Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hey look, my blog!

May of 2014, I wrote a blog post.

A year later, I wrote another one. Oof.

Last time I wrote I told you all about how excited I was to join Urban Teacher Center. Now I'm writing about how I haven't had time to write because of Urban Teacher Center. Don't get me wrong, I'm still happy I joined this program, but WOWZA. I never could have expected what this past year had in store for me.

Everyone told me, "This program is really hard, the first year is especially rough, teaching is hard, blah blah blah." Take that and multiply it by 100. This year has been physically, mentally, emotionally,  and any-other-way-you-can-think-of exhausting. Teaching is hard, grad school is hard, and goodness gracious I can't tell you how many times I've felt (who am I kidding, still feel) like I'm losing my mind. And yet, I'm still here. I love my students. I still want to teach. Does that mean I passed the test? Can I graduate now?

Also, I literally just made the statement that I'm going to buy all the Marvel movies with my first paycheck. I think I'm a little tired.

(To be fair, The Avengers is on TV right now, but still - who wouldn't want to watch Captain America whenever they want?)

Honestly, though, I didn't come on here to tell you all about how tired I am or how hard this all is, but really just to check in, and how, at the core of everything, I'm really happy with what I'm doing. Every time I start hating my life over the fact that I'm submitting a paper at 11:58 PM when it's due at 11:59, I remember the fact that I'm actually doing something that I care about. This always strikes me at the core, especially after having previous jobs that I didn't care about at all. I love working with my students, working with people, and starting my career in education.

Grad school, you can end anytime now. Kthanksbye.

(One more year - but fewer classes!)

Also, I just need to get back into writing again. Now that the first year of grad school is winding down, I might - might - have the opportunity to do it a bit more. I need to start somewhere, so why not begin right where I left off? I'm sure teaching will continue to come up as I write, but I also want to be sure to continue using this blog as what it's always been - a place to just chat about life and the quirkiness that it is.

And Captain America of course.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Starting the Journey Towards Teaching

For those of you reading this post that are my Facebook friends (which I would assume is most of you - I don't exactly have a large reader base), you might remember that last week I posted a status about being accepted to a teaching program called Urban Teacher Center. Well, per Facebook status promise, here is the "blog post with more details!"

Many of you may know that the job I've had for the past three years hasn't exactly been a dream, and I've been trying to get out of it for quite some time. When I first started looking for new jobs, I wasn't looking for anything particularly spectacular. Most of what I looked at were jobs very similar to what I have now, admin type things. To make a long story short, I submitted application after application, went on interview after interview, and wrote more cover letters than I care to admit - and still, nothing. Finally, after one last "thanks but no thanks" after an interview early last fall, it was like the light bulb finally went on. I suddenly realized that the jobs I was applying for meant absolutely nothing to me. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that I at least had to pick a solid direction to move in. Choosing a career path doesn't have forever vows like marriage or religious life - you can always change your mind later. I just needed something that I had an interest in NOW, and the first thing that came to mind was teaching.

Following the advice of a friend I decided to take a month off from official job hunting. After basically making it a second job for almost a year, it was hard to just STOP job hunting, but I knew it was the right move. Instead I used that time to think about what I wanted to do, particularly to investigate what it meant to be a teacher. I reached out to every teacher I knew, asking to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. The more I listened to what they had to say, the more I wanted to do it. And, interestingly enough, the more people I told that I was thinking about teaching, the more I heard things like, "Oh that's so great! I think you'll make a great teacher!" It wasn't just polite encouragement either - I could tell these people really meant it, especially since many of them were very close people in my life. I didn't know how the path was going to play out or that I would even find a way to become a teacher, but I knew what I was working towards.

A few weeks later I got an email about a grad school fair happening in DC. I kept it in the back of my mind, but wasn't sure I really wanted to go. If I remember correctly, I didn't actually make the decision until that very day. It was definitely one of those Ugh I don't WANT to go, but FINE, I will. At the very least I knew that I was looking for education programs, so that was helpful. This fair was HUGE. I spent over two hours there and only got to half of the schools. I found a lot of British schools that made me go Oh yay! A chance to travel again! (And FYI for everyone out there - I may not have chosen that route, but if you're interested, it's a LOT cheaper to get a master's overseas than here. Something to look into if you're interested in international study/travel). But as exciting as that was I continued to snake through the rows to other American schools as well, being interested in, but not blown away by, my other options. By the end of my time there my feet were killing me, my bag was breaking my back, and I was ready to go home. I decided to make one last quick pass down the final row - and that's when I found Urban Teacher Center (UTC). It was the very last table in the very last row. I heard the representative talking to another interested person and literally stopped as I was walking by and turned back. The last table on the last row. After more than two hours.

This might be a good point for me to pause and explain what UTC actually is - it's referred to as a teacher residency program. The best comparison I can use to introduce it is to say that it's got a similar concept to Teach for America, but it's also very different. UTC is a four-year program instead of a two-year program, and you don't dive right into teaching your own classroom. You spend your first "residency" year working with a host teacher and taking grad school classes, and then the last three years you have your own classroom. The first year is unpaid, but the program gives you a free dual Master's in general and special education from Lesley University as well as certifications and incredible coaching, support, and preparation. It's a fairly new program (started back in 2010) and currently only has cohorts in DC and Baltimore, but it's already showing amazing results of producing excellent teachers.

It took me a little while to decide to apply (I don't even know why, could have something to do with my constant indecisiveness), but when I finally did the rest was history. And it was fast! I applied, and within a few days got an invitation to do a virtual interview (very weird - you record answers to questions on your webcam instead of interviewing with a person directly, but it helps replace phone interviews). About a week after that I had an invitation for the final in-person interview that would be taking place a month later. I had a great interview day, and within a few days found out I got accepted. WHAT???!!! Is this for real??? I was so excited, but also nervous. Everything felt right, everything had fallen into place, but I still wanted to be sure this was the right move. Then I started flipping through all the documents that had been sent to us, and came across the "Letter to a UTC Resident." It was like the last paragraph was written just for me:

"The next year will not be pretty—I assure you. I often wondered to myself “Are these people serious?” But the work that is ahead of you is a marathon race of utmost importance. No one smacks their feet to the road and sets out to run 26-plus miles without rigorous training. Your training begins now."

Those of you that know me know that running is a big part of my life and that I've trained for and run a marathon. Those of you that really know me know that running is also a very big metaphor for me in many parts of my life and faith. So when I read this quote, I literally just looked up to heaven and thanked God for showing me the sign I needed to see - His version of a thumbs up to go for it!

A few days after I found out I was accepted to the program I came home to this wonderful surprise from my amazing roommate Maura:

We even had a little cake-cutting ceremony with my tiny sword letter-opener to help her "practice" for an actual cake-cutting ceremony that she had to plan. We then proceeded to sit at the kitchen table, shoveling down cake and talking and giggling about who knows what. Roommate bonding time at it's finest.

Not only did I feel so incredibly loved by Maura's gesture, but it was also a very strong reminder - a reminder that I have the best family and friends a girl could ask for, and a reminder that I'm so incredibly lucky that I have them nearby as I begin this new career path. I'm so excited to be starting this new path with UTC, but it will by no means be easy. The first year in particular will be incredibly difficult, since I'll be in the schools all day, then going to my own classes in the evenings, then homework and lesson planning and somehow still having some semblance of a life. Oh yeah, and did I mention the first year is unpaid? It's going to be tough. But then I remember that I have such an incredible support group, and a support group that's close by. For a long time I talked about possibly moving to a new city, and someday I would still like to try it. But considering the fact that the best teaching option I found was local, I think that's another sign from God that I'm meant to stay here from now. He knows how easily I can get stressed, and He knows that I'm the kind of person that will really need and appreciate having my friends and family close by.

So, this new journey will be a challenge. In the last couple years I've gotten very comfortable with my 9-5 job and having my free time for myself and planning all kinds of social events. But I'm not going to be quite so flexible anymore - let's face it, it's probably going to be a bit nuts. I apologize and ask you all to forgive me in advance if I have a hard time fitting everyone in, if I feel too busy or tired (or poor) to do things. But know, too, that I'm going to try my best and that I love you all and am so happy to have you in my life. I'm not much of an "asking for prayers" kind of person, but if you could please keep me in your prayers as I start this new chapter, I would really appreciate it - I could use all the help I can get! In the meantime, I officially have less than one month left at my current job, then I'm taking two weeks off before the fun begins on June 23rd.

This is just a name tag from a recent event that I attended, but it makes me feel so official!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Become a Tourist - At Home

This post was actually written a couple days ago, but I've just now gotten around to editing it and posting it. Enjoy.

Tourists can be really annoying. They overrun our home towns, take pictures of landmarks we’re all-too-used to seeing (or pictures of something so much less spectacular, like a pigeon), stand on the left of the escalator (dang escalefters), and are generally just a big nuisance. At the same time, while we all complain about tourists, we all, at some inevitable point, ARE tourists. Even if you are one of less annoying travelers who is respectful of other people, avoids the tourist traps, and tries to blend in like a local, the truth is undeniable – any time you visit a city or country that is not your own, you are a tourist. We are all, at some point in our lives, that annoying visitor that gets in everyone’s way.

But despite their bad rap, I think we can all learn a little something from the tourists that come to visit our hometowns. Did you ever notice how tourists are always smiling and the locals are always grumpily or absent-mindendly walking past them? The tourists are exploring what’s around them, while the locals rush by their everyday surroundings as if the local violinist playing on the street corner wasn’t even there. Sure, those tourists are on vacation - they're supposed to explore this town, they have time to pay attention to the new and different. Being on vacation means breaking out of the norm – seeing things we wouldn’t normally see in our daily lives, trying something that we wouldn’t normally try. But when we're not on vacation, we seem to slip back into robot mode. Why? Why does that sense of adventure only have to be when we’re visiting another city? Why can’t it be in our daily lives, on our way home from work, in our hometown?

I write this message sitting outside Cosi/Panera (cause, you know, in DC sometimes the closest thing we can get to sidewalk cafes is putting chairs outside major restaurant chains). For the first time in what feels like forever, I’m able to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather while munching on my sandwich and doing a bit of people-watching. About 25 feet ahead of me, there is a violinist and guitarist playing duets together outside of the Dupont Cirle metro station – and they sound amazing! They’re playing mostly classical tunes, but just wrapped up a beautiful arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I walk into this metro station every single day, and I can tell you from experience that I always – ALWAYS – walk past the musicians that are playing there. Today I have the privilege of having a bit of time to kill before Theology on Tap, and thus the privilege of listening to these two gentleman serenade the evening commuters.

Just a short while ago, there was a small group of what were clearly tourists walking past the musical duo. What seemed to be a mother and her grown daughter from the group started dancing together to the music. They were in the middle of a public sidewalk, without a care in the world, and with the biggest smiles on their faces. Their smiles showed nothing but joy. They danced to the music while their family members cheered and documented the scene on their cameras. It was wonderful. And yet, there were other families, other couples walking by, who did not stop to dance. Why not? Most likely because of the same reasons I would give you on a normal commuting day – they’re too busy, they have a bus to catch, a dinner date to make it to. All of these are perfectly legitimate excuses, and I will tell you that I make them all the time. But what if one day we didn’t make them? What if we stopped in the middle of our ordinary day, became tourists in our home town, and paused for 30 seconds to stop and listen to the music? 
Don't get me wrong, I know that having a routine and being busy is part of everyone's lives. I know that sometimes vacation is the only chance we have to break out of the rat race and breathe. We can't always just stop our daily lives. But when we get too caught up in that routine, we can often miss some of the beauty that is right here in front of us every day. Maybe pausing for a few seconds to notice something at home will help make our crazy lives just a little bit less stressful and a little bit more peaceful. Maybe if we take just a bit more time to look and listen, we'll begin to see and hear things that we might normally miss.
P.S. I know that street musicians aren't always the greatest, but those guys were GOOD. I'm happy to say that they're tip box was quite full.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Healing Experience

It looked like a makeshift field hospital. Black curtains hung over individual "rooms" with temporary dividers and unique numbers to distinguish them from the others. The line of patients was staggering - it extended down both sides of one corridor then curved into a perpendicular hallway. Before long, additional "doctors" rushed to the scene - they had smiles on their faces as they quickly ducked into their own little rooms. The line of patients started to move quickly and healing was happening at an astonishing rate. 

The scene I've just described is one that I witnessed and experienced firsthand. But it wasn't a makeshift field hospital - it wasn't even a hospital. While it was a makeshift set-up, it was for a different kind of healing. 

The black-curtained rooms were all temporary confessionals. The doctors were priests. And the patients were hundreds of people - most of whom were teenagers - waiting to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Now some of you may be wondering - where was this extraordinary (or maybe to some of you - strange) setup? It was at Mount St. Mary's College for the Mount 2000 retreat for high schoolers. I had the privilege of being a chaperon for this retreat for the second time, and it was a wonderful experience. While it's a little bigger than the type of retreat I typically prefer (it has 1700 participants), it's a retreat that, for the last 19 years, has had a positive impact on thousands of teenagers. One of the most unique aspects of Mount 2000 is that it offers Confession almost around-the-clock. Sometimes only a few priests are hearing confessions; other times they have to call in reinforcements when the line gets as long as the one I was standing in. It turns out that this year set a Mount 2000 record - over 1300 confessions were heard over the course of the weekend. 1300. Wow. 

Some people may ask - why? Why did Reconciliation - the one sacrament that tends to make people feel super awkward - draw such a large crowd? Why was that crowd composed mostly of teenagers? Why would anyone in their right mind want to tell everything they've done wrong to a total stranger? All very good questions. In order to answer those questions, I think we need to go to one that's even more general. Why do we go to Confession at all?

A lot of people, including many Catholics, wonder why we have to go to Confession. One of the biggest ways people ponder over this is, "Why do I have to tell my sins to a priest? Why can't I just tell my sins to God?" I'm no theologian, so I'm not going to try and answer that question. However, Father Robert Barron is a theologian, so here's a bit of his input on the matter: 

Fr. Barron gives us an excellent start to the theological side of Confession and why we should go. I know that there are even more helpful resources out there to explain this sacramental phenomenon, and I look forward to learning more about it (and I hope you will, too). As a starting point, I found a couple more helpful videos to explain Reconciliation:

Confession Explained - Catholic Diocese Richmond
Sacraments 101: Penance (why we confess) - Busted Halo

You could read (or watch) as much as you want about why the Church "makes" us go to Reconciliation. But some of you still may not be convinced until you hear about it on another level - how this sacrament impacts us personally and spiritually. It's important to think about why we would want to go to Confession, not just why we have to.

Those teenagers didn't get into that line at the Mount because they were forced to by their parents or chaperons. They didn't get into it for the sole reason of feeling like they had to please someone or because the Church made them do it. They stood in that line because they were seeking something. They were seeking forgiveness, healing, humility, guidance - the list goes on and on. Above all, they were seeking a greater closeness to Christ. To some people, this concept of wanting to go to Confession may be a difficult one to grasp. But let me tell you - if you go to Confession with an open heart, an open mind, and seeking something won't be disappointed. 

I can say from personal experience that, when you decide to walk into that confessional with openness, you will get SO much more out of it than you could ever imagine. Every time after that will get easier and easier as you realize all the gifts that this sacrament has to offer. We do need to go to Confession, but not in the "because I said so" sense. We need to go because we need the healing that Christ provides and to continuously grow closer to Him. 

So to my fellow Catholics, do me a favor and consider going to Confession. Whether you go regularly or haven't been in years, it doesn't matter - Christ welcomes us back with open arms no matter what, and He is more than ready to forgive our sins and forget they ever happened. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Life Updates - Because I Like To Pretend That People Like to Read About My Life

Last year my New Year's Resolution was to write a blog post every week. I would have to say that for the most part I did pretty well - at least up until the summer. As things got busier my posts got fewer, and now it's been since September since I've actually managed to publish a post...oops.

Still, making it through half the year really isn't too bad. Besides, considering the fact that I haven't been posting is because I've been keeping busy, I'd say that's a pretty good reason - I've been doing things to keep me from staring at a computer screen constantly! I'm always up for less time behind the screen. Plus, I think it's a good sign of how this past year has shown a lot of change for the better.

When I made that resolution last year, I was in a bit of a funk. I needed something to get me out of it, to make something my own, to have something to be committed to. Now, I have lots of things to keep me busy! I've also had the opportunity to take a look at the troubles that adult life throws our way and how to make the best of them. It's been a very eye-opening and growth-filled year, and I hope to keep that growth going.

Now, to fill you in on some new updates! First, I guess I'll follow up on the update with my fundraising - I've gotten no where. Sorry to disappoint, but fear not! I have not forgotten. As I mentioned, things got really busy, particularly in the fall, and I'm planning to start fundraising this spring. I've also decided to fund raise for Wounded Warriors instead of Catholic Charities. As a Catholic, I would love to raise money for this faith-based organization. But I also want to stay true to my commitment to raise $500. Since I'm running Tough Mudder in the spring, I have a simple way to raise the money and a secure place for donations to be made. It might be the "easy way out," but with how crazy things have gotten, I'd rather raise the money in a way I can actually manage than take too long trying to figure out how to do it and not raise the money at all. So check out our team donation page and donate what you can! Every little bit helps! Here's a link to the page to make it easy: TM Wounded Warrior Fundraising

There have been a lot of family changes, as well. On a sad note, my beloved grandmother, Rose Phelps, passed away on October 30th. We will miss her dearly, but she lived a long and happy life that we will all remember. But despite this sad event, our family has recently experienced a lot of joy as well. Three of my cousins had babies (bringing my grandmother's great-grandchild count to 10), and they are all the cutest babies you have ever seen. And most recently, my dad and Kathy got married! Between babies, a step mom, 3 step siblings, and a step sister-in-law, my family has grown a lot! All in 3 months!

And now an update on the job front. I am able to write openly about this since my boss is actually very well aware - and supportive - of my latest decision. For those that don't know, the job that I've had isn't exactly what I want to be doing the rest of my life. I've spent the majority of my time there trying to figure out what to do next and what I want to commit my life to (no biggie). To make a long story short, after applying to a lot of jobs that truly meant nothing to me, I had an epiphany moment that I had to pick a direction. The first thing I came back to was a career I had always thought about throughout my life - teaching. An even longer story short, I decided to pursue that career and am currently awaiting the results of my application to a teacher preparation program called Urban Teacher Center. It is a four year program in DC and Baltimore that would hopefully help me to become the best teacher I can possibly be. I thought about holding off on writing about this now since I only have a few days before I find out whether or not I got in. But no matter what the result, it has been a very important process for me (and actually has a very interesting story to how it began) and has shown me how much I want to pursue this career. Hopefully I will be telling you a positive result in a few days, and either way I hope to tell more of the full story to how I got here.

There are a few other random new things, but I think I've blabbed on enough for now. I guess I'll end with this - I most likely will not be able to continue a consistent once-a-week blog post. I don't even have a New Year's Resolution for 2014 yet. Maybe I'll make an official one, maybe I wont, but either way I hope to continue to grow, reach new goals, try new things, and live life to the fullest.