S.) and DaVinci College (Netherlands).  Fate or destiny…a career day workshop was organized for students today.  The title, “Realiseer je Droom” (How your dreams become reality.)

In the hour long session we were asked to write our dream, acknowledge the fears that inhibit us from achieving our dream, reflect on both, and identify at least one thing we can do tomorrow that will move us toward our dream. So, here goes…

My dream is to balance a good life with doing good for others.

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The view outside the plane just after take-off from Kansas City to Amsterdam. May 13, 2016 Looking skyward from the Netherlands.

Steps I’m taking to create my dream life:

  • Learning about LinkedIn and building a meaningful profile
  • Learning Spanish in preparation for attending the LESLLA symposium in Granada, Spain where I am presenting a workshop in September
  • Renting my spare bedroom to a complete stranger
  • Looking for courses or conferences focusing on how to create a business in the digital landscape (how to be a digital entrepreneur)

This week I updated my current employment position heading on LinkedIn:

Increasing College and Career Potential of Culturally & Linguistically Diverse People as an ELL Instructional Specialist

I think for me it’s not enough to earn a living.  I need want must have a sense of purpose about my work.  Is it possible to earn a good wage while doing good work?  I’ve been reading Reid Hoffman’s book, “The Start-up of You.”  On page 212 he introduces Catherine Markwell, a finance and investment banker who wanted off the treadmill in favor of doing more purposeful work.  Through connections and networking she was eventually able to make a career change. Elsewhere in the book, Hoffman writes

” If you don’t have to seriously think about the risk involved in a career opportunity, it’s probably not the breakout opportunity you’re looking for.”  (p 176)

Opportunities still exist, I will remain open to them.  Dreams can become a reality – even at 53+.  I will reinvent myself for today’s landscape.  I have begun.

53 + 8 weeks: On my nightstand right now

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There’s an obvious theme to my reading since turning 53.  “Transitions” by William Bridges has lived on my nightstand for at least 15 years, and it remains a book I return to again and again.

“Quitter” by Job Acuff is a more recent addition that I’ve quoted in previous entries, and am still thinking about.  It’s provided good advice for how and why sometimes “falling in like” with your day job, can be a training ground for your “dream job.”

“The Start-up of You” by Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn, was a book I stumbled on in my attempts to fulfill a resolution of things I would do while being 53 – one of which is to create a killer LinkedIn profile.  It’s packed with amazing thoughts of how and why the search for employment has changed in the digital landscape.  And how this shift not only impacts the search, but how you think about and manage your career.   It’s seems I’ve been ahead of my time in the sense that I have not just changed careers, but I’ve changed industries several times in my life.   In the past I’ve been told my industry-hopping was a bad idea and a waste of talent that would have a negative impact on my future employment opportunities.  As it turns out (according to Hoffman, at least) my trajectory is not only becoming “normal” but is actually desirable! Reid also reinforces something I’ve known for a number of years – retiring at age 65 is pretty much out of the question any longer.  His support of “career changers” helps takes the pressure off of at least one burden I’ve placed on myself   –  I don’t have to think that the next job I choose is going to be the one I will have for the next 20 years.  We’ll all be living longer, working longer, and doing jobs we’ve likely not even heard of yet.

In between chapters of “The Start-up of You” I’m also making side-visits through “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferris.  Aspiring to be financially sustainable performing only four hours of work each week may not be realistic, but I would be ecstatic about a 4-hour work day. One take-away from Ferris that’s been meaningful so far is the point he raises that it’s actually impossible to figure out your “dream job” if you can’t articulate your “dream life.”  Ferris also raises a really interesting and highly relevant point that while making more money can certainly be great, his research indicates that most people don’t really care if they are rich or not, they just want to live what they perceive as the life-style of someone who is rich.  More time to relax, more travel, more adventure…its not always about the material elements.

Another thing I like about Ferris’ book its that it provides a framework of questions to help me articulate what my dream life looks like.  Imagining my dream life may limit my employment choices in the short run, but by “falling in like” with my current job (Ferris) and learning the new patterns of employment searches (Reid) I feel better equipped to take charge of my dreams!

53+7: Still learning after all these years

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I have a colleague who I’m fortunate enough to also call a friend.  She’s a teacher in an urban high school filled with an amazing assortment of students from many cultures and socioeconomics.  She teaches 10th and 11th grade newcomers in a sheltered English class.  She was once an immigrant to the U.S. from Cameroon.  She is beautiful, wise, remarkably caring.

We met nearly three years ago when I was asked to pop into her classroom to see what suggestions I could offer for teaching strategies.  Looking back, I can’t believe we ever became friends – not because of her, but because of me.  Although I hoped to appear humble and respectful, I know deep down I was judgmental.  I may not have let it show, but I thought I was the better teacher.

Two weeks ago I once again found myself stepping back to watch her, and what I saw happening made me struggle not to cry.  It wasn’t the evidence of student work hanging on walls around the room and its resemblance to the strategies I taught her that made my eyes well up.  On the contrary, what I realized with an uncomfortable consciousness was that I have been wrong about something in my own teaching practice.  I haven’t been spending enough time getting to know my students.  She, on the other hand, knows her students. I mean, she knows her students in a way that I rarely see in other teachers, if ever.

I may occasionally come up with a good idea for a lesson or an activity, but this year in her class I realized that knowing my students was far, far more important than what I’d been taught to focus on in teacher prep.  Oh sure, in my TESOL courses we watched a few videos, we covered a chapter about learning the cultures of our students, and we conducted interviews with international students.   Since graduating, I’ve even facilitated workshops about the importance of cultural competency.  But I’m certain I do not know my students the way she knows her students.

When I took my first few courses in TESOL I knew creating a safe place for my students was important, very important.  It was the core of my personal teaching philosophy.  However once I actually had my own classroom, it wasn’t long before I found that supervisors, directors, workshop trainers, and coaches seemed almost exclusively interested in one thing – performance data about my students.

Not only did that take a lot of the joy out of teaching for me, I put getting to know my students on the back burner of my priorities.   I allowed myself to think I’d still somehow magically get to know my students through the act of teaching or through various activities that fall into a category teaching strategies called get-to-know-your-students.  Little by little I completely forgot that students are first and foremost people who want to be seen and heard for who they are, not just what they know or what they can show you they can do on demand.

The following week, I was back in my friend’s classroom.  I received hugs and a softly spoken, “Good morning, Miss.”, from several of the young women even though they had only seen me on a few occasions.  Two or three young men came up to me at various times, and introduced themselves while uncertainly trying to make small talk in English.   A few other students wanted help with the assignment, and I realized as I responded to them that they really didn’t need my help – what they appeared to want was affirmation.  Mind you, I’m not a pushover for giving students answers, nor am I a pushover for answering the habitual, “Is this right?”  (My habitual answer to that is, “Why do you think that’s the right answer?”) Despite my resistance, several more students crowded around, vying for my attention and echoing, “Miss.  Miss. Is this right?”  If I hadn’t know better I would say they knew perfectly well what the answers were, they just wanted me to feel needed.  In the moment, it is more likely that they also have a great need to feel noticed, affirmed, heard, recognized.

Maybe it’s shallow to admit, but it feels good to be needed.  Much of my current work leaves me wondering if what I do makes a difference to anyone or it if has any positive impact.  In my friend’s classroom it feels good to know I still have something to give.  Even if Especially if what I can give is really nothing more than my presence.  For example, the young man who amidst a cacophony of rowdy voices suddenly decided he was going to read every page of his textbook aloud to me!   Once he got started, it was clear he was not going to stop until forced by the end of class.  It gave me a lot of joy to see how proud he was of being able to read to someone like me who had time to just listen.  Another moment of pure joy occurred when I was able to give a book gift to a young woman student.  And especially a few days later when she burst into the room and declared,  “That is a great book!”  And we continued to chat for a moment about how fun it would be to start a book club about the book.

I often noticed the attachment my friend’s students have to her, but until recently I did not fully appreciate that each and every time one of her students gives her a hug or calls her “Mom,” secretly I hope that one day I can be the teacher she is.  I’ve lost count of the number of former students who still come to her room almost daily on one premise or another – “Can I use the hand lotion?”  “Hi, Mom!  How are you today?”  “I miss you.”  Hugs, shy smiles, sometimes with bowed heads, waiting for a kind or encouraging word despite the possibility of a scolding for being absent or a more gentle chiding for having one’s clothes on backward.  But always quickly followed by her helping hand or explanation.

“Mom.”  Definitely mothering, constantly teaching.  And also teaching me.

The year is winding down and I’ve completed my visits to her classroom for the year.  As I consider being 53 and whether teaching will remain part of my future, I’m grateful for having had someone model for me that nothing is more important than knowing who we are teaching.