In 2006, when Stu started working on his undergrad again at PHCC and I started at Saint Leo, I had a sort of vague idea that I might, one day, want to leave the classroom to become an administrator. I was brand new at Hudson, only teaching my second semester of classes when I was applying for graduate school. I barely knew what it meant to be an administrator, but I probably thought I could do it easily. I remember seeing my peers taking the classes and completing the projects required of the masters program, thinking that I could very successfully do the work they were being assigned. So I entered the Masters in Education Leadership program at Saint Leo University.
I kept pace with Stu; as he was toiling away at the tedious prerequisites in math and science, I was taking one class at a time. When he transferred his credits to Saint Leo, and started his Bachelors in Education program in earnest, driving to Saint Leo two or three nights a week on top of a full-time job and homework for several online classes, I plodded along as well, taking more classes online so I wasn’t out of the house any more than necessary. We had Cari, after all, and she was still in daycare.
For those who knew us then, our family must have looked very scholarly, as if this intellectual pursuit was something so noble and pure. We would stay after hours at school to complete our school assignments before picking up Cari. Then I would take Cari home while Stu drove to Saint Leo for his three-hour classes, and I would grade papers at the kitchen table while Cari hung out in the other room. Stu would finish up classes and nearly fall asleep on the long drive home along 52 because there isn’t anything to look at on 52 except cows and trees. We managed this while serving as class sponsors and chaperones, attending football games on Friday nights or conducting fundraisers on Saturdays. But the truth of our experience wasn’t nearly so noble. When we were both in classes, Stu and I would bicker constantly, we really sucked as parents, and we allowed TV to parent Cari while we finished homework. I have a sharp memory from this time: one Wednesday night, the night when discussions were due in every single class EVER, Stu sat in the bedroom struggling to complete an assignment, and I sat in the living room struggling to complete an assignment, while Cari cried and screamed hysterically from the bedroom. I was certainly crying, too, blinking through my tears to focus my vision on a stupid, ridiculous, pointless, and meaningless discussion post before 11:59 so I could get the credit.
But in May 2010, at the same ceremony, Stu earned his bachelors degree in education, and I earned my masters degree in education leadership. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Working through my masters program while my husband earned his bachelors revealed to me so much about what education really looks like for some people. I thought, in my naiveté, that everyone’s college experience should be like mine. I went to Mary Washington College, which I’ve mentioned here before, and experienced college in a stereotypical, but not very realistic, way. I lived in the dorms for all four years. I huddled into the library, pouring over thick, stinky books for obscure commentaries. I wrote papers until the sun came up. I worked impossibly hard, and I had the opportunity to delve deeply into Dickinson, Shakespeare, and Milton. To this day I cannot recreate the level of analysis I was able to achieve in those days. Lord, I was self-important! But I never worked a job during college other than as a resident assistant or English Department assistant. My only serious relationships were with my roommates and friends; I didn’t date seriously, and certainly didn’t have a child. I had no idea what many, many others experience in getting their education. But as a grown up, I was able to understand that just making it through was an accomplishment worthy of great praise, and one hell of a big party.
I consider myself lucky to have had both experiences: the stereotypical college experience and the adult learning experience. As a stereotypical college student, I learned how to really, really work at something, content so challenging that I had to pick through it to understand every. single. word. I learned how to speak with other smart people without making myself look like an idiot. I learned how to operate under deadlines. I learned how to BS like a pro, when necessary, and I learned that sometimes BS wasn’t going to cut it. But as an adult going back to school, I learned to balance priorities that really count. I learned how to support my husband selflessly. I learned that sometimes Cari needs to see me work at something so she gets how important it is for her to work at something, too. I learned that sometimes just getting something done was worth celebrating. And I learned how to work impossibly hard, even when a million distractions are rattling around in my head fighting for attention.
So it isn’t only the content of my masters program that I will use one day as an administrator. I will also use the grit and determination that I picked up while writing discussion posts while tears blurred my vision and my daughter cried in the other room.