Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Doctor Will Be In Shortly (2.5 - 3 Years)

If you know me well, you know that I lack the ability to stay content with myself for any extended period of time. Anything that I have had the privilege of accomplishing only satisfies me temporarily. I know that this quality of mine is not necessarily the best quality to have, but it always keeps me hungry for the next thing. After a period of consideration, I have found my latest and greatest “next thing”, and I am ready to share it with all of you. I will be starting on my doctorate in August of this year.

Getting my master’s degree was an accomplishment in and of itself, and it opened doors that had long been closed in my life. I had never even gotten looks at Prairie-Hills or Kellar until I had that extra bit of education. However, the master’s degree was never my endgame. I didn’t want to stop there. I knew that someday I wanted to go further. I just didn’t know that day would come so soon.

Working in education, I see the world shifting in some directions for which I do not particularly care. It’s not an easy time to be revolving around the sun as a patron of this planet, that’s for sure. I feel blessed to be able to do what I do and attempt to make a measure of difference, but unfortunately my direct scope is limited to the students I teach. That means I really only get to directly affect change in 105 people at a time. I’m sorry, but that just isn’t enough for me anymore. I don’t want my footprint to be that small. I want to do more and broaden my scope. Pursuing my doctorate will enable me to do just that.

With a doctorate, my possibilities within the field of education expand exponentially. I can reach college students, especially those who are nearly ready to embark on their own career within the field of education. I can assume a leadership position at a school or district level and be able to affect change that reaches an entire school or district of schools rather than simply a classroom of students. With this degree I could assume leadership roles within educational companies that could directly impact curriculum and the presentation of education in myriad schools and districts. While I am currently unclear of precisely the next route I wish to travel in my educational journey, I do know that I want to broaden my scope of influence, and this degree will go a long way toward allowing me to reach that end.

I want to be able to do more for the people around me who I care about that are in need. As a teacher, I am unfortunately limited by my salary. Compensation is not the greatest. Moving onward and upward would help me to reach more in a greater, tangible way, and that is something that greatly excites me.

I do not expect this to be easy. Even as I write this, my excitement is tempered by the reality that this task is quite daunting. The idea of composing a dissertation is not one that particularly appeals to me. That said, this is the best time for me to do this. I am not married. I do not have any children of my own. The longer I put this off, the longer the odds that I will ever see this through. I am at the point in my life where I NEED to see certain things through, even if I have to travel to the ends of the earth to make them happen.

This is going to take a lot of my time, thoughts, and energy, but I will be a better person for having completed this. The idea of being a doctor at the age of 32 does sound rather appealing. I’m understandably apprehensive, but I’ve got this. Please support me along the way.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Behind the Curtain: No Room for Gray

In the last post I touched a little on my manic nature in the areas that on which I place a high level of importance. Nearly a decade ago my friend Jess characterized me as “driven, almost to the point of obsession”. That statement was accurate then and alarmingly accurate now. For maybe the first time, I will humbly attempt to explain that nature as best as I can.

I understand that we live in a world in which the idea of clear-cut, black and white things has become increasingly antiquated. There are so many things for which I do not have the answer. However, when it comes to my own life, goals, and ambitions, my world is entirely black and white. I succeed, or I fail. There is absolutely no middle ground.

When I was younger, I used to take solace in what I deemed the “moral victories”. If I got farther on something than I expected to (yet still failed, mind you), I would take pride in how close I came to succeeding. After a while, those moral victories ceased to have any importance to me. If I set a goal, I fully expect to achieve it. Anything short of that goal is not good enough.

As I have now crossed the threshold of being 30 years old, I have vastly improved on my tendencies to both live in and dwell on the past, but I still struggle in this area in some ways. If someone brings up college, I am quick to remember that I missed out on graduating summa cum laude by .008 grade points. I am quick to remember that I missed out on thousands of dollars in scholarship money by one question on the ACT. For all that I have accomplished and hopefully will continue to accomplish, it is those failures that stick to me.

Perhaps more than any other factor, my manic desire to succeed in the areas that matter to me are driven by desire to avoid the feelings of failure that I have felt too many times in my life to date. I haven’t really had family members or friends call me a failure or tell me that I have disappointed them, so this tendency to be hard on myself is not affected by outside stimuli. I have a very clear picture of what I want my life to be and who I want to become. Some of those pieces are already in place, but for those that are not, I will scratch and claw and work myself to the bone until they happen. Yes, some things are beyond my purview of control, but that doesn’t stop me from maxing out on my effort.

I am so driven because I do not want to wake up in 10 years in the same place that I am now. I do not want to fail myself or others who count on me. Does that mean I beat myself up sometimes? Of course. Does that mean that some of my own feelings of failure occasionally seep into my relationships to the point that I set impossibly high standards for myself? Admittedly yes. But until I can find room for gray in my life, this is how it’s going to be. I will try to be a little easier on myself, but I will always aspire to be more than I currently am.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Behind the Curtain: The Storm Behind the Calm

The older I get, the more I realize that there is a bit of a disconnect between the perception of me by acquaintances and the perception of me by those who have gotten to know me at any depth. This blog series will attempt to bridge the divide between those two areas.

People who do not know me very well or people who only see me in a professional setting view me as a very calm person. I am slow to anger, slow to raise my voice, and reticent to respond in any manner other than one that is devoid of emotion or irrational behavior. I have been praised many times for my “calm and stoic demeanor”. I appreciate that characterization, but it amuses me because it is not completely accurate.

Part of the reason I can portray such a calm outward front is because I have mastered the art of compartmentalizing the numerous components of my life. Put simply, I place value on each area of my life. I remain unaffected by the areas that affect me minimally or the areas in which I place little value. If a student acts up in my class, I know that it has virtually nothing to do with me personally and has everything to do with myriad external and internal factors. As a result, I do not let it bother me. Kids are going to be kids. I don’t sweat that stuff.

At any given moment in my life, there are 2-3 things that I am extremely passionate about. All my emotion goes into those things, and I pursue them to a manic (some would say obsessive level). If you talk to me about any of these areas, you won’t see the calm. You won’t catch the quietly confident Jakob. In its place, you will see someone who is scratching and clawing, always doubting himself, chronically over-thinking, and ALWAYS feeling as if he has something to prove. The more I want something, the more my insecurities manifest themselves. I have self-sabotaged many relationships in my life because I simply could not leave well enough alone. I pushed myself to an obsessive level (I will cover this more in my next post) because I have a very difficult time abiding by the timelines of life or the timelines of others. My closest friends and confidants probably characterize me as the storm because I often come to them for advice as to how to clean up my most recent mess.

So, which Jakob is the true Jakob? Am I the calm, or am I the storm? Truthfully, I am probably both. The calm works for me in the areas in which I need it to work. Perhaps to some the calm might come across as blasé, but it works for me. In most areas of my life, I act calmly and rationally and never let the ship get too far off course. But I would be lying to myself and to all of you if I said that the storm didn’t exist. The storm is very real, and as long as I am living I will probably have to figure out a way to weather it. As long as I care deeply about things, I am going to have to fight the urge to obsess and attack them at a manic level. I am going to have to fight the feelings of self-doubt and the chip on my shoulder. Will I ever fully calm the storm? I don’t know. But I will keep trying.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Victory Lap

Having just finished my first year teaching social studies, my fifth (!) year of full time teaching, and my eighth (!!) year in education, I figure it is as good a time as any to reflect on the year that was. While I would be lying if I said the year was easy, I will say that it wound up being a very successful one.

That said, things did not start off the way I had planned or hoped. While I was very pleased to have finally procured a full time position teaching my preferred subject of social studies, I would be remiss if I did not admit that my confidence was not particularly high when starting the job. I lost my job at Prairie-Hills due to no fault of my own, but their lack of interest in finding a new spot for me on their team led me to question my own abilities. I did not go into this job believing that I could not fail. I knew I had to prove myself to my students, my peers, and most of all, myself.

It was certainly an adjustment starting at Kellar. Many of the amenities to which I had grown accustomed at Prairie-Hills (phones and printers in the classroom, air conditioning) were nonexistent at my new school. The students’ lockers were located in the classroom. Dismissal procedures were convoluted and could last in upwards of 30 minutes. At the beginning, my only goal was to survive to the end of the day, then to the end of the week, then to the end of the month, and ultimately to the end of the year.

A funny thing happened as the school year progressed. My students actually started to like me. Being a somewhat eccentric white male in a school almost entirely composed of minorities lends itself to some challenges. At the beginning of the year, many of my students didn’t “get” me. There were a handful that did, but for the most part my dry sense of humor was met with complete silence and participation was limited to the handful of students who liked me from the start. I had to prove myself to them. Once they realized that I was okay, they started to get more involved in the class. Sure, a couple students never wound up liking me, but that’s life. You can’t win them all.

When I worked at AAA Academy, my boss bluntly told me that my way would not work, and that if I was ever going to have any success, I would need to get on board with her way. I was blessed to work in a school that gave me the autonomy to do things my way. Much of my teaching is discussion based. I believe that young people learn in a variety of ways, but I especially believe that they learn from having conversations. I like to draw from my own experiences while teaching and allow them to ask questions as soon as they arise. The more involved they are in the discussion, the greater ownership they take in it, and ultimately, they will retain more knowledge. I always tell my students that in history the “who”, the “what”, and the “when” are important, but in order to truly learn both about history and learn from history, they need to understand the “why”. As a result, my classroom generally has a fairly laid-back atmosphere. In fact, one of the girls told me “Mr. Duehr, your class is so laid back that I didn’t think I was learning anything, but when we took the Constitution Test, I realized that I knew everything. I like how you do things.” That quote alone proved that way can and does work for me and for my students.

My greatest sense of pride from an academic sense came from the students’ success on the Constitution Test. I know the Constitution is not the most exciting material, so I really had to wrap my brain around how to teach it in a way that would connect with the students. Almost randomly, I stumbled on something that worked. I assigned one amendment to each student. They were responsible for becoming an expert on that amendment and had to teach a mini-lesson to the class. While they got to be “me” and teach the lesson, I sat in their desk and got to be them. I would act how they act during class (within reason, of course). I copied their mannerisms, their patterns of speech, etc. It was a lot of fun, and the students truly excelled. Of my 105 students, 98 passed the test on their first try. The remaining students all passed by their third attempt.

While their academic success brought me a great measure of pride, I took even greater pride in the strides that many of them made in growing as individuals. I am fully aware that students will not remember many of the social studies lessons I taught, so I put a focus on teaching them life lessons as well. If they can learn those lessons from me, then I will have been a success as a teacher. It is important for them to know that yes, they are young and will make mistakes, but it is important that they use every mistake as a lesson learned. Each day is a new opportunity for learning and growth. Many of them are learning that lesson, and I could not be prouder.

I sit here today with a great sense of relief and satisfaction because, for the first time in 9 years, I know exactly where I will be working in August. I do not have to scour K12Jobspot for openings. I do not have to get dressed up for interviews, and I do not have to struggle to fall asleep at night due to stress and fear of the unknown. I know where my road leads for the next year at least, and I am thankful for that. This year could not be classified as anything less than a success, and I am excited for what is to come.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Closing the Chapter

I am still having a lot of difficulty wrapping my head around the notion that I am merely hours (not days, weeks, months or years at this point… only hours) away from turning 30 years of age. My 20s were… an experience. As I close this chapter, I find it appropriate to reflect on what was, how it brought me to what is, and preview where I want to be. A disclaimer: I am going to be brutally hard on myself here. Maybe that’s not the best thing, but I always believe in being honest with myself and with you, the reader.

I am not going to look back on my twenties as favorably as I would have liked. Too often this decade felt more like a blooper reel than a highlight reel. It was dotted with magnificent failures and missteps. I know the dangers associated with dwelling on the past, but some things never leave you. I think of the letter I got from a girl telling me all the reasons she wouldn’t date me when I was 20 and not getting served at 21 when I visited the ice cream shop where she worked. I think of getting stood up in Florida and losing my wallet hours later when I was 22. At 23, I fell in love for the first time, only for the girl I loved to pick the other guy in the triangle. At 24, one of my best friends from childhood basically told me I hadn’t done anything worth being proud of at that point. At 26, my boss thought so little of me that she waited until the day before the school year started to tell me I was laid off. At 27, she told me that she wished she could hang me. At 28, I lost a job despite receiving favorable performance reviews due to some shifts, and the powers that be couldn’t be bothered to even try to bring me back. At 29, I nearly had the breakdown I narrowly avoided at 21 and 28 and obsessed over someone who couldn’t be bothered to care if I was still on this planet, let alone anything deeper than that.

I lost a lot in my 20s with very little to show for it. Friends moved away and moved on me. Other friends and acquaintances passed away way too young. I lost one of the few extended family members who truly understood me. I was passed over for countless jobs and opportunities. I felt like I was unknowingly cast as “good, but not good enough”. Maybe I’ve deserved everything I have received. Perhaps there was a step in the process I missed. Maybe things came too easy for me when I was young, and my 20s were my comeuppance.

I don’t want this post to be entirely doom and gloom. There were some successes over the course of the past ten years. The person I am today is crafted directly in the image of who I always wanted to be. The way I talk, dress, and look all took a while to come together, but I am pleased that it finally did. My interests had to be given time to be cultivated, and while some might look at me as an odd amalgam of interests, I am passionate about a number of things all across the spectrum ranging from the important to the absurd. I am comfortable in my own skin and don’t turn away from who I see in the mirror. I finished college and grad school with measurable success, and while my career has not necessarily taken the trajectory I had hoped, I can take a measure of pride in what I have accomplished in the classroom, both as a teacher and as a student.

I entered my twenties with one eye looking forward but the other eye firmly focused on the paths I had already traveled. As the decade progressed, I improved on averting my gaze from the past and focusing more on the present and the future. For so long, I idolized the past. I desperately wanted to find a way to go back to a simpler time. Those days are over, and it is not healthy to dwell on them. Stone is an afterthought these days, as are many other places from my younger years. It is okay to visit these memories from time to time, but I no longer have the desire to dwell on them for any period of time.

As I enter my 30s, I am admittedly struggling with some degree of fear and uncertainty. The older I get, the more I have to accept the notion that some of my dreams may never come to fruition. With each day that passes, my chances of becoming WWE Champion drastically diminish. The longer I stay in education, the likelihood that I will become wealthy becomes lower and lower. Things I thought would have happened by now (the marriage, the house, the family, etc.) have yet to come to fruition, and I have to be content whether they happen or not. There's a girl who has become my best friend, and I love her very much. It might never be anything past friendship. I have to be okay with however it ends. I’m probably not going to have the good fortune of having my girlfriend plan an elaborate marriage proposal to me (as one of my childhood friends did) or complain about inept coworkers and translate that into a hefty raise (as another childhood friend did), but I have to be okay.

I don’t know what’s coming next, but I have to believe that the many battles I have conquered have prepared me for what is to come. I don’t know that I’ll ever get the things I want, but I have a good feeling that no matter what, I’m going to be okay.

20 Things I Learned in My 20s

Blog posts consisting entirely of lists are admittedly lazy. However, I do have a less lazy and more thoughtful post coming this evening as well, and the material in this post would not fit well within that post.

My 20s were not as fruitful a decade as I would have wished or even prognosticated, yet I still learned a number of lessons. I would say the decade as a whole could be chalked up to a learning experience. Here are 20 lessons I learned (in no particular order).

1. Degrees from institutions of higher learning do not make you “smarter”. However, they do open doors.
2. It’s okay to fail. In fact, it is better to fail magnificently than it is to never even attempt to succeed.
3. The separation is in the preparation. It is easier to succeed when you have a plan.
4. However, there are some things for which you simply cannot plan. Adapt and adjust, or get lost in the shuffle.
5. As your age grows, so does the percentage of things that you realize are out of your control.
6. Many opportunities unfortunately cannot be earned. They are either given or they are not, often times seemingly without rhyme or reason.
7. People are going to move on without you. You are going to move on from some people. This is not done with malice but is rather a byproduct of different growth trajectories.
8. If you are so desperate for something, you can interpret virtually anything as a “sign” that thing is meant to happen. Stop searching for signs. Just live.
9. A goal changed is not a goal failed. Do not pursue a goal you for which no longer have a passion simply out of stubbornness. Roll with the curves.
10. Many timelines are good in theory only. The greater the importance you place on timelines, the more disappointed you will be with your life.
11. Attack your job with ferocity while you are at work. As soon as you walk out the door to end your day, leave it alone until you walk back in the following day.
12. Death is the only door that ever truly remains closed. All other doors can be reopened with enough patience and/or persistence.
13. Be generous with the things that mean the most to you. It is no great feat to show generosity with the things that matter little to you. Give of your best fruits.
14. Everything is impossible until it is possible. When it becomes possible, it can no longer be impossible.
15. Be careful to not fall into the trap of seeing others for who we want them to be or believe they can eventually become whilst losing sight of who they actually are.
16. Seeking the advice of a number of people does not ensure that the situation for which you are seeking advice will end favorably. It does, however, ensure that a significant number of people are aware of your business (and can use it against you later).
17. The greatest thing you can invest in is people. The returns far surpass any monetary value.
18. It is important to remember that love not only is a challenge but also that love is dynamic and not static. It requires your greatest effort and your greatest care.
19. Both the power and finesse approaches have their merits. It takes great discernment to know which approach is most appropriate in a given situation.
20. Happiness is not always there for the taking, but contentment is. More often than not, you will not have what you want. You can always make the decision to want what you have.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Lasting Legacy of Liv & Maddie

As a twentysomething male, I am about as far removed from the Disney Channel’s target demographic as anyone. Yet, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the network. Some of it definitely stems from nostalgia. It also helps to be aware of some shows on the network to stay relevant with my students (who, as middle schoolers, are most certainly within Disney’s target demographic).

I rediscovered the network a few years ago thanks to nostalgia. My curiosity of Girl Meets World and how true a successor it would be to Boy Meets World (THE show of my childhood) drew me to the network. While I always enjoyed GMW (and still feel that show was pulled long before its expiration date), another show truly grabbed my attention and captured my imagination.

Liv & Maddie tells the story of twin sisters (both played by Dove Cameron), their two brothers, and their navigation through adolescence with laughs galore. Despite the lighthearted tone the show often takes, the show handles issues such as gender roles, gender inequality, and misogyny. As a teacher, I know all too well that these are issues that our young ladies face on a regular basis. Feminism is not an easy subject to tackle, whether in conversation or portrayed on television. Liv & Maddie shows young girls and boys that the best way to fight inequality is to take action. When a principal threatened to make budget cuts to the girls basketball program, the girls raise funds of their own to convince the principal to take them seriously. When a chauvinistic producer believes that girls cannot possibly be interested in STEM, the girls build a car that outpaces that of the boys (the addition of the Val character in Season 4 also went a long way toward showing that girls can be passionate about STEM as well).

In a world run by social media and embracing debate, it is commonplace for hostility to reign. Liv & Maddie demonstrates that the best way to exact lasting change is by taking action and by simply having a conversation. When action is taken, it is always done in a productive rather than destructive matter. Even the bullies are never humiliated.

A while back, I live-tweeted an episode and expressed my surprise that Todd Stetson never got his comeuppance. To my surprise, one of the show’s creators, John D. Beck noticed the tweet and replied “Because it wasn’t about Todd. You can’t change how someone else feels. You can only change how you feel about yourself”. That one tweet perfectly encapsulates the message of Liv & Maddie.

In fifty years or so, when someone on one of those sites decides to do a retrospective of Disney Channel shows and ranks them, it is my sincerest belief that Liv & Maddie should be ranked at the top. It didn’t have the gimmickry of Wizards of Waverly Place or the constant promotion of K.C. Undercover. It didn’t need it. Dove Cameron never got the level of hype of Miley, Selena, Hilary, or Zendaya, but that doesn’t change the fact that she is perhaps the finest leading lady (times 2!) and best role model that a young girl could have. Whether she was portraying teen actress/pop star Liv or alpha female Maddie, Dove showed the importance of confidence and empathy in every line she spoke. In a world that feels the increasing need to be “edgy”, Liv & Maddie thrived by being the exact opposite. It was a cute show full of wholesome values. It empowered young people to be comfortable with who they were, to change the conversation, to believe in themselves, and to support their friends and family.

While Liv & Maddie may be done, its message and spirit will live on. Cheers to all for a job well done!