Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Last Grad School Class

Tonight was the final class for the summer semester, and my last class to teach this cohort of grad students. I have come to admire them, respect them, and enjoy them, but importantly, to learn from them. Last night I was trying to think about what I wanted to say to end the class. I remembered the first time I had to speak at the recognition program for the seniors at HSU. I had come in after the semester started to replace a beloved faculty member who had been with the program from the beginning. My colleague told me "Doris always gave them each a flower." First of all, I wasn't Doris, and never tried to be. Doris was a wonderful social worker and educator, and I learned much from her. I still use her theoretical framework to this day. I hope over the years that I have mellowed a bit and become a bit more nurturing, like Doris, as well.

But back then, I just knew that passing out flowers did not feel like me, and like it or not (the students) I was there and the one ending that year. Over the years, I would do different things to acknowledge them and their successes. As I shared with students tonight, I was not much on passing out flowers, but did like to share my words. There was the year that I quoted some obscure German philosopher about those of us who were "on the way" valuing the people in our lives who did not step over our mistakes but instead named them and helped us see what we needed to change to clean it up. There was the year that I gave everyone a new "gold" dollar and made the analogy how they were solid gold to me. There was the year I "gifted" them with things of meaning to me: my copy of Gilligan's In a Different Voice for the woman who discovered things about herself; a big green rock I found in a river bed in Colorado and gave to the student who was "a little green" (inexperienced), but solid, for example.

And there was the year that I gave the "flowers" speech. I said some of them were like roses, needing nurturing, and fertilizer, and just the right amount of water to take root and flourish. Some of them were like morning glories or night blooming jasmine, making a brilliant bloom at a particular time of day (or night) and then quietly receding. (Dandelions come later.)

Last night, I was sitting in the yard watching the birds and deer and noted the morning glories, the blooms all curled up, and was reminded of that year's speech. Then I noted how the vines of the morning glory were twined around everything in sight; one little vine, begun from one seed, had sprung up in one of my potted plants, wrapped itself around the trellis, reached out to a plant stand, wrapped around itself a few times to gain strength to move over to another anchor, and that all along the length of the vine were blossoms...which would produce a new seed when allowed to go to seed, which would make a lot of new plants from one vine.

Tonight, as I wrapped up the session, I shared the story of the first time I gave that talk. At the time, I saw morning glories and night blooming jasmine as somehow inferior, less than. I realized last night how important all those other aspects are--it is not just the blooms or the showy parts, but how the morning glory anchors all over the place, reaching and stretching, and if left alone, will come back up next year and the year after. I bought these seeds the first year I was here, in the summer of 2004. They are still blooming.

Last night I was reminded yet again of all I have learned over the years, and all I have learned since coming to Mississippi. I know that every time I attempt to teach, I do not always succeed. I reach some, do not reach others. Sometimes I am surprised at someone whom I reached that I did not have a clue was affected by me; sometimes I am surprised at not reaching the student with whom I thought I had a more meaningful relationship.

As I finished the class, I went back to the dandelions, and how I hoped for them to be dandelions. Dandelions are found everywhere--in the best manicured yards in the nicest neighborhoods, and in between the flagstones of the walk to the most dilapidated rusted trailer on some backwoods Mississippi road. They are in the cracks in the sidewalk in an inner city and in the park of a pretty little country town. Who has not smiled with joy at a handful of dandelions clasped in the hands of a child, who presented them to you as if they were the finest orchid? And when their time of blooming those sunny little yellow heads is over, seen a puff of wind blow the seeds hither where they take root and become even more dandelions in even more places? I want these social workers to be dandelions.

I am privileged to be able to teach here in Mississippi, where there is such great need, but also where there is such great passion. I have seen the possibility and the promise, and have been gratified to be able to contribute to that possibility and promise at times. And always, I learn, from each failure, each mistake, each thing that did not turn out quite the way I had hoped or intended. I cannot imagine a more personally rewarding moment than tonight, to be totally surprised out of the blue with their acknowledgement, and to hear an accomplished social worker, mother, grandmother, and professional in her own right who is highly regarded in the state to thank me for what I had contributed to her self-understanding and growth. I am always just a tiny bit amazed at moments like that. I tend to be more focused on seeing the student who looks withdrawn and not present, wondering why I am failing to reach her or him, and letting it define me, rather than the ones who are paying rapt attention, clearly engaged.

Many years ago, I attended a workshop training and at the end we had to rate the trainer. I gave our trainer high ratings in all but facilitating the role plays. I told him that was more about me than it was him, but he looked me squarely in the eye and said, "Not to me it isn't."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Saturday morning at the Taylor Farmers Market

The morning dawned a coolicious 70 degrees, sunshine, blue skies with just a few fluffy white clouds here and there. I drove out to pick up my new "friend-daughter" (I love that term, just learned it). I have been seeing this truck lost in the kudzu for the last week and wonder how much longer before nothing will be visible. It is a common site here, actually.

One cannot imagine how much kudzu is everywhere--a picture simply does not give an accurate indication of how overwhelming it can be in places.

The farmers market was already getting busy by the time we arrive a bit after 9. I got white bread here, for making tomato sandwiches. I have never had it, but was informed Thursday I have to try one.
There was the usual herbs, truck garden vegetables, especially tomatoes, lots of homemade jams, salsas, and pickles, and quite a variety of breads including white, banana nut, tomato, multi-grain, and strawberry tempted this bread lover.
Peach tea, lemonade, and lots of non-food items rounded out the offering. Jesse makes purses out of potato chip bags, and believe it or not, they were quite beautiful. He folds and weaves the bags so they look like woven leather, but are colorful. It reminded me of all the everyday items in South Africa with which people make functional items, such as crocheting purses out of strips of plastic bags.

Handmade soaps, stained glass, black smith made spoons and other items, jewelry, pictures, and wood turned items rounded out the selections.

Tatum and I bought some soaps, heirloom tomatoes (those are the ones you are supposed to use in your tomato sandwich) and I got beautiful little eggplants and peppers to saute with tomatoes and basil for my lunch.

All of this, and entertainment, too. A lovely country morning.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Adventure Based Counseling and Getting All the Money in my Pocket

Disclaimer: The pictures in this post are not of the class I taught tonight.

In tonight's grad class on groups, our topic was experiential group work, or what is commonly known as Adventure Based Counseling. I had really looked forward to the class as I love using ABC in my work, love teaching others how to use it, and in particular, really love this class and what they contribute to me.

First, our home air conditioning went out today and I spent the day in a hot house in tank and shorts, whilst the repairman worked. Not a particular problem until it was nearing 4 and he wasn't done and I had to be at work at 5:30. My phone was not working, so I was dependent upon email to let Rando know I needed help--and unlike a phone, email is not instantaneous!

Finally, the repairman achieved a "temporary fix" for tonight and left at 4:18 with the words he would be back in the AM. I jumped in the shower and arrived at work with minutes to spare. All that kind of frazzled me, so I was glad it was a night of teaching something that I teach a lot, use a lot, and thus, felt really comfortable with. That thought was not to last long.
One of the students and I had planned for her to illustrate the opening "ice-breaker." She had discussed it with me, and I was excited about her idea and thought it would lend itself well to the group. I liked that it was a new activity and thus, I got new learning from it as well. When I do this teaching, I use a technique where at times, the "class" is "the group" and at times, they become "the trainers." What that basically means, is they have to experience being the group activity, and then we talk about how that would be/could be used in a "real" group.

The student who was co-leading with me started off by telling a story of her graduation from high school, and taking action for social justice when faced with a situation. I--and later, as I would discover, so were the other students--was somewhat mesmerized with the story. Then she asked us to "introduce" ourselves by sharing our proudest moment--as she had just done.

One by one, the class members did. It was touching; sad; funny; inspiring; hopeful. I was reminded anew of why those of us who choose social work do the work we do: because we care; because we are willing to risk; because we look around, and see that there are things in the world that should not be there and yet, are, and we want to change that.

I think sometimes that is why I have such a hard time with teaching people to do social work. On the one hand, I think of my friend D Aguerro back in Tejas--"I want to be a gatekeeper--but I want to be the one opening the gate and ushering people through it, not the one standing in the gate and keeping them out." I, too want to be that person: how can I help not only students, but anyone with whom I come into contact, get through that gate?

I was struck by the people in class tonight--people who have been admitted into a masters program, and into advanced standing in a masters program, who shared dropping out of high school for various reasons, and yet are now in grad school--and thinking how powerful is the human will, the capacity for success, and wondering why--given that is so--that so many of us end up by the wayside rather than in this class sharing a story.

And then, before I could finish this post and the thoughts that I thought were so important, I had the opportunity to deal with 2 real life situations. That means that finding out how much money I had in my pocket, and whether or not the students were able to get it, would have to wait.