The writing prompt: Here you should share ideas about your own life experiences, the unexpected moments in your life that have shaped who you are, as well as your thoughts about creative and life-writing. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background. As you look back upon your life, what key experiences have you had? How have they shaped the person you are today? Why?
My response: I've been thinking about this assignment all day today, trying to pinpoint interesting things that I might share with my classmates. I don’t feel there’s very much that’s especially interesting. This is not a ploy to get compliments or to be built up; I’m quiet, an introvert – I prefer to listen. I’m reluctant to talk about much of my personal life; I dislike sharing information about marriage and children because I prefer compartmentalizing, and I’m not sure I care to be identified primarily or initially as someone’s mother (or not) or someone’s spouse (or not).
I’m a teacher by training; I have a background in secondary English education, related to a degree I (finally) obtained in 2007, officially in my early 30s – approximately an hour before the economy went down the drain – so I’ve ironically found it easier to find jobs teaching English composition at the college level (despite apparently being “unqualified” without a graduate degree) than finding a job teaching secondary-level English, despite my teaching license. That aside, just six weeks ago I began teaching high school English at a charter school about 20 miles south of home (outside Salt Lake City). I teach high school English part time, and adjunct part time at the local community college. I started teaching high school about a month after the school year had begun, which was a scramble, to say the least. I’m glad I’m most of the way done with this graduate degree; otherwise I’m not sure I could have juggled it all. This semester, I’m teaching three classes at the local community college; I’m teaching three high school English classes and one junior high-level film and literature class; and taking one lonely class at NAU.
The defining year of my life was the year I lived in Germany as a child. I’m not part of a military family. No indeed – my immediate family is primarily one of teachers and engineers, with a creative musical streak that runs through us, and a family-wide interest in technology. Because my mother won a Fulbright scholarship, my parents, brother, and I were uprooted and moved from eastern Pennsylvania to southwestern West Germany. Yes, West Germany. We were there during the 1987-1988 school year. The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, and Germany was reunified on October 3, 1990.
Because my father was a math teacher (since retired), he was able to take a sabbatical. My mother, a German teacher, taught English at the Gymnasium Plochingen; the English teacher she replaced taught German at the high school in which my mother taught at the time. My brother was in 10th grade; I was in 6th grade. My classmates had had a year of English; I had no German. This was unilaterally a painful, unpleasant year for me, although the adults that my parents talked to and shared our experiences with thought it was really neat that we lived abroad. I am convinced that anything is more interesting when you choose to do it. That year, however, was probably a bad time for me to change schools. The transition from (in my case, a very small) elementary school to a middle school is one of the most challenging academic transitions a child can make. The experience was exacerbated in my case because of the language barrier and because of the lack of preparation I was given.
I’m truly not trying to be hyperbolic. This really was an academically and personally disastrous year for me. It affected me to the extent that I had academic problems in junior high and high school (I learned that unless one was a horrible student, earned horrendous grades, or was disrespectful, or unless one was a stellar student, one was ignored; with one exception, I was overlooked and ignored). I flunked out of college in a spectacular fashion, trying college several times before it “took," for lack of a better phrase.
There may be a psychological connection between that year abroad and my comfort teaching middle school students. I’m not sure if one would categorize that as being stunted, but I find students of that age very enjoyable and easy to relate to, as I do college students in their first year of college. Something about guiding students through transitional periods of their life, which is why I enjoy teaching (and I do love teaching basic writing).
I find a great comfort in writing; I find myself able to express myself with greater ease in that capacity. Life writing can be therapeutic, which is probably one of the reasons in which I blog; it helps me organize my thoughts and work my way through whatever it is that’s percolating in my mind at the time. That year abroad affected my outlook, my communication style, and my learning.