Archive for August, 2015

August 30, 2015

First Day of School, Ready or Not

by Tabitha Kidwell

Tomorrow, I begin my second year of doctoral studies. As usually is the case on the last official day of summer vacation, I have a mix of emotions.

For one, I’m nervous – I’ll be teaching an undergrad class for the first time at UMD. I taught undergraduate English education majors in Indonesia, but I was able to capitalize on the fact that I was the foreign teacher, which meant that people were more likely to trust me (thanks to my status as a representative of the U.S. education system) and also forgive any mistakes I made (thanks to my status as a sometimes-clueless outsider). Now, I’m teaching undergraduates who are paying a lot of tuition for a good education. During most of the time I spent planning last week, I felt like I was about to puke. That is okay, though, because that’s is how I usually feel when preparing for a year of teaching. Most years, I can’t sleep the night before the first day of school, and that will probably be the case again tonight.

I’m also really excited – I haven’t actually taught for the past two years. 2013 was the first year that I hadn’t gone back to school – as either a teacher or a student – since I was 4 years old, and it was so hard to watch everyone else go back while I had nothing to do but shop for ugly Chirstmas sweaters. In 2014 I did go back to school, as a student, but I was so overwhelmed by the start of graduate school that I didn’t have a moment to lament the fact that I wasn’t teaching. This year, I am so glad to be back in the classroom, planning instruction, building relationships with students, and generally being of use to society. I’m teaching a class called “Teaching English Language Learners Reading and Writing in the Secondary Content Areas,” a course name I pretty much have to look up every time because the powers-that-be at UMD are trying to fit so many buzzwords into one course title. The course’s goal is to help future teachers teach reading and writing more effectively to their English language learning students, but it’s an elective class. Some students are secondary education majors (math ed, science ed, etc.) who know they will have students learning English in their future classrooms, and some are TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) minors who will go on to get an M.Ed. in our program and teach at local schools. But a lot are just taking it as an elective to fulfill their diversity requirement. My guess is that some of those students think they might go abroad and teach English for a year or two after graduation, but most of them just think a class in the college of education will be easy. Which is probably true.

Overall, though, my main emotion is relief. I am so glad that the first year of grad school is over and I have a freaking clue what is going on this year. Last year was really hard, but I grew a lot as a scholar and as a person. It is so great to look at the syllabi for the two classes I am taking and have a basic background and understanding of what we’ll be studying. For my third class, I’m doing an independent study with my advisor, working on developing a literature review I wrote last year into a publishable paper; part of my graduate assistantship is also being her research assistant on some other projects. It’s wonderful to have that good relationship and to be working together on topics I really care about. I also have a healthy amount of extra-curricular involvement, thanks to my ongoing inability to say no: I’m the student rep on the faculty department assembly (which is basically like getting invited into the teacher’s lounge – exciting in principle, but ultimately really mundane), I’m the co-chair of the department graduate student association (which mostly involves planning happy hours), and I’m the graduate student interest section co-chair for Maryland TESOL (which is really exciting because we are hosting the international conference in Baltimore this year). Also, personally, I am so grateful to feel at ease in the city, to have a good network of friends, and to know where I can buy good donuts.

Overall, I think this year will be easier than last, or at least I’m better equipped to deal with the challenges that come up (e.g., impossible reading load, compulsive need to nap). I only have to go out to campus for class Mondays and Wednesdays, and I have a better idea of how to manage my time and workload on the other days. Teaching will be a lot of work, but I think I’ll really enjoy it. It’s amazing what a big difference a few months can make – by the end of spring semester, I felt like I couldn’t do even one more thing for school. Now, I feel ready for a whole new year – or at least I will if I can get through teaching my first class without puking!

August 1, 2015


by Tabitha Kidwell

A year ago today, I moved into my house in DC. It was on the dodgier end of Columbia Heights, I had two roommates, and the place was a total disaster. I spent most of the month of August cleaning and organizing, and by the time my semester started, the place looked great! Though sharing a bathroom with two (initially) total strangers wasn’t ideal, we all got used to each other, and I came to love living there – especially my sunny bedroom and the peaceful front porch. As I was nearing the end of spring semester, however, my sister bought a new house in Colorado. After looking at her house on Redfin, a real estate listing webpage, I did a few searches to just see what was listed in DC. I searched for places in the district under $175,000 – which cut down the results real fast – and I was surprised to see that there actually were places within my then entirely hypothetical price range. I kept coming back to one listing, a little studio in a co-op in Adams Morgan, just to see if there were any status changes. After a week or so, I thought, “I’ll just go see it.” My realtor was super smooth and somehow convinced me to put in an offer – “no strings attached, you’re just holding your place” – and, almost without trying, I was under contract!

At that point, I had to start putting in some effort, because next came weeks of jumping through hoops – reviewing the co-op documents, doing the inspection, and digging up endless financial documents for my loan officer. Anyone who has bought a house knows the gauntlet you have to go through. It’s a pain in the neck, but then it’s just over. And the hustle and bustle distracts from the fact that you are preparing for the largest financial transaction of your life so far. I kept thinking I should feel stressed out or anxious, but the truth is, I felt very little emotion about the whole thing – neither positive nor negative. It just seemed like the right thing to do – a pragmatic financial decision. In the final calculation, the amount I needed for closing and the down payment was almost exactly what I had saved, my monthly mortgage payment was precisely the amount my measly graduate student stipend let me qualify for, and my HOA fees and mortgage total about $10 less than what I paid in rent. I’m not especially superstitious, but I do love synchronicity, and the fact that everything added up so nicely was comforting.

So now, I live in a nicer place, in a nicer area, with no roommates, for less than I was paying before. Seems too good to be true, but it’s helped by the fact that I used to live in a pretty crummy place in a bit of a rough area. My new neighborhood is Adams Morgan, which is full of bars and restaurants, between the green/yellow and red lines, and steps from the trails in Rock Creek Park. It’s actually only 1.3 miles from Park View, where I used to live – I basically moved the other side of Columbia Heights, and still take the metro out to campus from the same stop. It’s a 400 square feet studio, which isn’t huge, but it’s big enough for me, my books, and my bikes – in fact, I need to buy more furniture! The best part is that I have a kitchen and bathroom all to myself! I hadn’t realized how much I hated sharing a fridge and shower with two roommates until I didn’t have to any longer. My first night, I just kept looking inside my semi-empty refrigerator. I have never owned a refrigerator before! Or a stove, ceiling fan, or sink, for that matter. And certainly not a charming old clawfoot tub. But now I do. I’m a homeowner! Once I’m more settled, I’ll post pictures, but I have already learned that lots of home improvement projects come along with home ownership. That should fill the month of August again this year!