Thursday, July 12, 2012

Week two, two and a half, maybe? What day is it today?

Free time really only exists here in the early morning, (now) or the very late nights. And because the very late nights usually involve me giggling at the other Ashley across the hall over things that wouldn't even hold the slightest bit of humor in the real world because in that world I don't work seventeen hour days and live where I work and eat where I work and work, where I work, here at Yale.

Week two began slowly and frankly, it creeped me out how well things were going. I am sharp enough to know that we've done a stellar job, here, but I don't really much care for complacency and I have no intention of slowing down until my time here ends. There's always a better best. Week two is about shaping the academics happening here. Improving classes, conferencing with all thirty (down from thirty two-did you catch that? That's another story that involves my mother deciding that "The Terminator" is a fantastic nickname for her youngest daughter) instructors, and beginning prep for Parent Visitation Day this Sunday. I knew coming up here that the greatest challenge for me would be looking a tenured Yale Professor in the eye and explaining why you can't teach 13 year olds the same way that you teach Ivy League-ers. I stand at a looming five foot two and possess a voice that has been called both elf-ish and totally communicable with neighborhood dogs due to its high-pitched frequencies which occur, let's face it, at pretty regular intervals. Pair that with my southern-ness, which comes out full force out here as a defense mechanism, and I just didn't see how anyone that educated and experienced was going to take a lick of guidance from me.

And, to be fair, some have not. I've had the most difficult conversations of my professional career here at Yale. I always tell the children back home that this is a sure sign that you're learning-it's not comfortable, you kind of feel like you might die a little, but you get right on through it & that other side looks just fine. To be even more honest-these types of talks were the ones that comprised the end of my first week in the program as Academic Dean and the start of this week, too. And then, just when my heart was hurting and I was wondering if perhaps I should review all the Terminator movies just to get some tips on how to emotionally separate myself from that awful process-I had the type of talk that I'd wanted all along.

She's a college professor with a wealth of experience and knowledge. She's teaching middle school children-and up until very recently, the class was primarily lecture & video. I observed, took notes, brainstormed strategies that have worked with my own sweet peas in South Carolina, and then, very carefully, had the talk. Admittedly, I braced myself for the blow that I'd become pretty used to after last week. But it never came. She was receptive and appreciative. And y'all-the strategies I suggested are now in that class and working. Children are happy. She's happy. And I did that.

I really believe life's got this balance-like you work real hard, and you struggle on and on, and then you get this really sweet reprieve. That's what this is, I'm sure. While I know that more challenges lie ahead-(Company President arrives tomorrow) I also know that this job wouldn't be nearly as rewarding if it weren't the absolute toughest thing I've ever taken on as an educator. And, when you've got the support of good, solid, smart folks like the ones I have with me here, you can really do just about anything.

Even on five hours of sleep, which is totally your fault because you stayed up til the wee hours of the morning eating pizza at staff social and laughing so very hard at things that again, are not at all real world funny.

But this is not the real world. It is, however, mine for a few more weeks & I fully intend to live every minute of it the best I can.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An update from Yale: Week 1

There are so many versions of the "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" cliche that I'm tempted to just list them all right here & leave my summary of my first week here at Yale at that. But that wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be right. To be truthful, it's made me more alive & wise than I've been in years. It's been the sort of challenge that anyone with any sort of ambition or grateful nature would kill for. In short, I'm about two inches from in over my head and loving every single minute on the edge.
A bit of background: I am an Academic Dean in a summer program for highly gifted and talented students attending Yale University for this three week session. It's an intense, academically rigorous program and I'm in charge of everything that is academically rigorous. The numbers demonstrate that: 74 classes, 32 instructors. Among them, published authors, Ivy League Professors, etc. It's perhaps the most talented group of educators anywhere, and I've somehow managed to become their leader. I'm fortunate to have another Ashley with me, here, who makes all of this quite possible. In addition to speaking Mandarin fluently, she's got a life that's taken her all over the world. She is fearless and brilliant and she is what gets me through most of these very long, very hard days. Together, we make this happen. We visited 36 classes in one day. We know this campus, these courses, their materials, their instructional frameworks and their academic budgets, all too well. Between the two of us and our overachiever brains, we can pull up details on any of these 32 faculty members, the daily lessons they share with our genius children, and the classrooms which make all of this academic magic happen each day.
Our office staff is true camp staff in that they are, without question, some of the best folks I've ever met. I adore these people & they were the sort who were strangers only for the first five minutes I met them. Following that, we were family. We are family. I mean no offense to my very wonderful and gracious circle of friends down South, but know this: you've got competition. New England has once again stolen my heart and made me all too aware of professional possibilities here in the north.
The other piece of this gigantic summer job puzzle are the TAs, who double as counselors here on site and are young-mostly college age, from everywhere, including Scotland & England. They're brilliant and far more capable and literate that I ever recall being at age 20. We've built solid bonds that I'd like to believe will last past my time with them. So many of them want to be teachers & I'm hopeful that this experience will propel them into that career. It is, after all, the greatest job in the world & children everywhere would be awfully lucky to be taught by any of these folks.
Yale, itself is surreal. Every inch of this campus breaks my heart. The buildings, the old old books, and the bike paths that I take daily-as part of my "job," mind you-are by far the most beautiful I've ever seen. New Haveners, too, are lovely. I've met several locals in coffee shops & around the town and am now quite sure that southern hospitality can, indeed, extend north.
I think that's quite an update. I should sleep now, as these days top 17 hours nearly every day & the morning brings more teacher observations. Just know that I'm here and lucky and happy. So very, very happy.