It was an unceremonious printing of a letter that came through email after I submitted my final project in my final graduate class. I thought about playing "Pomp and Circumstance" on my laptop speakers, but I was too busy rushing off to teach my next class.
And herein ends a very long saga of Emilie going to school. I haven't really been able to stop going to school since I started. I love school. I love being a teacher, of course, but I also love being a student. I love getting A's and positive feedback, shopping for back-to-school clothes, drinking coffee in the school union, and thinking of my life in terms of semesters. Anyone who thinks the new year starts in January is crazy. In my world, every year begins in September and ends in May or June.
It's odd then, that I am wrapping up this school life just weeks before the calendar year ends. Because there is no winter graduation at University of Maine, I will have to wait until the spring to wear my cap and gown, but as of yesterday, I am officially d.o.n.e., turning the tassel from right to left.
When I was 22 and I graduated from University of Michigan, I thought I was happy to be done going to school, but the truth is, it took me only weeks before I pined for a classroom again. My last years in Ann Arbor left me with such a love of reading and writing and ivy-covered buildings and course selection catalogs and all-night computer labs, that I was lost without the university life. My very first job out of college was a paralegal in a law firm in San Francisco. I found myself sitting at my desk and daydreaming about bluebooks and highlighters and college football and stacks of novels: I started that job in September and quit in May (isn't this when the semester ends?).
After a year or two of bouncing around jobs in SF, I signed up for a graduate program to get my teaching credential at San Francisco State, the beginning of my teaching career and the beginning of many, many hours back in a classroom. I walked onto the campus of San Francisco State 16 years ago, and I can still tell you exactly how I felt when I sat down in Bruce Avery's Teaching Shakespeare class on the first floor of the Humanities Building. True, I was a little bit in love with Bruce Avery (so handsome!), but really, I was in love with learning and talking about learning. When you create a teaching unit on Othello that you are so proud of that you move yourself to tears, you know you have chosen the right career.
When I moved to Maine and started teaching high school, I quickly took advantage of the fact that my school department paid for my continued education. I wanted more. I enrolled in the Masters program in English and took classes for four semesters. I researched and wrote long papers and analyzed texts through feminist lenses and argued about William Carlos Williams' enigmatic prose. My focus had shifted, though, after teaching high school, and I found this level of study kind of (gasp) pointless.
Somewhere in the middle of a Modern British Writers class when we were arguing for 45 minutes about one line in Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush," I thought: "Wait. How is this making the world a better place?"
So I quit that English Masters program.
I realize that is a really crazy thing for a teacher of literature and writing to say. However, I maintain that as a high school English teacher, I don't so much teach English as teach kids, and that I use writing and books to talk about ideas, and about all of the really important parts of being a human being. All of the novels and plays and poems that we teach are just vehicles to talk about truth, lies, power, love, pain, suffering, joy, redemption, forgiveness, and on and on. After a year or two of teaching, I just knew I wanted to keep talking about the ways to teach and engage kids, to help kids write more and better, and to help them love school as much as I do.
I transferred my English credits to the College of Education and earned my Masters a few years later. During those years, I met Rich Kent, a former high school English Teacher Rock Star, and now professor and writer and advisor and mentor and dear friend. Rich encouraged me to co-teach some classes during the summers, to submit writing for publication, and to come up and talk to his classes full of future teachers; he basically kept a fire lit under me about writing and teaching it.
After I graduated with my Masters, I took a year off (during which I had a baby or something to keep me busy), and then soon Rich told me about a new degree program he was starting at UMaine called Writing and the Teaching of Writing. "Isn't this perfect for you? Aren't you ready to earn your CAS?" (In case you aren't familiar, a CAS, "Certificate of Advanced Study," is comparable to a second Masters). It didn't take much for Rich to twist my arm.
I started two years ago, took classes each semester, during summers, and two classes this fall, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. As of this week, I have finished the program, and now I have some extra letters after my name: M.Ed, CAS.
All that is left now would be to keep going and get my PhD. Don't think it hasn't occurred to me more than a few times. But first, I'll take a semester off, until Rich calls me and starts bugging me to come back.
I know how lucky I am to have been provided so many opportunities to keep going to school. My affiliation with UMaine has given me many cool challenges and ways to think about my teaching, to write, and to make great friends, to connect with other teachers; and this summer, thanks to Rich's confidence in me, I will teach my first graduate class.
No more homework for me for a while. Next up: It's POETRY OUT LOUD on Friday! And then.... VACATION.
(Thank you all so much for all the love in response to my last post. I seriously am humbled by and grateful for your words. I'm so lucky).