Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Deep Thoughts, Graduates, and 90's Music

"Closing time, open all the doors and let you out into the world..."       There are three days left of classes, followed by one largely anticipated, often avoided, and highly feared week of finals.  After this week filled to the brim with finals and checking my residents out of the residence hall, my Sophomore year of college will be over, never to be repeated.  I will soon be an upperclassman... "kind of a big deal!"  Although I am not leaving SRU this summer, instead continuing to work with Residence Life for the next few months, the end of this year evokes numerous emotions for me.  I know that I have disappointed many people, but I feel that there have also been very positive aspects and elements to this year, with which I hope have made these same individuals proud.  Regardless of the mistakes I made in the past, I have learned from them.  I have changed; made adjustments in my life. I am proud of where this year has taken me, and I am so blessed to have met the people here at SRU I now consider family.  As I think back about where I was just one year ago, I'm very happy and surprised with where I am now.  
     As I write this last blog, an incredibly appropriate song is playing: Semisonic's Closing Time"Gather up your jackets, move it to the exits, I hope you have found a friend."  The majority of my friends here at SRU are upperclassmen, ready to graduate in ten days, or ready to experience field and student teaching starting next fall.  I will be missing a great many of my closest friends next year, including my sister, who graduates next week.  I will be moving off campus, living with three completely new roommates.  I will be turning 21, and starting a new on-campus job.  As much as I am sad about my first two years of college ending, next year is almost an entirely new beginning, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."  I'm beyond excited to have made it through this year.  I'm also incredibly glad to still have two years to go.  "Closing time, time for you to go out to the places you will be from."  It's almost time for my friends to "go out" to those places they will soon call 'home,' it's almost time for them to start their big boy and big girl lives.  It's almost "closing time" for their fun filled years here at SRU.  I may be getting left behind, stuck with my youth to finish out my undergraduate degree... but I could not be more happy about staying.  SRU is my home away from home, and English Ed. is my family.  I can't imagine where I will be a year from now, what mistakes I will have made, or what I will have learned... all I know is that there are 10 days left at SRU for me this year.  For my friends, these are their last 10 days at SRU forever.  Congratulations class of 2012!  SRU will miss you, but the real world can't wait to meet you! "Closing time, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here!"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sh*t, Luck, and "Choose Your Own Ending" Books

Trying to console someone who had recently received very upsetting news, I said, "Everything happens for a reason.  You can get through this; it'll be okay!"  She responded,  
"I don't believe everything happens for a reason... I just believe sh*t happens."
Although this could be attributed to my religious beliefs, I really do feel that everything we encounter and every decision we make happens for a reason.  I think there is a bigger plan, and that we are all given the lives we live for a reason.  Even if this is not what you chose to believe, isn't it more comforting than just believing that "sh*t happens?"  I think it is better to look at life, and the challenges that you encounter, with an attitude of, "What am I supposed to be learning from this?"  Rather than, "Oh well, bad things happen."  Although I do believe in fate, luck, God, and throwing salt over your shoulder, I also believe in myself.  I can make better choices to change my future.  I can learn from my mistakes.  Maybe it was a nice little combo of fate and God's sense of humor that caused whatever happened to me to happen, but it is my choice in how I react, how I keep living.  Regardless of what you are struggling with, be it finals, how you're going to live through the case race on Saturday, or a potential life-changing disease, it is up to you how you react.  Life is one of those "choose your own ending" books.  God, fate, and luck have already written the multiple options... it's your choices that determine how your story ends.  Sh*t does happen, but it happens for a reason; choose your story wisely.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Big Boy Jobs, Stress, and the Final Three Weeks

In the world of three weeks left in the semester, where an additional reading assignment can bring you to tears, convincing you that you may not graduate EVER, it is important to breathe.  As stressed and worried as we may be, these last three weeks mark the end of the road for many of us.  Many will be graduating, moving on to big girl and big boy jobs out in the real world, leaving the days of day drinking, afternoon naps, and underclassmen friends behind.  For those of us not graduating, these last three weeks mark the end of another school year.  Good or bad, in three weeks, it'll be done, never to be repeated.  In three weeks, we will no longer be able to make, in my case, Sophomore Year Memories.  In three weeks, for three months, we will be unleashed into the summer workforce, thinking back longingly of the days when all we had to do was complain about the food on campus and the necessary evil of waking up for class.  Three weeks stands between us and the end.  For me, three weeks marks milestone: a half-way point in my college career that says, "You're almost done!" with a happy optimistic face as well as "You're almost done!?!?" in a panicked, fear of the real world shriek.  Two out of my four SRU years will be completed in three weeks, leaving me with only two more years left to enjoy.  Three weeks.  Three weeks full of finals, exams, projects, senior send-offs, scheduling errors, and graduation.  Three weeks full of stress, headaches, tears, all-nighters, and goodbyes.  Three weeks, and we're done.  We may wish these weeks away now, desiring nothing more than the sun of summer and the bliss of being finals free... but our time here in this "fake real world utopia" of college is limited, and the ever impending Big Boy Job is only getting closer.  Three weeks.  You'll never get them back.  Breathe.  Forget the stress.  Make 'em count.

Wind, Rain, and Whining

"I, like, totally thought we were going to die back there..."  This past weekend, I took a group of freshmen from the floor on which I serve as a Community Assistant on an overnight canoe trip down the Allegheny River.  We canoed more than fifteen miles, camped out overnight in tents, and then made our journey back to SRU in the morning.  This is the second time we have made the trip this year, and the fifth or sixth time I have made the trip since coming to SRU.  However, this time was different.  This time, instead of happy banter, splashing each other with water to cool off in the hot sun, we were bundling up in rain gear; I layered-up in every article of clothing I packed. Instead of drifting lazily, taking breaks and alternating paddlers, we were all forced to fight the entire trip, digging our paddles deep into the water, attempting to overcome the wind that fiercely tried to blow us off course. Usually this trip offers a nice little break from reality, one where everyone leaves their phones and laptops at home, choosing instead to enjoy nature, fresh air, and laughter.  This time, however, it was every man for himself.  The freshmen on the trip were beaten down, not very outdoorsy to begin with, and one even said to me, with sad, exhausted eyes, "Kara? This isn't fun anymore."  As much as this broke my heart, I also was so proud of them.  Despite the wind's best efforts, and the dangerous tongues of hypothermia-threatening water licking our boats, none of my freshmen tipped over.  Although they did complain, and ask "How much longer?" enough times for me to threaten to turn the canoes around, we all made it safely to camp.  This trip was certainly not as carefree or fun as past trips, but I still loved it.  Sometimes it's nice to be challenged, to experience something that seems almost impossible, and then surmount it.  It's nice to see my "girly freshmen" who fear dirt, bugs, and being without makeup, grit their teeth and exceed their own limits.  It's nice to be so focused on a goal that you can't think about anything but succeeding.  Every single person on this trip was completely silent for over 15 miles of river... focusing on one thing: keeping our boats afloat.  The fight to not flip, the fight to keep paddling even though our muscles were screaming in protest... the fight was on.  All you could hear was wind, and an occasional scream of "PADDLE!" or "BACK STROKE HARD!" in an frantic attempt to save a tipping boat.  It was a hard trip, but a very rewarding one.  And sometimes, the human spirit needs that fight, that extra "if you relent, I'll flip you and give you hypothermia and you'll lose the food for the trip that is in your boat" threat, just to force us to prove that we can do it.  And this weekend, after 15+ miles through wind, rain, and freshmen whining, we did just that!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Justin Bieber, Wedgies, and Inhibitions

As I was working one of my regular on-campus jobs, a Thursday night shift from 8-Close at the student recreation center and gym, I found myself listening to the music that was playing.  I did not pay attention to the words, nor could I hear them very well.  I simply was behind the desk, organizing the night's equipment logs, and found myself dancing to the beat.  I thought, "Wow, this is really catchy and interesting, I should turn it up and hear what song it is so I can download it!"  As soon as I did so, I was immediately embarrassed, because it was Justin Bieber's new hit, Boyfriend.  This made me wonder... why did I suddenly feel guilty and embarrassed for liking this song? I had been fully enjoying the song, until I found out who sang it.  This is something that often happens in society, and something that especially happens in high school classrooms.  The need to fit in, to blend with the monochromatic society that surrounds us is so overwhelming that we often sacrifice the things we really love and enjoy.  The only time we are immune to this pressure is when we're little, and we have no concept of society or the rules and expectations that come with it.  Little kids will pick wedgies in public, not caring if anyone saw.  They will dance in the middle of a parking lot, or a living room, oblivious to the looks and stares they receive.  They will dress themselves in non-matching clothes, pairing their favorite items together.  Little kids are so uninhibited; it's beautiful.  I often wonder why this uninhibited nature needs to end?  Just because society says Justin Bieber is an eleven year old girl's dream stud does not mean that I can't blast his song on repeat in my college dorm room.  I think the world would be a much more free and truthful place if we all stopped worrying so much about what others think and did what made us happy.  So what if you get weird looks in the Quad because you're wearing socks with your sandals?  I bet you're comfortable.  Be a kid!  Be free.  Pick your wedgies, dance in a parking lot, and risk the "social sin" of not matching for a day.  I'll be joining you, blasting Bieber on repeat.

Love Notes, Walks of Shame, and Maturation Epiphanies

Sitting in education classes, we often discuss the hormones of high schoolers.  We discuss the focus placed on appearance that fuels what used to be "Do You Like Me? Check Yes, No, Maybe" notes stuffed in lockers, the worry about image that spawns fad diets and nervousness, and the social pariah fear that results from not being asked to the dance. I am always amused by this conversation, because the hormonal cycle doesn't end in four years.  It continues in college!  However, it is a bit different.  The "Check Yes, No, Maybe" notes are replaced with texts asking to "meet up at a party this weekend or somethin'..." The awkward, "My mom can take us to the mall and we can, like, walk around and stuff," moments have been replaced with "walks of shame."  We often say these high school students are "immature," "focused on the present," and "hormonal," but have we really changed?  Are "booty calls" more mature than punching your 'crush' in the arm on the playground?  How many undergraduates really focus on the future, rather than the party this Friday night, or the homework assignment due tomorrow?  I'm not saying all college students are promiscuous, running around doing, as they say in Crossroads, "God knows what with God knows who..."  but I am saying that we're not much better than the high school kids we're about to teach.  We never really get better.  Adults still gossip.  They still have their awkward Christmas parties where one secretary gets a little too tipsy on the "holiday punch" and disappears for awhile with the copy guy.  Adults still have the "popular lunch spot" near the water cooler.  We can scoff and roll our eyes all we want, but we were those high schoolers.   We still are, just four years later.  Sure, we have time and experiences these high schoolers haven't had... and that's why we're going back to teach them.  I just think it's important to note that we haven't had some maturation epiphany.  If you're still spending your Friday nights texting that certain someone "heyyy" and analyzing how many 'y's' he or she included... then you're not too far from checking yes, no, or maybe.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mean Girls, OMG Moments, and Kids Who Don't Shower

"That's why her hair is so big.  It's full of secrets."  "She's fabulous... but she's evil." High school mentality, at its finest... Mean Girls.  High school is full of them, and popular movies depict them well.  They're conniving, diabolical, and ruthless... but they're also smart, creative, and goal-oriented.  Even if their goals are making someone else's life Hell, or buying the latest handbag.  In a class discussion a few days ago, a fellow SRU student made the comment that a character in the assigned novel was "every girl I hated in high school."  This comment stuck with me for days, and all I can say is, as future teachers, we have to be ready.  We have to be ready for the incessant babble about boys, the "OMG, no she didn't," and the "I know, right?" moments.  We have to be ready for the sex crazed hormones, the obsession over texting, and the insult that comes with no one liking someone else's Facebook status.  We have to be ready for the kids who don't shower, the jocks who don't want to read, the kids who can't afford a notebook, and, yes, the girls you hated in high schoolWe're going to be teaching all of them.  You can't pick and choose the kids that enter your classroom- it's our job to teach them all.  Regardless of who YOU were in high school, we're all going to be the same thing.  We, comprised of jocks, nerds, wallflowers, socialites, band geeks, and Comic Book fiends, are now on the other side.  You may have "hated" high school... but you signed up to go back.  You won't only have AP kids who all love to read.  You won't have all poor kids who grew up just like you... and you have to be ready.  You're going to be their teacher.

Church Candles, Camp, and Life

"A candle's but a simple thing, it starts with just a bit of string... Yet dipped and dipped with patient hand, it gathers wax upon the strand, until complete and snowy white, it gives at last a lovely light. All around us is darkness, I light this little candle and it is no longer dark. Although this is a tiny light and it lights only a small area, we can all see it. Each of us knows it is here and can find a way to it. Although tiny, it is a beacon to every one of us. But this little light can grow; can be multiplied, if someone would come join it."

This is a poem that is read by the staff of Camp Redwing on the last night of each camp session. Typically around the pool, or in a field, holding unlit candles, this poem is read by a new staff member and camper duo each session. Only the camper and staff member have lit candles, but at the line "But this little light can grow, can be multiplied, if someone would come join it," all other staff members share the light, spreading it to their own candles and the candles of campers, until the entire camp is lit by the flickering flames. It truly is beautiful, and a favorite memory of all campers. Using candles during Easter Vigil Mass at my church this weekend, I remembered the Redwing candlelight ceremonies of my past summers. Just like I was at every pool-side candlelight, last night I was shocked at the difference little candles made in the darkness of my unlit church. Although it was a safe place, and I was in no danger, the dark was ominous. Scary, unknown, and unyielding, the darkness, whether in a field, by the pool, or in a church, engulfs every one of us. But one person lit their candle, and everyone's eyes focused on the light, focused on hope. It's a human reaction, but it's also amazing what one little flame can do. When you add fifty more little flames, it is no longer an individual effort; it is a group, working together to bring light to the darkness. I think the comparison is clear. It's like life, just like my blogs always tend to be. Life can be quite a dark and scary place... but even one light, one optimistic, happy person, can make a difference. People will be drawn to you, to your example. And, just like I learned at camp, "this little light can grow, can be multiplied, if someone would come join it."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Undergraduates, Whales, and Loafers

Any undergraduate student at a State University would be able to describe the typical outfits of females on a night "out on the town."  Tight, short skirts, low cut tops, see-through fabrics leaving little to the imagination.  High heels are common, and the makeup is plentiful.  Recently, I had a friend tell me, in a voice dripping with shock and wonder, that she received "SO MANY" compliments this past weekend, after she had worn jean shorts and a T-Shirt out!  All those skin-tight outfits with heels high enough to be considered a weapon had never granted her this much attention!  This not only made me smile, but it also made me wonder.  In the undergraduate world, comprised of skipping classes, underage day-drinking, and "friends with benefits" relationships, why is the most common summertime outfit of jean shorts and a T-Shirt rare to see?  The idea that less is more has been taken literally, making skirts shorter and tops lower... to the point where the girl in a T-Shirt may get the most attention of all.  The same can be said about the ambition in the undergraduate world.  I notice, as I consistently decline offers to skip class and participate in what sound like fun, but also seem a bit illegal, plans, that I am one of few, instead of one of many.  I will admit that working three jobs and taking eighteen credits is a lot of work, but I am constantly surprised at the amount of students who are simply relying on loans or Mom and Dad to get them through school.  I am constantly surprised at the lack of student workers on campus, and the abundance of individuals complaining about their lack of money.  If you want to have money and not worry about paying your loans back, get a job.  If you want to remember your nights, stop drinking so much.  If you want to be respected, wear a longer skirt.  The world of undergraduate students is unlike any other place in the world, and I love it.  I love the spirit, the creativity, and, like Asher Roth told me I would, I love college!  I just wish there were more jean shorts, and less hooker heels.  I wish there was more drive, and less drunken driving.  I wish more students would discover what I have already: that you CAN work your way through college and graduate almost debt free.  That you CAN wear jean shorts and loafers to a party and still have a good time.  It just seems like, in the undergraduate animal kingdom, students like me, working and wearing loafers, are becoming extinct.  So here's my SAVE THE WHALES campaign.  We're a dying breed.  Do your part, don't complain, don't join the hooker-heel wearing crowd...at least not every night.  Change the world; save the whales, one Saturday night in loafers at a time.

Picture Frames, Favorite Students, and Neverland

Here at Slippery Rock University, it is required for Secondary Education majors to complete 40 hours of classroom observation, twenty in a diverse setting and twenty in your content area, before applying to the College of Education.  While completing my 40 hours over Spring Break, I traveled back to the high school I graduated from a mere two years ago.  Seeing my old teachers and conversing with them about education, lesson plans, and classroom management was amazing, but something bothered me.  "Why is our class picture not on your desk anymore?? Who are these new people??"  Like the teacher-befriending, overachievers that my Class of 2010 was, often times we had given signed pictures to our favorite teachers, which they proudly displayed on their desks.  However, two years later, we had been moved to a far corner by the window and replaced with a new group of Juniors and Seniors.  My old English teacher admitted, "When you leave we can't mourn forever.  We have to make new favorites, Werkmeister.  We have to move on."  My teachers then explained to me a different view of one of my previous favorite elements of teaching: never growing up.  Although we, as educators, are granted the "Peter Pan dream," our students are not.  Seeing the same students for four years, five days a week, is a blessing, and often highly enjoyable.  However, at the end of their four years, the kids you relied on for laughs, sarcastic eye rolls, and creative projects, will graduate and leave you behind.  It is all we could desire, as educators, for our students to graduate and become successful, but at the same time it will be very sad.  I never looked at my "Peter Pan dream" in this way, and the realization hit me hard.  However, I guess there is one reassuring fact... even if my Class of 2010 picture has made its way into the corner of the window ledge instead of in the center of my favorite teacher's desk, it's still in the room, and there are new pictures on display.  The kids that impact you are never truly gone, and there are new kids arriving every year, just waiting to become the new "favorite," and have their picture on your desk.  Public education is Neverland, and the "favorite" students are Wendy, John, and Michael Darling.  They may visit Neverland for a few years, but eventually they have to grow up, they can't stay forever.  But while they're with us, we can teach them many things: how to fly, how to dream, to believe in fairies... "So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Caves, Crocodiles, and Fear

Over the weekend, I took my floor of Freshmen to the Casparis Cave, near Ohiopyle in PA.  This is a cave where headlamps are not only "suggested," they are completely necessary.  The cave is full of twists, turns, and tight squeezes that are only manageable by laying flat on your stomach and inching forward using your hands and feet alone.  This cave is a challenge on a regular day.  However, on the day I took my residents, it rained all day!  The water that typically covers an explorer's feet as they enter the cave became knee to mid-thigh level, and extremely muddy- you could not see your own hand in the water.  Since this cave is open to the public, my floor was not the only group exploring.  There was also a boy scout troop, outfitted for the adventure.  Much like the residents from my floor, these boyscout members were talking about how excited they were to explore the cave.  They were "one-upping" each other, talking about who was going to make it deeper in the cave- who was going to be the bigger man.  However, as the boys climbed up the rocky face of the cave, one by one, their demeanor changed.  The purest moment I witnessed all day was when a small boy climbed up the face of the cave, stepping into the thigh-high muddy water at the entrance.  The previously boasting, self assured little boy suddenly threw his arms above his head, his entire face distorting in unsurmountable terror.  "ARE THERE ANIMALS IN THIS WATER!?!?!" the little boy screamed.  All adults had to choke back laughter and reassure the boy that there was nothing in the water: no sharks, crocodiles, or other unseen creatures were going to nip at his ankles here in western PA.
One of my residents also experienced a moment of terror; becoming claustrophobic and having to turn around, she failed to complete her exploration of the cave.  These kids' fears reminded me of so many other moments in life.  We pretend to be strong; excited for the challenges life will throw at us.  We hide our fears, camouflaging our worries with words that are not always entirely true.  Sometimes, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves and others that we really are up to the challenge, we truly are fearless, manly, and brave... we're actually scared.  Sometimes we're all a little worried about what's in the water.  And sometimes we may need to turn around, like my resident... but that shouldn't stop us from trying.  The little boy who screamed in fear, and my resident who fled the tight clutches of the cave... they still tried. They hiked to the cave, they climbed up the rock face, they waded into the water.  They made an effort.  And regardless of the outcome, that's what's important.  There's no shame in turning around, or asking if there are animals in the water.  There's no shame in being afraid.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Questions, Happy Shows, and City Schools

"You can't live like that.  You need to wake up.  Life's not happy."

Why not?  Have you ever asked this question, not to a professor refusing to extend a deadline, or to a parent denying you the right to stay out past curfew, but to life?  To society?  Have you ever questioned the world we live in?  Sure, those that look at the world with a happy, positive, optimistic outlook are rare, and often considered naive... but are they wrong?  Is it wrong to only watch happy movies and sitcoms, consistently changing the channel from violence and crime shows?  Is it wrong to compliment strangers, and smile at people who pass you on the sidewalk?  Would the world not be a better place if instead of thinking "look at everything that's going wrong in my life" everyone thought "look what's going right!"  The mind is a powerful thing, and choosing to view the "glass of Earth" as half full instead of half empty is something we, as individuals, can chose to do.  Positivity is contagious, and stress is bad for your health.  So why surround yourself with negative energy, negative shows, negative people... why not change the channel, laugh a little, and tell your 8th grade students from a city school that they can be whatever they want to be?  Sure, it might be a little unlikely, but so are a lot of things, and they're more likely to succeed with positivity and encouragement than with "you won't make it," negativity.  We've walked on the moon, we've made vaccines, we have internet on our phones... WE, as a human race, can do anything we put our minds' to.  So when society tells me I need to "grow up" and "stop being so positive" because "the world's not a happy place," I have just one thing to say.   
"Why not?"

Friday, March 9, 2012

Aunt Edna, Sewer Grates, and Sex Symbols

"Don't confuse your path with your destination...    It's midterms.  It's work.  It's an argument with your significant other.  It's your mom calling, wondering why you haven't sent a thank you card to Aunt Edna.  If it's not one thing, it's another, and sometimes life can be very overwhelming.  Sometimes you may feel like, as I wrote in my first blog post, you could fall through the sewer grate and be washed away, lost to the horrors below forever.  But other days, it works out.  Other days, you pass your exams, you get promoted, you get flowers for no reason, and mom just sends a text saying she loves you, with no other instructions or requests.  Sometimes, you stand on top of the grate, like Marilyn Monroe.  In the sewer grate metaphor for life, you're can either be the piece of gum in the dirty rain water below the grate, or you can be the sex symbol on top of it, famous forever.  Life is what you make it; your day will go in the direction the corners of your mouth are facing.  So chin up, kids.  Just because it's stormy now, doesn't mean you aren't headed for sunshine."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Capture the Flag, Floor Socials, and Salad Forks

"We're playing capture the flag!  TELL EVERYONE!"
As I sat desk in my building tonight, part of the wonderful duties and responsibilities of being a Community Assistant, hordes of underclassmen, in all-black, congregated.  Naturally, the CA in me became suspicious and nervous,  "Please don't be doing anything illegal on my duty-night." Yet, at the same time, the normal college student in me wanted to join them.  As the other on-duty CA and I sat behind the desk, confined to our responsibilities and schoolwork, the fun continued.  Kids kept arriving, from various floors, buildings, and other mysterious locations, all clad in black pants, black hats, and long black socks pulled high over their soon to be grass-stained and bloody knees.  Other CAs arrived in the lobby, coming and going from the library or other jobs, all stopping and staring open-mouthed at the now 25+ students assembled for battle in our building lobby.  "This is more residents than I've ever had at one of my socials... ever."   
"Who organized this?"  "They did." 
Sure it's not an "offical" social.  Sure, according to my "Weekly Report" that I turn in every Sunday, it's not even valid.  But these are the socials that really count.  You don't need a paid individual to create fliers and set up a "floor social" for kids to make friends.  You don't need linen table cloths and three different types of forks to eat a delicious meal.  You don't need a $100 skirt and four inch heels to be attractive.  Sometimes, less is more.  Sure, it might be nice to have an organized hall event, a seperate fork for your salad, and a nice dress pump to pair with your pantsuit, but is it really necessary?  We make things so fancy in today's society, but do we really need to?  Would the salad be that different if you ate it with the same fork you ate your main course with?  Would you be any less attractive in a smaller, more comfortable, less expensive heel?  Does it really matter?  I can tell you one thing.  Those kids outside, the ones tackling each other on the muddy hill behind our building, the ones rolling around in search of two old rags... 
those kids are having fun. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

All Nighters, Bucket Lists, and Water Towers

"I want to pull an all-nighter!  I've never done that before, how much fun would that be?"  "I want to have a threesome.  Now that would be fun..."  As a Community Assistant, working with the office of Residence Life, I see and hear many interesting things on my floor each day.  Yesterday was no different.  I held a floor social last night, purchasing Chinese food for the entire floor and creating an activity where each resident wrote something they want to accomplish before the end of the semester, creating our very own First Floor West Bucket List.  The entire activity was very entertaining, sparking hilarious conversations and interesting ideas that ranged from the very legal and tame, like "Have a campfire," to the very illegal and dangerous, like, "Climb the school water tower," or, "Finish a bottle of Captain Morgan in one night."  Although I obviously tried to deter the unsafe sex, trespassing, and alcohol use, I also could not help but to smile.  Most of my residents are Freshman, new to the college experience.  Having watched, helped, and guided them since the day they moved in, I feel almost like their mother.  I have even been affectionately dubbed "Mother F" because we reside in Building F on campus.  Although I often worry that they will get arrested, or catch a disease, or just not find their way home to our Building one night, when I stop and think of the wild and vivacious shenanigans that I myself experienced my own Freshman year, I feel a strange mixture of fondness and embarrassment.  Reminiscing about my extracurricular activities and the dreams and bucket list items of my residents, I realize THIS is what college is about.  Sure, it's about receiving an education, but it's also about memories and experiences.  You have four years here.  Four years that you can either spend hidden in your dorm room studying on a Saturday night, or four years you can spend embracing your youth and making memories.  Four years of "climbing the water tower."  The mind blowing, gut wrenching, passion filling aspect of college is that we will never be as young as we are right now.  We will never again have the excuse "Oh, that was back in my college days..."  We will never have our current freedom, lack of responsibility, and environment ever again.  Eventually, we have to find a job, pay bills, raise a family, and worry about our diets.  Eventually we have to dress conservatively, play appropriate music at an appropriate volume, and put disapproving looks on our faces when society says so.  Eventually, we have to grow up.    But for now... for these four years... 
I'm gonna climb the water tower.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bike Races, Parents, and The Ride of Life

"You're registered for the athletic training major team!"  "...but I'm an English major?"
This Saturday, at Slippery Rock University, there is a stationary bike race taking place, the Race To Anyplace!  Teams, comprised of 10-12 members, mount their metal steeds and race off to the destination in their mind, all the while raising money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Although I am very physically fit and active, I am not a big fan of competitions. However, this is an excellent event, and a more than deserving cause, as well as something I've never attempted! Therefore, I, as an English Education major, am proudly racing with the Athletic Training major team in The Race to Anyplace!  While preparing for Saturday, and attempting not to psych myself out too much, I thought back to my younger bike-riding days.

I used to love bike riding.  I would go on multiple mile runs many times a day, looping the neighborhood, the school campus, and the neighboring communities two to three times a day.  I used to be wild, standing on my seat, steering with my feet... I was the epitome of "Look, Mom, no hands!"  

But it wasn't always like that.  I also was the epitome of "DON'T LET GO!  ARE YOU HOLDING THE SEAT?!Everyone remembers seeing that little kid, feet barely touching the pedals, completely turned around in their seat, contorting themselves in an effort to ensure that his or her mom or dad had a firm grip on the bike seat, safely steering them down the road.  I was that kid, often falling off, skinning more knees than normal, leaving scars on my knees, even to this day.  But the important thing is I kept getting back on.  I cried, I yelled at my mom, I was embarrassed, defeated, and hurt... but I always got back on.  It's kind of like life.  Your parents hold on to "the seat" for a long time.  After 18 years, they have to let go.  Hopefully, the training wheels and elbow pads did their trick during your high school years... hopefully, you won't take any terrible tumbles on your own.  Hopefully, you wear a helmet, even though mom and dad aren't around to tell you to do so anymore.  Sure, everyone has bumpy "bike rides" every once in awhile, but if you keep getting back on, keep pushing through the embarrassment and pain you feel from "falling off," eventually you'll be a pro.  Eventually, once you get used to riding down the road of life by yourself, without your parents holding on, you'll be able to stand up on the seat, steer with your feet, pop a wheelie, and yell, "LOOK, MOM, no hands!"

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cellphones, Statistics, and Kids These Days

"When I was a kid, we had to walk three miles in the snow to get to school... uphill both ways!"
When I was a kid, I used to borrow my mom's cellphone if I had an afterschool activity so I could call my house-phone when I was done and get a ride home.  Kids these days have cellphones when they're three.  They use internet at the age of five, and they have social networking profiles fresh out of the womb.  According to our readings in the assigned text for class, Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students, 55% of teens ages 12-17 have an online social networking profile.  When I was a kid, I had to beg to sign up for a Facebook account at age sixteen, I did not have text messaging until I was seventeen, and I didn't even know what "sexting" was.  Kids these days are completely different.  Society, especially in younger generations, has become so technologically dependent that devoting college classes, like my Writing for Non Print Media class, to utilizing technology in the classroom is completely necessary.  The statistics are rediculous, and always illustrate to me that times are indeed changing.  When I read that all public schools have 100% internet access, and 80% of teens in schools utilize social networking sites, I wonder what it will be like when I'm 80.  My grandparents say things about life in their day, stories filled with hardwork, drive, and dedication.  Will my stories be about living without a cellphone?  Using a house-phone?  Printing pictures from a disposable camera?  When I was a kid...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dance Movies, English Majors, and Six Word Stories

For this week's blogs, we were instructed to not freely write about education like usual, but to write about a lesson plan we have learned in class, as well as the class readings.  When reflecting upon the different digital media lessons we have learned so far in the semester, I found myself chuckling, thinking of the movie Save the Last Dance 2.  In one of the opening scenes of this sub-par sequel to one of the greatest dance-movies ever made, Save the Last Dance, Sarah enters her class at Julliard on Hip Hop Theory.  The professor is sick, and a young, handsome "guest lecturer" asks the class to define Hip Hop.  He uses recording equipment and loops the students voices so "Hip Hop is..." plays on repeat.  He fills in the blank each time, creating a rap, saying, "Hip Hop is: rap.  Hip Hop is: funk.  Hip Hop is: R&B.  Hip Hop is: an attitude, a culture."  This goes on for a few minutes, picking up speed, adrenaline, and groove, enticing the class and the viewers of this film.  He then cuts all the music and says, "Hip Hop can be defined with three words: I. Am. Here."  Cut to the class' shocked and awe-filled faces, end scene.

As English majors, we tend to be long winded.  I never intend for my entries to be very long, but somehow you always have to scroll to read the whole thing.  My papers tend to be multiple pages, and my text messages are always obnoxiously lengthy.  It's in our nature.  However, one of the lessons presented in class placed constraints on this habit.  Six Word Stories.  Students get six words to express themselves, as well as a picture.  I love this idea, and I fully intend to use it in my classroom someday.  Sure, ten/ fifteen page research papers are necessary, but so is the ability to make your words count.  You can define Hip Hop with a rap, verses on verses of words attempting to explain the culture, attitude, feeling, and different genres within the term.  Or you can use one sentence, three strong words, and sum up everything: "I am here."  If you could only use six words to describe yourself, your situation, or something in your life, what words would you chose?  You're thinking, aren't you?  Counting?  Six words.  One chance.  Choose wisely.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

THON, Margaret Mead, and College Kids

This weekend, at Penn State University, is THON weekend.  Two of my best friends attend PSU, and I have always been a fan, not of the sports, but of the school spirit that Penn State has been able to foster in its current students, alumni, networks, and business contacts.  Looking at all of the pictures posted to Twitter every so many minutes makes my heart ache in a proud sort of way.  The number of students that participate in THON, as well as the organizational aspects of the event and year long fundraising, is amazing.  Students aren't given much credit these days, and true, a large number of our generation probably doesn't know what's happening at PSU this weekend, or other charity events across the globe, but the fact that this event is organized, funded, and participated in solely by college students blows my mind.  A former Student Council junkie, the logistics of this event amaze me.  There used to be a poster in my Social Studies teacher's room in high school that read: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead.  Some college kids may have spent their weekends at home, sick, like me, or out participating in drunken shenanigans, or working multiple jobs, or studying, or maybe... just maybe... some college kids are out there just trying to change the world.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bullies, Trouble-Makers, and The Class of 2010

"Go ahead, throw it."  "Kara, be careful!"  "Don't worry... he won't throw it."
After reading one of my classmate's blogs, I had one of those movie moments in my head, a flashback as they like to call it in the literary world.  I remembered being a little bad-ass on the playground of my rural, farm-town elementary school.  I can see, in my head, all 60 pounds of little elementary school me, standing up to the big bully throwing basketballs at girls on the playground.  I gave him such attitude, such lip, and I showed no fear.

I used to be quite the trouble-maker in school.  Nothing major, don't get me wrong, and I was a very smart little girl.  However, I was that kid who would slide down the banister leaving the gifted education program, I was that kid, who would talk during class and wind up clapping erasers at the end of the school day.  I was that kid who always took the projects to another level... the "she probably crossed the line, but it's so detailed and accurate I'm not going to do anything about it but shake my head" level.  I was smart, and I was often bored- a dangerous combination.

When I read my classmate's blog about how some individuals think teaching the next generation isn't feasible, I chuckled.  When I was in middle school, I wrote a poem about my class, the class of 2010.  I don't remember the poem, and I don't know that it's saved anywhere, but I remember the title: "The Walls Will Miss Us When We're Gone."  My class was the class labeled as "trouble."  We were "disrespectful."  Our generation was "impossible."  We were "never going to make it."  But, boy were we fun!  We did creative projects, we twisted assignments around, putting a new spin on them.  We took discussions too far, keeping the teachers on their toes.  We made our own spirit days, and we made the years that we traveled the hallways interesting.  It's kids like us, the "trouble-makers," the "bored smart kids," the "Danny Zukos" and "Ren MacCormacks" of public education, that excite meI can't wait to teach this next "unteachable" generation.  And to all those who say it's impossible... challenge accepted.  And to public school walls everywhere, bored because the students aren't as "troublesome" as the Class of 2010 was... don't worry.  We're coming back... as teachers.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Assigned Seats, Courage, and Rules to Live By

There are rules I think every college student should live by: always come to class early, and never turn down someone who has the courage to ask you out (unless they're really creepy) Today, both of these rules collided.  Sitting in my assigned lecture-hall seat, I was surprised to see a boy walking towards me.  He sat down in the chair next to me, which was not his seat.  An avid rule follower and attendance policy freak, I immediately panicked.  "Um... that's not your seat?  Are you sitting there now or something?"  He proceeded to tell me that he remembered and really enjoyed my answer to a question in class weeks before, and asked for my number.  Meanwhile, the sedated stampede that is hungover and about-to-be-late college students was pouring into the lecture hall, and this boy's lack of regard for the assigned-seating attendance policy was causing quite the traffic jam.  Not one to enjoy causing a scene, being rude, or having my face turn red for longer than necessary, I quickly granted this boy's wish and sent him back to his seat.  Having the next 75 minutes to reflect on this scenario, I realized that it was a prime "college lesson."  Good things happen when you come to class early.  Good things happen when you have courage.  Good things happen when you participate in class.  We come to college to get an education, good grades, a degree, and a future... but you can learn outside of the classroom too.  Hey, you can even learn inside the classroom, before the bell rings.  You just need to have a bit of courage.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sandlots, Night Class, and Mind-Games

"All little kids play baseball or softball, whatever.  You play on the sandlot, and you play in Little League.
...what's more fun?  Little League...or the sandlot?"
This question was posed by one of my professors last night in my English Language Learners night class.  For two and a half hours we discussed many topics, but all I could think of was this weird WWE match going on in my head between The Sandlot and Little League.  Our professor, an eccentric man known to make outlandish statements, stated that, "We [adults] feel the need to ruin everything.  We can't just let kids play a pick-up game in the sandlot... it's gotta be organized!  We need rules!  Uniforms!  We need Little League."  For the entire class I was weighing the pros and cons in my mind.  Sure, I love rules, and Lord knows I love a good uniform- matching is my favorite.  But are these really my thoughts?  Or have I been trained by society- creativity beat out of me?  Waiting outside of my Young Adult Literature class earlier in the day, I heard students discussing how they were encountering problems reading young adult novels.  They felt they over-analyze, over-think, and nit-pick every detail of every assigned piece of work.  They were the Little League team, forced to play in The Sandlot.  Confused by the freedom, not used to using creativity, having forgotten that it comes naturally, these twenty year old adults stood outside of class uneasily, young adult novels in hand.  I found the scene interesting at the time, but after my night class when my mental WWE match began, I reflected back to this scene.  Maybe society does beat The Sandlot out of us as we age.  Maybe Little League has to happen at some point.  But is it necessary?  I think classrooms, college, and the world overall would be a much more interesting and enjoyable place if we all just "stopped thinking" every once in awhile.  Sure, you need to think to learn, but you also need to relax, have fun, and trust yourself.  After all,  
"If you weren't thinking so much, you would've caught the ball in the first place."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Camp, Luck, and Lecture-Halls

"I won't grow up, I don't wanna wear a tie, or a serious expression, in the middle of July!  'Cause growing up means it would  be, beneath my dignity to climb a tree!  I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up... not me!"
Home Sweet Happy Place
For many years, I have spent my summers living in a tent for three months at the over-night Girl Scout summer camp: Camp Redwing.  Sitting in a darkened lecture-hall, watching the snow whip through the bare trees that line campus, a monotone lecturing professor drones on and on, and I find myself daydreaming of Redwing.  When you work as a camp counselor, you essentially sign up to be a kid for three months.  Granted, you have to be responsible for 30+ five year old girls 24 hours a day for weeks at a time, but working at camp requires much more than than responsibility.  To work at a summer camp, you must be willing to be the example.  You have to sing songs louder than the campers, hop happily out of bed when the bell rings at seven am, volunteer to jump in the river, and smile at all times.  "Camp," as they tell you in training, "is a happy place."  Camp is like Disney World.  It's an escape; it's a cliche.  Although camp always has been and always will be educational, camp is made into a "happy place" by those "examples" who work and live there.  It is this kind of passion and "happy place" mantra that is missing from education.  The classes you've really enjoyed, think back... they were most likely taught by the teachers who sang the songs louder and hopped happily out of bed to rescue campers from spiders, metaphorically speaking.  All teachers should be like this.  If you think about it, as teachers, we never have to grow up.  I won't be wearing a tie in the middle of July... I'll be on summer vacation, just like my students.  Most likely, I'll be working at a summer camp.  That's why this job is the best.  Not because we get summers off, but because we don't have to grow up.  The whole point of our job is to change lives, to educate, to mentor, and to make our classrooms a "happy place," just like camp, for each and every one of our students.  As I sat in my 75 minute long darkened lecture-hall class this morning, all I could think of were ways to improve my professor's class.  "How does he think this is engaging?  Doesn't he see people sleeping?  Does he not notice the little glow of cellphones cleverly hidden behind notebooks and under desks?"  Maybe my professor doesn't care...maybe he forgot how lucky he is to have the job he has... or maybe he just needs to go back to summer camp and see how its done.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Marilyn, It, and Me

Did you ever look at a sewer grate and worry that, if you walk on top of it, you'll fall right through the bars?  Sure, it may be irrational, but that doesn't make the fear any less real.  Going to college and majoring in Education is a lot like walking on top of a sewer grate.  Certain classes, professors, theories, and experiences may make you feel like, at any second, the grate will give way and you'll be lost to the watery grave of chewed-gum, crumpled leaves, and Steven King's It character forever.  In the next minute, however, you could be a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, not only walking on the grate, but posing, allowing this previous fear to not only help you, but allowing it to make you famous.  That's what this blog is about.  My name is Kara, I'm an English Education major in my second year of school, and I will be writing about the sewer grate that is the college experience.  Some days you may feel like you're about to slip through and get washed away... but other days... 
boy, can this place blow your dress up!