Our Educational Journeys

Bus stop. Photo Credit: sporkwrapper via Compfight cc

Bus stop. Photo Credit: sporkwrapper via Compfight cc

Campus Day, the day we hold at each campus before each semester begins, is a nice way to get together after a break and talk about upcoming events. This year, at my campus, there was a small panel asked to share their educational journeys. I had to smile, because I have been doing that with my classes since I began teaching. I always had the suspicion that seeing a nicely dressed middle-aged woman at the front of the class was misleading to my students. Depending on whether I was at a public college/university with middle to lower class students, or at a private college with middle to upper class students, I wanted to set my students straight that I was just like them–or not like them at all. It’s hard to see who faculty are or where they came from just by guessing from their age or level of attire. The tale of my journey usually went something like this:

I didn’t go to college right out of high school like my older brother did. I hadn’t liked school, so it was probably a good idea that I didn’t go. I had a number of part-time and full-time jobs–operator at the phone company, laborer in a mill, several positions at a national retailer–until finally at the age of 32, single with two kids aged 10 and 13, I went downtown to that two-year branch campus of Penn State and jumped in.

Here I skip over all the wild oats I had sown, but I do emphasize that I graduated from high school in 1968, and assume students could read into that what they would.

I had some real luck in meeting a professor who had faith in me. Later, when he wrote a letter of recommendation for me, he called me a diamond in the rough. He also gave me my first academic job as his bibliographic assistant for his Companion to Melville Studies. I didn’t really appreciate how terrific an opportunity that was at the time, but I do now. He even let me do an independent study with him on Melville, maybe just because he wanted to teach it, but it was a great experience as I was trying to immerse myself in the academic world that was so different from everything else I had known. Here, people liked me for what was in my head, not for my appearance.

The rest of the journey is collapsed into one or two sentences: So, I kept going and finally got the PhD in the same year my younger daughter got her veterinary degree. And I will be paying back student loans forever (really).

If I had been talking to colleagues, I would likely have amended the tale to include how you never know where you will end up, although that could be just as interesting to students who wonder how it will all work out. I’ve written about that on my portfolio, if you’re interested: http://pittmanportfolio.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/wearing-new-shoes/

We should all have a version of our educational journeys to tell and we should tell them more often than we do, especially to our students, if we still have them.

Got that off my chest again.

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Categories: academia, education, profession, teaching

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