Trenton Makes, the World Takes: Leadership & Teaching in the Capital City

There is a saying in Trenton which states: Trenton makes, the world takes. It is a bold statement made by a city as vibrant as its diversity. It’s also something you wouldn’t know about Trenton unless you lived and worked in the area. While the statement comes from a time where Trenton was a huge manufacturing hub for Roebling Steel, the adage has taken on new meaning in more recent time.

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From nj.com via google images

For me, personally, I can say that Trenton made me the educator that I became. I grew up in East Brunswick, NJ about an hour north of our Capital City. I lived in a suburb of New York City and on 9/11 we were lived close enough that we were able to see the dust cloud from the top of my street. I attended Rutgers University and graduated with a dual degree in Art History and Journalism and Media Studies. I lived abroad in Paris and thought my life was going to take me to places very far from here. Trenton was not on my radar other than it being a place that you didn’t go. Where I lived, Trenton was the hood and we were often told that if you stepped foot in Trenton you would be shot. That is all I knew about our capital.

Fast forward some years to my mid-20’s when I was a teacher that was tired of my original school district making me a French teacher each chance they had instead of hiring me for tenure track English positions. I sent resumes out to everywhere I could and had several offers that summer. Trenton was one of them and Trenton was the one that I chose.

Yes, I chose to come to Trenton.

I chose Trenton because for a couple of summers I wrote and facilitated programming for the CYO in Ewing and I found that I loved the kids and the families. While Trenton is rough and raw and yes, you can get shot and killed in Trenton, our capital city also makes some of the best families and kids I have ever had the privilege to work with.

In my six years in the capital city, I have lost a student to gang violence (she was one of my favorites too), watched several of my students become mothers before their time, coached sports and facilitated clubs, run home instruction for sick kids that are often forgotten in the system, met my husband and gotten married, bought a house, finished my master’s degree and am in the final chapter of writing my doctoral dissertation. I have had kids write essays about being smuggled into our country, sat and listened to them as they cried about their losses—no matter how big or small, and have sat with kids in police stations after they were arrested and waited with them until their parents came.

And in each of these experiences and relationships I have made with students and their families, I became the educator I couldn’t have been able to become had I stayed in my original district. Trenton taught me the importance of relationships and the importance of rising up to meet the needs of your students. However, those needs aren’t always academic and sometimes a student just needs someone who would listen.

I think that is true of most people, not just kids. I moved into teaching college at a campus within our capital city and I teach foundation courses for students who do not test into regular classes. I teach reading and so often, my students are products of Trenton who are trying to better themselves. Foundation classes have a high dropout rate because they are hard and work heavy. And so often with nontraditional students, you have nontraditional problems. I have students who are under 30 and already have five or six kids. Some women are pregnant and others are part of a parole program with the state that are coming to school to better their lives out of poverty and out of the system.

And that’s the tricky piece: poverty. When you live in poverty all you know is survival. If you’re lucky enough to get to the mind frame of betterment, then you need people who are going to lead you to accomplishing something better for your life and more often than not, the key to bettering your life is through getting some form of an education whether it is completing a college degree, certificate or learning a trade is up to the person, but regardless of their choice, they need people who will help lead them out of poverty.

For me, on a teaching level, that means I allow my college students to bring their kids to class if they can’t find a baby sitter. I allow my students makeup blocks to fix any grade they don’t like. I offer embedded extra credit opportunities that they often don’t even realize is extra work because it’s quick and often, they take ownership of the task because it lends to their interest or their point that they are trying to assert on any given topic.

Now, as an emerging school leader, I see helping students living in poverty not only needing everything I provide them on a teaching level, but on a leadership level we need to be offering students consistency. We need to stop implementing new program every other year, we need leaders who are going to stay in our schools and not push to privatize and outsource teachers and staff to save money. We need to put money into our infrastructure and fix the buildings we have been teaching in (and neglecting) since the 1920’s. Our kids and our families deserve better.

They deserve a light that leads them out of poverty and into a comfortable life where day to day survival isn’t at the heart of their existence. We need leaders who care and who are going to stay and fight for our kids instead of creating situations where we’re just fighting each other.

What It’s Really Like

A lot of the time I get from people the “I don’t know how you do it all” comment.

And the truth is, I really don’t either, but I’ll give you a glimpse into what it’s really like.

It’s 3:30 AM.

The dogs are snoring on the floor. My husband is snoring on the couch. Our son is in my lap nursing as I am writing.

I am exhausted. I wanted to go to bed early tonight, but I also wanted to finish this last chapter. It’s the first time today that my son is quiet enough and preoccupied enough with food to let me do this without having to be walking him or rocking him or snuggling him.

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Google Images

He comes first. Always. But in this moment, my work finally gets to come first. My son will eventually nurse himself back to sleep and I will get a good chunk of work done.

It’s now 4:30 AM.

I quietly get us back into bed if I am lucky, but more times than not we make it to the recliner and I hold our son as I get 2 hours of sleep before my late alarm for work will go off. I will shower and throw on whatever dress I can find and am out the door to complete my 2 hour long commute.

It is now 6:45 AM.

I autopilot the hour into my job, praying the entire way that there isn’t an accident that will make the entire highway a parking lot. I review over and over again the lesson I plan on teaching and where everything is in my room that I need to get together for the lesson.

It is now 7:45 AM.

I am at work, signed in and am setting up for the day. I have 10 minutes before the kids come in. I make sure I have everything I need and my board set up for the day. My day consists of teaching 3 block classes and attending PLC meetings or using prep time to prep for my classes.

It is now 2:40 PM.

I am probably in my car. I get a few seconds to breathe before I am either commuting home to take my son from my husband before he goes off to night school or I am heading deeper into the capital city to hold my office hours for my night class. I will be there until about 10:00 PM.

It’s a four hour class on reading. I go through office hours, probably eat something, grade my papers, talk to students who come in and then I teach the class for four hours.

Then I walk to my car and finally get to drive the hour home.

I take my son from my husband because chances are he has been up and fussy all night because I am not home to lay with him at bedtime like I do or let him nurse himself to sleep. With any luck he will go down for the final time and I will either get to have some sleep myself or I will be up again writing and nursing a baby at 3:00 in the morning.

It’s hard being working mom and going to school full time. It takes a lot out of you and often times, you are giving up something else in turn. For me, I largely lack a social life because my free time at the moment goes to my son and on the rare occasions that he is tired with me, we both get to have that wonderful nap that never will fully catch me up on sleep.

I remember when I thought it was hard to be 20 something weeks pregnant, writing my doctoral comprehensive exam and being in bed with the flu. I laugh at that time now. That was easy when I think about it now.

French Scenes & Mommy Life

I was 20 years old and riding a train to either Versailles or Fontainebleau. At that time in my life, I was a devoted student of art history who waffled between going to graduate school for art history or maybe doing something entirely different and going for something like nursing because as passionate as I have always been about art, I have also always loved taking care of people too.

I sat chatting with my professor about what I wanted to do and it was to my shock that he flat out told me that I was not cut out for a doctorate in art history. A woman who was older and had come with us as a graduate student overheard the entire exchange and later pulled me aside and gave me the best advice: follow your heart no matter what other people tell you.

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20 year old me in Paris, France. 

And in the end I did. I turned down 3 graduate school acceptances for the museum side of art history and went into teaching. In the end I found a way to integrate my background in art with my passion for education and literature. I had no idea I would ever hit that point had you asked me as a 20-something on a train to a former royal residence, however, I think it’s pretty cool that in the end I became that person.

I don’t know what made me think of that little piece of my life today, but I did. I loved that part of my life. I loved living in the art library and taking days filled with art history classes and memorizing a million slides. Some times like today when I am thinking of that time in my life, I really do miss it.

I miss the c’est la vie of it all.

Then I look at my almost completed doctoral dissertation…began writing my final chapter today and I watch my son carry on his living room expeditions and I know I am right where I am supposed to be even though I do wish I was able to take more museum trips and I wouldn’t mind another afternoon researching in the art library, but maybe that will be my life in a future season.

Finally, the IRB approves.

In June of 2015, I was on the brink of turning 29 and had just signed all the papers to become the new owner of our little house by the ocean. A week later, I would be fully enrolled in a doctoral program.

I have never done things small.

Today, I am on the brink of turning 32 and am about to have my first baby. Today, I have also been married for 6 months already as well! I don’t know where that time went, but it went.

But also…today, I finally got full IRB approval for my dissertation study which means that this summer, as I am having Logan, I will also have to be writing the first two chapters of my paper to be ready for next school year when my data collection will begin in September.

The hiccup in the entire process for me was that I needed a supervisor to sign off on allowing me to talk to teachers. It’s incredibly hard to get in touch with someone that does not work in your building and really, has no idea who you are amongst a sea of other employees too. I was getting annoyed with the entire process.

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However, something changed in me this year. I’m not sure what it was. I used to be someone who internalized a lot of stuff and who more often than not took other people’s issues/opinions/lack of responses as some reflection of me. The more I think about it, the more deeply rooted in my upbringing I think that all is, but that’s for a much deeper post some other time.

Something did indeed snap within me this year and I just got really tired of being pushed around and swallowing how I was always made to feel mad or inadequate or wrong, what have you in whatever the situation and always by other people. So, when I saw one of the potential people at work yesterday who could very well help me in that scenario, I literally pushed my way through a crowd of children and inserted myself into the conversation he was having.

I introduced myself and who I was and what I needed. The surprising part is that he knew exactly who I was and was more than happy to give me the letter that I needed. Within 20 minutes, the IRB had a digital copy of the letter they were not going to let up on and this morning as I was talking to my dissertation mentor about how I was hopeful that this meant the conditional approval would be lifted in favor of a full approval, the email came in that it was in fact, fully approved and that I was cleared for data collection come September.

Sometimes you just have to push back and you’ll get what you need in order to be where you need to be.

 

News for this Week.

The Baby: He’s getting big and strong. I read to him Berenstain Bears books and I started to play classical music to him at night. It makes him get super active so I think he either loves or hates it. He kicked my phone off my stomach on Friday. Last night, he found the area of my body that he has yet to really explore: the area known as the land above my belly button. He also kicked me so hard he bounced my hand off. I think to think he’s saying hello. Though it’s probably more like stop poking me, mom, I’m fine. Either way, it’s been pretty cool to see him interacting with the world outside my uterus a little bit.

Overall, I am still pretty calm about impending motherhood. I was very ready to become a mom, and while I didn’t think it would happen as quickly as it did, I am thankful that it did. I am also thankful that my 20-something-year-old self was responsible enough to get disability insurance as well as put into plastic containers the few pieces of baby things I wanted to save from my own infancy for my kids. I recently moved all of my stuff out of the house I grew up in and was shocked at how well I took care of things when everything else was left in shambles by other people.

 

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Sandy Hook, New Jersey…early 90’s.

 

The Doctorate: Whelp, I am eagerly awaiting to hear back from the IRB about whether or not my study is approved. It can take up to 7 business days. They have currently used 2, so hopefully, it will happen sooner rather than later. I’ve begun writing my first couple of chapters including the much-hated literature review. I have found that in going through the process of the doctoral comprehensive exam as well as writing the research plan that you submit to the IRB, a lot of your dissertation is already begun for you. You just need to re-write and re-work it a little to fit the needs of the dissertation requirements.

The House Hunt: We’ve entered the point where we have outgrown our little house. After months of thinking and working towards what turned out to be complete BS which a large part of me knew it would, we’re now left trying to figure out where we plan to live long-term as well as what kind of house we want to invest in for the next 30+ years. Weekends have become open house weekends and after visiting many, I think I may have had my life figured out right years ago. I had always wanted to live by the water and for the last 3 years, I have. I was reminded of that the other day when a storm blew in and while you can’t see or smell the ocean from our house usually, you can smell it during the storms. The entire air fills with salt and seaweed and it’s the most calming scent for me. Funny to think that I was ready to leave it thinking it would be better for my son, but I think that too may have been a mistake. I think as long as our kids are with us, in a stable, non-toxic environment with two parents that love each other very much, that they will turn out to be good, productive adults.

I am hoping we find something soon that pushes us to list our townhouse and we get to move on to the family house that I would really like to one day hand down to one of our kids. I know, it’ll be the cliche generational beach house, but there is something to cliches.

Looking Forward to: The summer, mostly. We’ve entered the phase of the school year where it is full-on testing and test preparation. It’s boring to me, I’d rather be reading good books and teaching. I’m also finding it hard to be standing all day at this point and am happiest in my recliner. I am looking forward to being home this year and for Logan to finally get here.

I think most of the big transitions and craziness have already happened for this year and now we’re entering into a calmer period. Probably the calm before the storm that will be Hurricane Logan this summer, but after such a crazy year, I will take the peacefulness for awhile.

Is it really April?

I don’t know where this year has gone. I remember spending much of it being very stressed out about my wedding and then more recently, being hyper-focused on my pregnancy and dissertation. And then BAM, somehow it’s April.

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Speaking of my pregnancy, he’s getting so big and he’s measuring tall which makes me happy because that means he hopefully got his dad’s tall genes. From the blurry images that we do have, he does look like he got my pug nose and his dad’s button chin. I really can’t wait for him to get here just so I can stare at him for hours and smell his baby head.

I’m almost all ready for him. I would be further prepared had people not started yelling at me to stop buying things because they wanted to buy them, we do have a good family and friends that is for sure. My baby BBQ is the next big event and then after that, I am looking forward to a low-key summer of not working other than my dissertation and you know, pushing out a baby and taking care of him.

Even that though, sounds like an amazing summer as opposed to what my life has been like since we moved to the shore several years ago. I was always working and traveling and now, it looks like Logan is forcing me to slow down for a little bit and enjoy being his mom.

And I strangely, don’t mind at all.

Martian Child

It’s icky and cold here in New Jersey today. It was very hard to get up with that 6AM alarm. By me, it was just beginning to rain, but by the time I got into the capital city to teach today, the roads were slick and the rain had become the ever so lovely mix of snow and freezing rain.

It is definitely one of those days where you wish you could just stay home with your animals and watch Netflix.

BUT! I was just sick and I have a team to coach and a college class to teach tonight, so that wasn’t going to be in the cards today.

I did lay in bed thinking about it for a good 5 minutes. I am just so tired….all the time. It’s got me to think about what I’m going to do once our baby is here. It’s scary to even be thinking about deciding to stay home and cut down on work. I worked so hard to get here. Within 10 years, I completed a double bachelor’s degree, a double post-bac certificate, a master’s degree and almost a PhD. I always thought I would just work forever, but lately, my body doesn’t go like it used to. I can’t work 7 days a week anymore and my nights physically end for me around 9pm, and that’s after my after-dinner nap around 5PM.

I know this is pregnancy tired, but I worry about baby tired too. Will I really be able to come back to work in September/October like I plan? If I can, will I feel guilty leaving my baby even though he or she will have days with her dad since we work opposite schedules right now?

 

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Douglas College graduation at Rutgers University, May 2008

 

I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. This pregnancy has gotten very real recently, with the belly that has sprung up. It feels like it happened overnight. I went from this little bump to a stomach that you can’t deny has a baby growing in it. And while I have not felt a real kick yet, I do feel, especially when I am standing or walking, these fluttering movements that feel like I have an alien living in my stomach.

in some ways, it is an alien if you think about it. A baby starts to grow in your belly with its own little heart and soul, coming from seemingly nowhere and then you have the baby and you need to teach him or her everything because they have no knowledge of where they just came out into after you push them out of your hoo-ha.

Having kids is weird and stressful, but so worth it. I do love feeling my little baby fluttering around. I also love when I’m working at my desk and I get to rub my growing belly. I’m enjoying every moment of it, but, I’m just wondering how long I will be able to work and how emotionally prepared I’ll be to come back to work. Or if this is one of life’s forks in the road: do I continue on like I have been since I graduated from Rutgers or, is this the time where I choose something more than work and see where a new adventure takes me?