Category Archives: School

The Great and Powerful Shaz

I’ve been a teacher since 2006 and have had, in that time, about 1,800 students in my classrooms. And yes, they’ve all been wonderful people and I’ve loved them all. But…well, you know…I might have had some favorites over the years.

I know that I’m not supposed to have favorites, but it’s hard not to, especially with the high quality of students that come through my door. And especially when one of those students is the super cute, super smart, super wonderful Shahrazad Sheikhali.

me-and-shaz-in-hallway

How cute and smart and wonderful is she?!

Shaz first became my student in August of 2011 when she enrolled in my Composition 2 class; and I immediately liked her. She was quiet but smart, and she always went the extra mile with her work, her discussions, and with the way she treated her classmates. She was one of my favorites that semester, and it could have ended there.

Shaz, far right -- her first appearance in one of my class photos!

English 152, Fall 2011: Shaz is far right — her first appearance in one of my class photos!

But then — but then! — I learned that she was loved to write! Favorite status imminent! Shaz enrolled in my creative writing class for the next semester…

One damn fine creative writing class!

One damn fine creative writing class!

…and then the next semester she joined Writer’s Block, our campus creative writing club. She quickly became a leader for the group, helping to organize author readings and our Bi-Annual Bad Poetry Contest.

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Writer’s Block hosts its first reading with author Sasha Dawn

Shaz emcees a Bad Poetry contest

Shaz emcees a Bad Poetry contest

Because of her work in our creative writing class and with the student club, I enlisted her to be one of my student editors for the 2013 issue of Voices, MCC’s literary arts magazine. She did a wonderful job on the issue, and even had one of her own poems published.

Writer's Block celebrates the end of the year and the Voices 2013 issue

Writer’s Block celebrates the end of the year and the Voices 2013 issue

Although Shaz didn’t need to take any more of my classes, we didn’t stop working together. She came to me with an idea for a project we could work on together as part of MCC’s then brand-new Undergraduate Research Scholar Program. She wanted to do some research on the impact of the teacher-student relationship on student success. We collaborated to design objectives and a plan for the semester, and then she set to work. Shaz did a literature review, observed classrooms all over campus, surveyed and interviewed students and professors, and wrote up her report at the end of her project (FYI: a supportive and structured student-teacher relationship has a positive impact on student performance). I was proud to be her mentor throughout the process, and I was even prouder when she told me that she’d be graduating MCC, transferring to Northern Illinois University, and studying to be a teacher. An English teacher! OMG, dream come true. Favorite status achieved!

She invited me to go to with her to NIU’s new student orientation the summer before she enrolled. I hadn’t been to a new student orientation like that since I was starting as an undergraduate myself, and I loved going with Shaz for a tour of the residence halls, the classrooms, the dining hall…everything! We also nerded out in the book store and I came out of it with a number of NIU pens. (I know, surprise, surprise, I bought pens.)

NIU's new student orientation!

NIU’s new student orientation!

I took a lot fewer pictures of Shaz during her time at NIU, primarily because it would have been weird for me to lurk around her classrooms and newspaper meetings and dining hall, snapping photos. (Although, to be honest, I was tempted.) But we kept in touch, got together for coffees and lunches in DeKalb and in Crystal Lake, and she caught me up on all of her cool studenty stuff.

Last year she did an observation at a middle school near her campus, and this semester she was a student teacher in the same school and with the same teacher. It was the last piece of her bachelor’s degree, and I got to see her in action. For my Adolescence in the Schools class at UIC this semester, I needed to observe adolescents in their natural habitat and the write up an ethnography; so I asked Shaz if I could observe her 7th grade class for a couple of hours one afternoon. She and her lead teacher were gracious enough to allow me to observe, and it was so much fun, not only because 7th graders are hilarious and weird and awesome, but because Shaz was great and I loved seeing her teach.

Shaz waits for her students to come back from lunch

Shaz waits for her students to come back from lunch

Shaz the teacher!

Shaz the teacher!

And then she was finished with her NIU coursework, was all set for her endorsements and her degree, and the only thing left for her to do was to graduate. To graduate, omg!

She graduated this past Sunday, and she invited me to the ceremony to sit with her family, which was an honor in itself. Her parents, sisters, and brother had gotten to NIU’s convention center as soon as the doors opened to get some good seats, and they were successful: we were front row, only yards away from where Shaz was seated.

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And the ceremony was lovely. NIU’s steel band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” (yes, they have an award-winning steel band and they played all the music and it was surreal because there was a snowstorm outside but tropical music all morning long). The president, during his keynote address, asked the families of the graduates to stand up and be recognized for their support, so the Sheikhalis took a much-deserved bow:

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Oh, just the cutest family ever.

And we watched Shaz walk up to receive her diploma, and we were all smiling so hard our faces almost fell off of our heads.

After the ceremony, we gathered with the other few hundred graduates and their accompanying thousands of family members in the convention center’s lobby to take some photos.

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Shaz, her sisters, and her mother

sheikhali-family

Shaz, her sisters, and her cousin

Me and my favorite Shaz!

Me and my favorite Shaz!

All of it made me so happy and proud and bursting with smiles and hugs. Shaz has already gotten a job at a high school in the district where she did her student teaching, and she’ll start next fall. I’m so proud of how hard she’s worked and I’m honored to have been a part of her academic career.

I’m sure Shaz will be a part of my life for many years to come, and I know that although I’ll still have favorite students, I won’t have another one like her. Good luck, Shaz! You’re going to go so far!

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Noëmi’s Second Week

The first week that Noëmi, our visiting Dutch scholar, was here in the States was jam-packed and a heck of a lotta fun. She observed teachers at MCC, she got to see her first university campus to attend class with me at UIC, and she carved her very first jack-o-lantern for Halloween.

Her second week was just as jam-packed, and, possibly, even more fun. We started on Monday with observations at Elgin Community College. Another host and English teacher at ECC (Ginger, a very generous and helpful person) set up a great itinerary for Noëmi, so she was able to sit in on a journalism class, a literature class, and an English composition class. We also had the benefit of getting a polka serenade as a part of ECC’s Oktoberfest. No offense to the teachers that Noëmi observed, but it was definitely the highlight of our afternoon.

I don't want her, you can have her, she's too fat for me (HEY!); she's too fat for me (HEY!); she's too fat for me!

I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for me (HEY!); she’s too fat for me (HEY!); she’s too fat for me!

On Tuesday we took another field trip, this time back into Chicago for my educational psychology class. But before heading to UIC, we had to check out one of Chicago’s main tourist attractions.

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We’re really going up there?

Now, Noëmi is afraid of heights, so I was a little surprised she wanted to go up to the Skydeck at the Sears Tower (yeah, I’m not calling it anything else get over it). We’d agreed early on in her visit that if it was a cloudy day, we wouldn’t go up because we’d probably not be able to see anything. But we woke up that morning to a warm, clear-skied day, and we had to do it.

Although Noëmi was nervous, once we got up there, her excitement over the views took over. We walked all around, taking in the city from every direction, and it was lovely. Chicago is a beautiful city and I felt so proud to tell her about the buildings I knew something about. And while “proud” isn’t really the right word for this one (“bizarre” might be better?), I pointed out the Metro Correctional Center, too.

It's just hanging out, a couple blocks from the library.

It’s just hanging out, a couple blocks from the library.

Noëmi even had the guts to go out onto one of the glass shelves. It was a little stomach-dropping, but pretty wild.

noemi-on-the-glass-floor

Am I doing it? I can't look down. Am I out here?

Am I doing it? I can’t look down. Am I out here?

For more great pictures, check out Noëmi’s blog post Hoogtevrees (Afraid of Heights)”.

We headed back down to the ground and to get some sandwiches for lunch. I filled Noëmi in on what we’d be talking about in class that day (intrinsic motivation, in case you just needed to know), and then we took the Blue line one stop to campus. Why didn’t we walk? Because our bellies were full of sandwiches and we didn’t want to, so get off my back, man.

Noëmi at UIC

Noëmi at UIC

After class we hopped back on the Blue line to meet my parents for dinner, this time traveling five stops, so it was totally justified. By this time in the late afternoon/early evening, we’d digested our sandwiches and needed to re-fill our bellies. What better way to do that than over dinner while chatting with two of my favorite people, Mom and Dad Bork? The four of us talked about the Netherlands, art museums, and the Dutch system of registering citizens’ religious affiliations with the government (my mom’s head almost exploded with surprise by this, and if I hadn’t been as engrossed as I was in my french fries, mine probably would have, too). We finished our lovely dinner, and Noëmi and I walked to the train station and headed back home to Camp Crystal Lake.

Luckily, Wednesday and Thursday were going to be spent at MCC, so Noëmi didn’t have to travel far. But on Wednesday, she did have to put her scholarly game face on for the “Brown Bag Round Table” discussion the seven visitors were going to lead. We prepared our room with Dutch/U.S. friendship flags, and took some pre-round table selfies with Frank’s selfie stick (my first selfie stick picture!):

Me with Frank (L) and Patrick (C), two of the visitors, and Bob (R), one of my fellow hosts and an instructor of applied technology (he's an architect)

Me with Frank (L) and Patrick (C), two of the visitors, and Bob (R), one of my fellow hosts and an instructor of applied technology

We had lots of visitors to chat with our Dutch scholars, and it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

frank-chats-with-the-group

Frank with MCC staff and faculty, talking about his college in the Netherlands

Anja and Esther talk about their students

Anja and Esther talk about their students

Noëmi and Barb talk about students' career tracks

Noëmi and Barb talk about students’ career tracks

brown-bag-3 brown-bag-4

After a lot of great conversation, Noëmi headed to her afternoon appointments. She spent some time chatting both with our Dean of Library as well as with the coordinator of our advising department to get even more information to bring home to Summa College and her colleagues there. By the end of the day she was loaded down with great information, ideas, and the need to do just a little bit of resting.

But, only about an hour’s worth of resting was in her cards, because Trevor and I had tickets for the three of us to go see David Sedaris at the Raue Center in Crystal Lake.

KWHAT? DAVID SEDARIS came to CRYSTAL LAKE? That’s INSANE.

And yes; yes, it was.

Last spring, as Trevor and I were at the Raue Center picking up our tickets to Death of a Salesman (my friend Shannon, who I played opposite in God of Carnage two summers ago, played Linda Loman and she knocked everyone’s socks right off of their feet, she was so good), and Trevor noticed an advertisement for the Raue’s upcoming events. One of those events was an evening with DAVID SEDARIS, and we were so excited that we immediately bought a pair of tickets for the reading on October 26. We’ve seen him three (or four?) times before in Chicago, and each time is hilarious, so we couldn’t imagine our luck that he was coming to the intimate venue just two miles from our house. And then, at the end of the school year, I got the opportunity to participate in the ICISP scholar exchange and found out that my guest would be here in Crystal Lake in time for the reading, so we immediately got her a ticket.

So, last Wednesday, as we did our hour’s worth of resting before having dinner with Lisa and her husband James (who were also going to the reading), and then heading to the theater, Trevor, Noëmi and I listened to Sedaris read his story “Six to Eight Black Men” from his Live from Carnegie Hall album. It was the first thing I’d ever heard him read, and when I heard it the first time, about thirteen years ago, I almost peed my pants from laughing so hard. Since it’s about the Dutch holiday tradition of St. Nicholas, Noëmi had to hear it; and she got a kick out of it, too, though she kept her composure better than I had those many years ago (this is not a surprise; I am a bit of a lunatic).

Here’s Sedaris reading (most) of the story:

Trevor, Lisa, James, Noëmi, and I, after the show

Trevor, Lisa, James, Noëmi, and I, after the show

On Thursday, Noëmi visited Lisa’s class — her final observation — and attended one of our Faculty Council standing committee meetings on curriculum development and review. She and her colleagues at Summa College recently wrote some new curriculum and are hoping to write more, so she was eager to learn more about our process at MCC.

That afternoon, the group attended a farewell party in Woodstock so that all of our school’s employees could come to chat with our guests for one last time before they left. I couldn’t attend because of class, but Noëmi told me it was a fun time, and she came home that evening loaded up with some great MCC swag that made me very jealous.

Friday was our final full day together, and Noëmi had one last request: to go to the outlet mall. And, since I am not a monster, I could not deny her this wish, so we headed to the Pleasant Prairie outlet mall in Kenosha, WI. It was exciting for a number of reasons: first, because we traveled to Wisconsin, so Noëmi got to visit another state (it was so different than Illinois, she could barely believe it! [j.k. she wouldn’t have even known if I didn’t tell her when we left IL and then left WI to go back into IL]).

It was also exciting because it was shopping, and shopping is just plain exciting. We both got a new pair of Converse and some other assorted pieces of clothing, though mostly we just had fun wandering around and looking at everything we liked but wouldn’t actually buy. I really wanted to buy about five outfits from the Nike store but realized that the most active I get is walking Roo 1.5 – 2 miles per day (at a leisurely pace; my heart rate does not get very high), it was absurd for me to purchase clothing meant for high achievement athletes, then only to wear it for my own high achievement napping. Even though the fleece-lined hoodies with the little holes in the sleeves for your thumbs are so cozy. So cozy!

noemi-and-laura-shopping

Shopping!

The last reason our trip was exciting was that we got to drive through Trevor. You read that correctly: we drove through Trevor. And he didn’t feel a thing! HA!

Trevor, WI is located in Kenosha County, WI, and we stopped there to fill up the car and giggle about being in Trevor.

trevor-mini-martFriday night was a story in an of itself — the three of us went to see a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But I will be writing about that adventure in a separate post, because it deserves its own space.

And that was it. On Saturday we all woke up, went to eat a big lunch, and then I dropped Noëmi off at Kim’s house, who was driving her, Esther, and Jacqueline to O’Hare to catch their flight back home that afternoon.

luggage-packed

Noëmi, Esther, and Jacqueline, ready (and not ready...) to leave

Noëmi, Esther, and Jacqueline, ready (and not ready…) to leave

It was hard to say goodbye, but knowing that I’ll be visiting Noëmi in May for the second part of our exchange made it easier. Plus, we’ve already been texting on What’sApp about The Walking Dead, the World Series, and Roo; I imagine we will keep this up until we see each other again.

There are a couple of stories I’ll tell in separate posts: the aforementioned story about The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the story that tells you what on earth I’m doing in this picture:

What is happening here?

What is happening here?

So stay tuned for those stories, and more! (though, the “more” is probably going to be about Roo, so…you’ve been warned.)

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Scarier Than Ghosts

Halloween isn’t celebrated in the Netherlands like it’s celebrated here in the U.S., so I’m very excited that Noëmi got to experience it here, or, if not the actual holiday, at least the preparation.

The first thing we did was get a couple of pumpkins for carving. Noëmi had never carved a pumpkin before, so she was very excited. We googled “Jack-o-Lanterns” for some good ideas, and then we set to carving.

Noëmi and a big knife

Noëmi and a big knife

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Tops off!

A bowl full of pumpkin guts!

A bowl full of pumpkin guts

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Noëmi decided that her pumpkin would be smiley and cute, while I decided mine would be scarier, toothier. They both turned out pretty darn good.

Noëmi's first pumpkin!

Noëmi’s first pumpkin!

Once we had some ghoulish gourds, we set out to spookify the house. I took out my bag(s) of bones, my gravestones, ghosts, and my zombie gnomes, and we went at it.

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Front yard graves

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Back yard body parts

Ghosts!

Ghosts!

We're voting "Yes" on November 8 for a new library; and so is our ribcage and femur.

We’re voting “Yes” on November 8 for a new library; and so is our ribcage and femur.

We did a good job, and will hopefully scare the neighborhood children come Monday’s Halloween trick-or-treatathon. But our house wasn’t the only scary thing in Crystal Lake. There was also…WALMART.

See, one of the first things Noëmi asked me, when we started talking about cultural differences between the Netherlands and the U.S., was, “Can you really buy bullets in the grocery store?” And, although I hated to say it, the answer was, “Well, yeah.”

Because although you can’t get bullets at my local Jewel — and thank goodness for that — you can certainly get them at the local Walmart, where along with your baby formula, vitamins, green peppers for that chili you’re making, and new hand towels for the guest bathroom, you can buy as much ammo as you need! Great!

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Bullets, bullets, so many bullets! Welcome to the U.S.A.!

Walmart also sells bows and arrows…

noemi-and-bows-and-arrows…and bubble wrap:

Because who doesn't need this much bubble wrap?

Because who doesn’t need this much bubble wrap? And it’s somehow used by the Rebel Alliance, so…there’s that.

For more about Noëmi’s adventures with Halloween and Walmart, check out her excellent blog (it’s in Dutch, but her pictures are terrific [and maybe you read Dutch! I don’t know your life!]).

I’ll have more posts about Noëmi’s last days of adventuring at Camp Crystal Lake and Chicago, so come back soon!

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Netherlands on the Town

It’s been one week since our Dutch visitor Noëmi has been with us, and she has seen and done a lot. Her first few days here, she got the lay of the land and spent a lot of time on campus, meeting my English department colleagues, getting to know the college, and eating ice cream.

For the second half of her first week, I had a few different types of adventures planned. We were going to Chicago for my evening class at UIC, but we had the entire morning and afternoon to do whatever we liked; so we made it count.

After Noëmi observed a history class taught by my award-winning colleague David (he was teaching a lesson on the American Revolution), she and I hit to road into the city. We parked at my parents’ place (they were at the theater so weren’t around to say hello, but we’re going to have dinner with them on Tuesday) and took in the view before wandering the city.

noemi-on-balcony-2 noemi-on-balcony-1

We ate lunch at Macy’s on State Street and then rode the escalator down from the 8th floor to take it all in. I was slightly disappointed that Noëmi didn’t get to experience the department store as it looks when it’s decorated for Christmas, but she got the sights and smells, and get got herself some Frango mints.

Noëmi in Macy's

Noëmi in Macy’s

We walked across the street to the Daley Plaza’s farmer’s market, which was just starting to pack up. They’d dyed the fountain a bright blue in support of the Cubs making the playoffs (and winning the division last night! Go Cubs!), and Noëmi got some good pictures of the unnatural looking water. We stopped for a picture before moving on to Millennium Park.

noemi-in-daley-plaza

Noëmi gets a quick picture under the Picasso

At Millennium Park, we explored the Pritzker Pavilion, the BP Bridge (both designed by Frank Gehry), and, of course, the Bean (a.k.a. Cloud Gate). It was windy and chilly, but the trees were turning and the brisk weather made for great walking.

noemi-in-pritzker-pavilion-1

This is so cool!

“Everything is so big!”

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Cleaning the Bean

Cleaning the Bean

We finished at the park and walked across the street to warm up, first inside Graham Cracker Comics, where Noëmi got a trade paperback copy of The Walking Dead volume one (oh, did I mention that she’s a huge fan of The Walking Dead? SHE’S A HUGE FAN OF THE WALKING DEAD!), and then we sat for a bit in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel lobby for some sparkling water and comfy chairs.

Although we’d seen a lot already, we had more to do that day. My class, Adolescence in the Schools, was starting at 5 p.m., so we drove over to UIC’s campus. Our topic for the week was gender identity, and Noëmi was able to participate a lot in our discussion, especially during the last thirty minutes of class when we got into small groups to work on what we would include in our ideal sex ed. curriculum. She was surprised that we were even talking about it — that it was even controversial — because in the Netherlands, it’s not a hot-button topic and quite normalized. Very different from our federally mandated “abstinence only until marriage” curriculum.

noemi-in-grad-school

She had a great time, though, and we left class talking about the U.S. school system, gender, and how hungry we were.

We stopped by Wishbone to have some dinner, and Noëmi got to try some Southern-style food without having to travel outside of Chicago. We also watched a couple innings of the Cubs game, and I did my best to explain the sport to her. I did a pretty good job: I used a lot of hand gestures and even got up to mime batting when I explained the strike zone. I think she was impressed.

Dinner at Wishbone: Noëmi's pulled pork and my Southern fried catfish

Dinner at Wishbone: Noëmi’s pulled pork and my Southern fried catfish

We guessed the weight of this pumpkin for a chance to win a Wishbone dinner. I have a good feeling about our chances...

We guessed the weight of this pumpkin for a chance to win a Wishbone dinner. I have a good feeling about our chances…

On Friday we had a much quieter day, going to MCC for the job fair, picking up some materials from the school advising office for Noëmi to take back with her to Summa College, and meeting a couple new friends.

Hey, new friends. You're not very talkative.

Hey, new friends. You’re not very talkative.

We wandered around the Woodstock Square, and I told Noëmi that we’d have to watch Groundhog Day at some point so she could get the full experience.

Image Credit: The Independent

Image Credit: The Independent

That evening, we met up with Lindsay, who coordinated the Dutch scholars’ visit, and her friend Kylie, who is a former student of mine and an amazing young woman, at Duke’s in downtown Crystal Lake. We ate some dinner, drank some beer, and laughed hard about Subarus and Vape Life. It was great.

Saturday was another day out in the world beyond Camp Crystal Lake: specifically, Sonny Acres. For the last seven years or so, the Power family has gone to a pumpkin farm in October, mostly to watch Sadie ride the rides, and also to check out any Halloween costume shops and drink some apple cider. Last year we deviated from the norm by going to Goebert’s Farm in Barrington, and while it was a good time, it just wasn’t the same as ole’ Sonny Acres; so this year we returned to our regular haunt.

When Trevor, Noëmi, and I arrived, Sadie was already in action, getting her Halloween game-face on:

A little more to sharpen the fangs...

A little more to sharpen the fangs…

A couple of little bites...

A couple of little bites…

Et voila!

Et voila — a mini vampire who wants the Cubs to win the World Series!

We wandered around for a couple of hours doing our usual stuff. I introduced Noëmi to apple cider (yes), to the caramel apple (yes and yes), and to rubber Halloween masks (no…okay, yes).

In line for cider with Neill and Fran

In line for cider with Neill and Fran

dr-who-mask

Trevor dons a mask

grilling

We see what’s on the grill

The best part of the afternoon, though, was seeing a Tabitha look-alike. We decided that this little guy is probably Tabitha’s younger brother:

tabithas-brotherThe afternoon was also remarkable for taking what was probably our best selfie, that some jerk hot dog photo-bombed. But since we’ve gotten so good at these, I figured I’d share them all with you:

Hot dog creeper

Hot dog creeper

And that was our last few days! We spent this morning watching Manchester United lose to Chelsea (BOOOOO, CHELSEA!!!!!), but Noëmi wore Trevor’s Memphis Depay jersey to represent the Netherlands.

Depay in the house!

Depay in the house!

I baked up some quick banana bread, which we scarfed down immediately, and now we’re about to go to see some American stores (I’m going to show her Walmart, where they sell weapons, because…AMERICUH), and then home to decorate the house for Halloween. I’ll also spend some time today practicing my Dutch phrases, which Noëmi is teaching me in preparation for my visit to see her in May. This is what I’ve learned so far:

  • I am Laura – Ik ben Laura
  • How are you? – Hoe gaat het?
  • Good – Goed
  • I’m from America – Ik kom uit Amerika
  • I’m a teacher – Ik ben een docent

Stop by next week for more about Noëmi’s continued adventures, and more amazing phrases!

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The Dutch Are Coming!

For years, my college has been a member of the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs (ICISP), which is the organization we partner with for our study abroad programs (for our students to study overseas) and scholar exchange programs (for our faculty to visit colleges and universities in Europe, the U.K., and China for professional development).

Usually, our college has the budget to fund one or two faculty in a two-way exchange — where one McHenry County College faculty member hosts an international faculty member for two weeks, and then the MCC faculty member travels to the host’s country to stay with her for two weeks. A couple of our faculty members had applied for the program last autumn, had been accepted, and they were all set.

But, as many of you know, the Illinois budget crisis forced a lot of colleges to cut programming, cut jobs, and to enact their own internal budget freezes, which affected travel. A number of colleges in Illinois that had planned to participate in this year’s scholar exchange with the Netherlands had to pull out of the program, leaving about thirty Dutch professors in need of places to stay. Our Chair of International Studies and ICISP liaison got approval for an unlimited number of our college employees to be hosts in a one-way capacity — to host a Dutch professor but not to travel to Holland — and one additional two-way participant.

And guess who applied and was accepted to host and to travel?

Yep! This weirdo is going to Holland!

Yep! This weirdo is going to Holland!

Yahoo! So this month I’m hosting a professor of English from the Netherlands named Noëmi, and in May, just after my spring semester ends, I’ll go to stay with her for a couple of weeks!

I AM VERY EXCITED.

Noëmi (pronounced no-Amy) teaches English at Summa College in Eindhoven. She has two cats, she ran a 10K last weekend, she and her partner are buying their first house and moving next month, and she is smart and super cool.

This is Noemi!

This is Noëmi!

There are seven Dutch professors visiting my college, and others coming and staying with hosts from other Chicagoland colleges. Our liaison put together a schedule for everyone to show them off to the community, and I’ve worked on getting Noëmi into as many of my English department colleague’s classrooms as possible. She’s also going to come with me to classes at UIC, Trevor and I are taking her to see a David Sedaris reading here in Crystal Lake, we’re bringing her with us on our annual Power Family Sonny Acres trip, and I’m going to get us tickets for a play in the city. I have about one million other things I want her to do but I’m worried I’ll overwhelm her, so the rest of the trip we might play by ear. I guess she’ll have to sleep at some point, right?

I’ve been trying to prep everything in the house so we’re all ready for her arrival tomorrow (tomorrow! OMG!), though Roo has been zero help and instead of straightening or going grocery shopping for me, she’s been staring out the window, yawning, and scratching. Useless.

Hi, I'm Roo. Do you need me to do NOTHING AT ALL? Okay.

Hi, I’m Roo. Do you need me to do NOTHING AT ALL? Okay.

A few of us are going to pick up the visitors at O’Hare tomorrow, and they will be greeted with signs and probably some donuts. Trevor is out of town until Sunday for a photo shoot in Dallas, so she will have to be okay with a me-and-Roo welcome committee. I’m going to remind Roo not to jump on her, not to jab her fat head into Noëmi’s torso, and not to leave her shiv-bones around where we can step on them. We’ll see how it goes; I have low expectations.

I’ll be updating the blog throughout her visit, so you can see what hijinks we get up to, and if I’m lucky, I’ll convince her to write a guest post for the blog. Fingers crossed!

welcome-noemi

First run sign with a failed border

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Grad School Lessons

Last week I posted a snippet about the type of reading I’ve been doing while on sabbatical from teaching this semester, but this week, I wanted to elaborate a bit with some lessons I’ve learned during my first five weeks in grad school at UIC.

I knew that being a student again would be a very different kind of work than I’ve been used to, but what I didn’t realize was just how different the work for this degree (a Master of Education) would be compared to the work I did at DePaul University for my first graduate degree (Master of Arts in Writing). While I did take four courses for my MA that focused on theory, rhetoric, grammar, and teaching, the remainder of my eleven courses were writing courses: writing the novel, creative non-fiction, magazine writing, short fiction, and screenwriting. And it’s remarkably different when your weekly homework includes doing a close reading of a Reginald McKnight story, and writing a draft of your own story for a group workshop, than when your homework includes doing close readings of case studies from the academic journals International Journal of Environmental & Science Education and Child Development.

THIS IS NOT A REGINALD MCKNIGHT STORY.

THIS IS NOT A REGINALD MCKNIGHT STORY. THERE ARE SO MANY GYRUS!

And, thinking about these past five weeks — the reading, reflection papers, discussion questions, and one presentation I’ve done (that made me feel like a teacher again for about fifteen minutes!) — I decided to share with you the lessons I’ve learned.

I Sure Love a College Campus

Now, this is a silly lesson to learn, because I already know this. I work on a college campus, and I love where I work. But my campus at MCC isn’t what people usually think of when they think “college campus”: It’s a single (albeit large) building where commuter students walk to-and-from the parking lot with their backpacks rather than to and from their college buildings by way of pedestrian walkways and quads.

When I went to DePaul, all of my classes were in the same building (the now-demolished McGaw Hall) and I lived on Deming Place at Orchard, which was only six blocks away. This didn’t give me a “college campus” environment, either, at least not in the same way I’d experienced undergrad at Madison, where everything sprawled out over a green, hilly campus, and most of my classes were in this 165-year old building:

What you don't see is Bascom Hill, leading up to this building, and a murderer of a climb to do every goddamned weekday morning for four years. Especially during a Wisconsin winter.

What you don’t see is Bascom Hill, leading up to this building, and a murderer of a climb to do almost every weekday morning for four years. Especially during a Wisconsin winter.

So when I got to UIC’s campus and walked from the #60 bus stop to the Education, Theater, Music, and Social Work Building, and I was surrounded by young adults wearing backpacks, looking all adorable and studenty, I felt right at home. A college campus is a place where it’s totally normal to hang out at the library (I was lucky to find a tiny seat at a counter in the technology section of the first floor at Daley Library last Tuesday), where it’s not uncommon to see someone walking around in pajama pants (I’ve embraced my jeans and t-shirts, but haven’t taken it quite this far yet […yet]), and where you might see art pieces in trees as you walk to your lecture hall.

Hey, tree eagle. Treagle.

Hey, tree eagle. Treagle.

And then, when I had to drive to campus one afternoon, this was my view from the campus parking lot:

img_9968

I mean, come on. Come onnnnn.

This wonderful view, as well as my new commute using CTA buses and trains, confirmed my love of college campuses and informed the next lesson.

I Kinda Miss Chicago

After spending five weeks floating around the Loop and UIC’s campus, usually on the #60 bus or the Blue Line, but sometimes on my own two feet, I realized that Chicago is so easy to maneuver, and I really miss that.

Now, I love Camp Crystal Lake, but it’s nice to be totally anonymous for a few hours every week, to be able to get lunch somewhere and then walk half a block to get a cup of coffee and then walk four more steps to a bus that will take me where I need to go in five minutes. It is so easy. And easy is so nice.

You Can Never Have Too Many Library Cards

I now have three working library cards (yes, I still have my Chicago Public Library card because it’s hard to part with something that was very important to you for so long, and it’s so small that no one will know and my wallet doesn’t mind don’t worry I asked): my Crystal Lake Public Library card; my McHenry County College library card; and now, as of last week, my University of Illinois Chicago library card.

I CAN CHECK OUT BOOKS IN THREE DIFFERENT LIBRARIES GUESS WHAT I’LL BE DOING THIS WEEK CHECKING OUT BOOKS FROM THREE DIFFERENT LIBRARIES, SUCKERS!

Sorry. The power has gone to my head.

I Know What My Professors Are Doing

Not, like, right now. I’m not a creepy weirdo. But I do know what they’re doing in respect to their teaching and grading practices. There’s a benefit to being a teacher-student.

See, I have weekly assignments due in each of my classes: a reflection paper, discussion questions, and a chapter self-quiz in one class, and discussion questions for another. I submit these all through Blackboard, our online learning management system.

And the first three weeks, my professors gave lots of feedback for all of the assignments. My psychology professor gave comments on each of my three page reflection papers, engaging my ideas and giving me thought-provoking comments. My policy professor gave general comments about my discussion questions. I was happy to get all of the feedback, but I certainly wasn’t surprised that week four came and went with no new grades entered into my account, and, in the middle of week five, when I finally got new grades, there were no comments.

The first few weeks of any semester, teachers have high hopes for the amount of feedback they can give each student and the amount of time it will take them to grade a single set of assignments for a single class. As the assignments pour in, however, and as the semester continues to chug along, teachers understand how unrealistic their hopes really were.

I go through this every single semester. I used to beat myself up over it, but then I realized, after chatting with my colleagues, that we all suffer this same fate. There’s never enough time, nor enough hours in the the day, nor enough energy in our bodies.

So, to my professors, I say, thank you, and I appreciate you and your work, and I won’t ask you when you’ll have my group project graded. You know the one I did two and a half weeks ago? Don’t worry, I won’t ask. Promise. I won’t.

Everything Is Better When It’s Covered in Kittens

Case in point:

coefficient-cacophony-and-cats

This is a passage from a week four reading assignment. I covered it in kittens for you.

I Don’t Mind Working In Small Groups

Now, most people (at least 99.9% of my students) dislike working in small groups. I force my students to do it almost every week during the semester, even if it’s just for a small-stakes discussion or activity. It’s good to generate ideas before a large group discussion; it’s good for brainstorming; it’s good to promote teamwork and individual responsibility.

But people still don’t like it!

I’ve used this to my advantage as a student this semester to take a leadership role in my small groups. For me, it’s really easy to do, and people speak up after I break the ice. In fact, my first group was so okay with my nerdy, group-happy participation, that they didn’t mind if I took a picture of the development model we were working on:

It's a puzzle piece and we rocked it.

It’s a set of puzzle pieces, and we rocked it.

And a few weeks ago, the group I worked with on a class presentation didn’t even laugh at me when I made this picture after being stunned and driven into hysterical laughter about the Federal Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) sex education programming for adolescents:

A required piece of curriculum included a video showed a young woman asking a nurse what would happen if she had sex before marriage; this was the nurse's reply.

Curriculum included a video dramatizing a young woman asking a nurse what would happen if she had sex before marriage; this was the nurse’s reply.

Of course I didn’t include this picture in the presentation, but my group didn’t kick me out for making it, so I think we all know who won here.

Teachers — All Teachers — Appreciate This Whiskey

teachers-whiskey

Um, or any whiskey, TBH.

I didn’t learn this last one in grad school; it’s just a Truth in the world. A TRUTH.

Well, that’s it for now! It took me about four days to finish this post because each time I started to work on it, I realized that I had more reading to do. So, maybe my next post will be completed by Halloween!

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