Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#52 Stories - FAIL


The question posed is "What role has failure played in your efforts to achieve your goals?

I'm no stranger to failure and can easily attest to the value of tearing down a thing so that what is subsequently built back up is stronger.  When I was a senior in high school I went to school for one class (Civics) and then drove from Lake Tahoe to Reno (actually Sparks) to go to the Prater Way School of Cosmetology.  I did this every day until graduation.  After I completed the courses I worked in the beauty shop at the MGM Grand until Anna was born. Then we moved to Winnemucca, NV.  I worked first at Judy's and then at the Scissors' Palace, and last at a shop whose name I can't recall.  I left Judy's when Brenda was born, I left the Scissors' Palace because I was not making enough money to pay for the gas to get there, and I left the last one because I couldn't get along with the owner.  It is tempting to roll out all of the reasons and wherefores but the bottom line is that I really didn't succeed at cosmetology. I had a number of other jobs over the years to keep the bills paid.  They weren't intended to move me closer to my goals, just to keep the wolf from the door.  I tried a number of ways to supplement the money I made, cake decorating, sewing, ironing, delivering balloons.  I could add a few dollars but not make a living.

Lesson #1 - I am not a salesperson.  I could have made lots more money as a hairdresser (cosmetologist) if I had been able to sell my services and the shop products to people.  I had the skill - there were never any complaints about the work I did but it was not enough.

After we moved to American Fork I got serious about wanting to go back to school.  I applied at BYU and was rejected so I went to Utah Valley Community College for one semester. Then my husband died and the kids and I moved to Sandy, Ut.  I enrolled in the University of Utah majoring in Psychology.  My original goal was to become a psychologist (requires a PhD.)  I got good grades and in the meantime changed my goal to Social Work.  So I applied to the School of Social Work.  I was denied.  After that I decided to become a Child Life Specialist.  I finished a dual degree in Psychology and  Human Development and Family Studies with a 3.84 GPA. Then I began an unpaid internship at the Primary Children's Hospital.  It was really a struggle for me.  I am a shy person.  This job required me to work with many, many different professionals as well as children who were critically, sometimes fatally, ill.  I wasn't good at it and I was asked to leave.  This failure broke my heart.  I did LOTS of praying after this experience because I had sincerely loved working with the children. By this time I had remarried and was again active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. One of the great blessings of the church is the opportunity to serve in callings that give you experience in a variety of areas.  I served in many teaching capacities.  As I served in the Primary (children ages 3 to 12)  people said to me "You are so good with the children.  You should become a teacher."  I always responded, "No, I don't want to do that".  I went to work part time in a drug and alcohol treatment center for adolescents.  Nope, that particular place wasn't my niche either.  Then I worked for United Cerebral Palsy (and I delivered pizza in the evenings).  I caught some flack about U of U graduates becoming pizza delivery drivers but I loved the work with the families and children of UCP.

In February of 1999 I moved to Minnesota.  I went to work for Adventures Plus, a school age day care program run by the Community Education branch of Anoka Hennepin School District.  That worked for awhile, until it didn't.  Again, I enjoyed the kids.  I ended up working as a paraprofessional at Hamilton Elementary in North Minneapolis.  I loved it, but the teachers there encouraged me to get my teaching license. 

Lesson #2 - It is often necessary to refine my goals.  Sometimes it is necessary to completely redefine my goals.  Sometimes it is necessary to get out of my own way and listen to the message the Lord is sending me and let him direct my goals.  At age 40 I had finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  My joy is to teach. (Duh!)

Minnesota has stiff requirements to get a teaching license.  The number of courses I needed to complete to qualify for a teaching license was enough to get me a master's degree in education.  I completed the courses at Saint Mary's for a teaching degree in education and was licensed to teach Kindergarten through 8th grade with a language arts focus for middle school.  These courses were completed in the evenings while I continued to work at Hamilton.  When it came time to student teach I was loathe to give up my job at Hamilton so I could student teach for 6 weeks full time without pay.  I proposed a plan to my supervisor at Saint Mary's where I would spend part of my day at Hamilton student teaching.  It required me to devise a schedule to cover the necessary time and competencies for the course. This needed to be approved by supervisors in both settings.  It was an unprecedented approach to student teaching.  I'm still proud of the assertiveness it required for me to propose and complete such a plan.

Lesson #3 - I learned problem solving and perseverance. It is always necessary to explore options. Being told no is neither scary nor shaming.

At that time, it was difficult to find a job as a new teacher. The baby boomers who were expected to begin retiring had lost ground in their retirement plans because of the "economic downturn".  So they kept working.  The Minneapolis School district was downsizing to the tune of $90 million dollars.  Hamilton hired me to teach Kindergarten for a year and then the school was closed.   I went to the job fairs and applied for dozens of jobs in more than 7 school districts.  I was trying to avoid AH11 because I had left Adventures Plus in failure mode. Finally I admitted defeat and applied to the largest school district in the state for a job.  What I quickly learned was that special education teachers were getting hired.  

I went back to school. (See lesson #2 - He wasn't done with me yet) I was hired as a special education teacher to work half time at Madison Elementary and half time at Morris Bye Elementary on a licensure variance while I completed my teaching license in special education with an Emotional Behaviors Disorders (EBD) focus.  Again, this was enough coursework to qualify me for a second masters.  I declined to finish the final piece for the masters at either school because I was afraid it would price me out of the running as a second year teacher. The principal at Madison Elementary was Cindy Hitt.  I thought she was a control freak but (thank the Lord) I was mature enough by then to try to learn from her controlling ways.  I learned a lot from Cindy Hitt and she became a mentor and a friend.  I also gained two more of my closest friends, Amy Franke and Laura Voorhees.  Both of these ladies went out of their way to help me succeed.

Lesson #4 - Allow people to help.  (I still struggle with this one)

 Once I went to work, I was too busy to finish the thesis required for my masters. I worked at Madison Elementary until 2012. For 3 of those years I was the Special Education department lead for the building.  A new principal and a new department lead at Madison marked the time for me to move on.  Morris Bye also had a new principal and needed an EBD centerbase teacher.  Centerbase (CB) classes are setting III.  This means that the students spend 60% or more of their time in the CB classroom apart  from their non-disabled peers.  I spent 4 years in this setting.  It was hard.  I could go on and on about how difficult this setting was but that is not the focus of this entry.  In the end, I failed in a spectacular way.  I had a full emotional breakdown.  I was suicidal and afraid I would hurt one of the children.  I could not stop crying.  I took a medical leave of absence and got some counseling.  I discovered what real friendship is at this point.  My friends rallied around, we had lunch dates and chats on the phone.  One friend swooped in and taught my primary lesson (with about 10 min. notice) because I had a meltdown at church.  My friends who are teachers or administrators gave me good advice and I received help from the teachers' union.  It was the absolute hardest thing I've ever done and that is saying something (but that's another story).  When I was ready to return to work, the doctor did not release me to go back to the setting III.  The district tried to say that this meant I was disabled and I would need to go on full disability at 70% of my salary.  After conferring with the union the district agreed to allow me to sub until the end of the year and then apply during the in-house application window to find a new job.  The only way they would agree to this was with the caveat that if I failed to find another job I would have to leave the district.  It was a horrible time.  

Lesson #5 - Everybody has limits.

During the job application window my mother was put in hospice care at my brother's house in Lake Tahoe.  She died a few weeks later. My father had multiple surgeries for cancer, and I broke my ankle. In the meantime I applied for more than 40 positions without a single response.  Some of my previous supervisors had heard that I was subbing and had contacted me to do some long term subbing at schools they worked at.  The principal of the school where I was working in May had posted 3 positions so I applied for all of them and talked to him about my applications.  When 2 of the positions had filled from outside the district I went back to him to remind him I'd applied.  The teachers I was working with expressed the hope that I'd be returning.  He did not respond to me but I received a call from the district that morning informing me that my application had been blocked at the district level.  No one had seen any of my applications. The union had my back, though, and I had our agreements documented.  It took a whole summer of wrangling, hand wringing, praying, and waiting but I was finally placed in Mississippi Elementary school as a resource teacher.  The staff at Mississippi have become my friends.  I'm happy there and am nearly back to my old self emotionally - older and much, much, wiser.

Lesson #6 - God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Reinhold Niebuhr

I know it seems like a dangerous thing to say outloud but I am grateful for my failures and my challenges.  I have faith that my Father in Heaven has a plan for me and that my Savior will help me get there if I am willing to do my part. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

#52 Stories - I can do it myself.

Before the course
My mother told me that my first full sentence was "I can do it myself".  This week's question asks me to relate something I taught myself to do.  There are a number of crafts, etc. that I have investigated and used books or the internet to teach myself to do them.  I can't in honesty say I am good at many of them but I find joy in the learning process.  When I get inspired by something I dive in.  But I digress.

One of the things I basically learned on my own is how to decorate cakes.  When my children were small I wanted to create wonderful, memorable cakes for their birthdays.  I loved to bake and wanted to create beautiful things.  As I mentioned, when I am inspired by something I tend to dive in.  We lived in Winnemucca, NV. at the time.  For the uninformed about western geography, Winnemucca is a smallish town in the middle of Nevada - a solid 200 miles from any dot on the map most people might have heard of.  We didn't have a Michael's or any other place to take lessons but I did pick up a Wilton cake decorating magazine somewhere.  I don't remember where at this point. The magazine offered a correspondence course in cake decorating!  I had so much fun!  One memorable practice cake I made was for one of our weekly game nights with the Browns.  They came to our house to play cards, or Risk, or something of the kind (awesome memories).  I think the cake looked pretty good but I had experimented with a cooked frosting recipe.  When we went to cut it I actually had to break through the frosting to get to the cake - it was distinctly rocklike! HA!  I've gathered up a few of my early efforts.

Brenda's 5th birthday cake.  This was the "final exam" for the course.

After that I started doing cakes for people who asked me to. When we moved to Utah I worked in a bakery in American Fork, then in a bakery in Smith's decorating cakes.  After moving to Minnesota I was invited to teach Wilton cake decorating at one of the Michael's stores.  It was lots of fun.

Here are a few of my more recent efforts:

Sunday, August 6, 2017

#52stories - Goals & Achievements

My Sunday School lesson today was on the blessings of keeping a personal journal.  For a time, this blog was my journal so I am determined to resurrect my motivation to keep a personal journal.  My goal is to write every Sunday afternoon (at least).  In preparing for the lesson, I came across the #52stories movement on  They provided 12 questions under 12 different topics for people to write about to create a personal history.  I love the writing prompts and encourage anyone who has talked about writing their personal history and hasn't gotten around to it to check it out. 
The question I have chosen to answer today is: "What is your earliest memory of feeling proud of yourself?"

I remember being an indifferent student at school during the primary years.  I wanted to be liked but didn't care much about being good at school. I went to Kindergarten and first grade in Bountiful, Utah.  I don't remember the name of the school, but I would bet that Diane Jensen does. By third grade I had begun to realize that I had the ability to be a good student.  I remember feeling very good about getting good grades. I had also discovered that I liked to learn new things.  I had moved to Lake Tahoe by then.  I was attending Zephyr Cove Elementary School.  I don't remember all of my teachers but my sixth grade teacher was Mr. Barsness.  He was an encouraging teacher with a great sense of humor. He used to trade all of the silver dollars for paper ones when we paid for our lunches.  He put the silver dollars in a coffee can until he had enough to buy a new radio.  We were all anxiously watching the process and waiting for the new radio.  Finally he had enough money and he bought this shiny new radio.  First thing in the morning he caught all of our attention and turned it on.  In those days radio's had to be tuned with a knob.  All we heard was static until he began to turn the little knob.  Then, clear as day the words "
Jockey Underwear" came singing from the speakers.  We laughed so hard that some kids fell out of their seats.  Mr. Barsness put his head down on his desk and laughed so hard that the blond hair on his scalp turned pink as his scalp turned bright red!
I am 3rd from the right on the front row.