Living in the Tension

The tension is rising. How long will I last?

I’ve been working about twenty hours a week at the agency and an additional eight hours tutoring on my own. Just twenty-eight hours.  No big deal, especially when compared to what I had been doing before moving to Ann Arbor.  And, I’ve been holding my own.  Kind of.

My family has been helping with laundry, cleaning, and the care of the dog.  I cook dinner two or three times a week and expect that the other nights everyone can forage for their own sustenance, because I often have no interest in food at the end of the day.  I recommitted to walking and minimal Pilates this week when I noticed that my exercise life had all but disappeared. And, I’ll admit that a few symptoms are creeping back in.

It’s nothing serious — a little more fatigue, a little more stiffness, a mild rash on my face and some minimal psoriasis peeking out — nothing that anyone but I (and the people who live with me) will notice. But I’m only at twenty-eight hours.  ,

The agency is just beginning to show signs of the summer crank-up.  A co-worker showed me the “summer chart” yesterday with the names of all the students and instructors that will be crammed into our office suite starting in the next couple of weeks. It’s exciting–and intimidating.  We are going to increase our student and staff load exponentially by the middle of June.  I am expecting to be at full-time status in about three weeks.


I’ve been working from eight to noon, coming home, eating lunch, and resting for a few hours before I head back out to see my second round of students.  Then, when I get home the second time, I shed my clothes, get into pajamas, try to eat a little bit, watch a little television, catch up with Facebook and Words with Friends, then crawl to bed to read and sleep.

Wake up, repeat.

By the weekend I’m pretty wiped.  Last night I slept for ten hours. I am happy to say that it is going on eleven o’clock and I am still in my pajamas on this Saturday morning.

Now, as the work at the agency cranks up, the tutoring is going to slow down.  Many of my tutoring students are preparing for June exams, so they will not continue with me in the summer.  In fact, I think I will only have three or four weekly appointments once I hit full-time status, but do the math and you’ll see that I will be close to doubling my hours.

Yeah, I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, but I’m committed to the experiment.  By the end of summer I hope to know what the sweet spot is — how many hours of work is optimal?  My guess is right around twenty — just a little less than what I am doing right now.

So why am I moving forward with more? Because teaching feeds me. Yeah, I’m tired, but I got to celebrate with a ten-year-old who read ‘discombobulated’ this week. I got to read and discuss The Giver with an eleven-year-old who hasn’t read such a challenging book in his life! I got high-fives from a seven-year-old who spelled a whole bunch of words correctly.  I got to say “Bam!” when a police officer, who is studying for a test that will enable him to work for the DEA, remembered the three ways to punctuate two consecutive independent clauses.  I got to sit next to a Romanian immigrant and answer countless questions about English grammar and usage.

No, I didn’t get a ton of time to blog.  I didn’t make it to the gym.  My face hurts, and I’m pretty exhausted. But, guys, I got to watch people learn all. week. long. And the icing on the cake? I was learning right along with them. The last five months of working one-on-one with so many different students has taught me so much about language, but also so much about how people learn, and so much about what it means to me to be a teacher.

So, for the next few months, I am going to live in this tension.  Thanks, friends and family, for supporting me in my experiment. I know that my decision to live in the tension impacts you, too.

Psalm 90:17

Let the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us, and establish the work of our hands;

yes, establish the work of our hands.

The Little Sleep

Four weeks into the new job and I’m struggling to find my rhythm.  Maybe it’s because the first two weeks were full-time and the second two weeks have been part-time.  Maybe it’s because I continue to tutor outside of work in addition to the instruction that I do at work.  Or it could be the fact that I spent last weekend away from home.

Whatever the reason(s) I feel a little discombobulated. I get up early, go to work, then come home before lunch to take care of household stuff, do my Bible study, read, work on my puzzle, or more often than I care to admit — nap.

I’ve never really been a napper. I have found that if I fall asleep in the middle of the day, I like to knock out for a couple of hours.  The problem is that when I wake up, I am often excessively crabby and not fit for human interaction.  Or, my mid-day nap interferes with my night-time sleep. Many people have told me to master the ‘catnap’.  I’ve tried.  True, after 15-20 minutes of napping, I generally feel refreshed. If I get right up and start moving, I have that second wind that everyone talks about.  However, I don’t generally want to get up after just 15-20 minutes.  If I was tired enough to lie down, I want to get some serious sleep.

And lately, I have been tired enough to lie down.  In fact, while I was away last weekend, I took advantage of our free time to nap!  Other women did crafts, went for a walk, or even shopped.  Me? I was knocked out. When I woke up, since I was not at home with people who love me regardless of how crabby I get, I put on my best behavior and walked with my roommate to the nearest coffee spot.  We had a lovely cuppa before we returned for the last activity of the evening.  But you can probably guess how that worked out — yup, I was still awake at 1am!

So, I fell asleep on the couch the next evening, woke to go to work, plowed through the next couple of days, and then yesterday took another nap.  When I woke, I had dinner, took a walk with my husband, refrained from caffeine, but still found myself awake until almost midnight.

Maybe this is my new rhythm.  Maybe I have to learn to be flexible — sleeping when I can.


You won’t believe what just happened.  I wrote the last line, crawled into bed, and then slept for an hour!

This is definitely a new rhythm for me.  I have not been one to stop in the middle of a task to take a phone call or talk to a friend, let alone to lie down for a nap! Remember me? I the one who has been a soldier — marching on to battle unknown foes, kicking butts and taking names.  I haven’t been the kind of person who would stop mid-stride, drop all my defenses, and — gasp — sleep!

I think I need to face the facts — I am becoming a napper.  All kinds of changes are happening over here.

I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me.

Psalm 3:5

Let me introduce you!

Wanna meet some of my kids?  Not my children. My students.  And, oh yeah, they aren’t all kids.

The first student I tutored here in Ann Arbor we’ll call Krista.  Her mom reached out to me around Christmas.  Krista is a freshman with ADHD.  For those of you who know freshmen, that last sentence is a little redundant.  Krista and I initially met to study for her first high school final exams, and we have continued to meet to study and to write papers.   In fact, we recently spent several hours writing an essay comparing loss in Maus  and Night. We followed her teacher’s rubric, we got her thesis approved, we outlined, drafted, revised, and edited.  Then came the email from her mother.  “Krista got a D on her paper.  Thoughts?”  D? Are you kidding me?  I am an experienced teacher, a former English department chair, a former curriculum coordinator!  I walked with her through that paper, holding her hand!  She got a D?! For a moment I thought I had lost Krista as a client.  For over a week her mother didn’t reply to my emails other than one-word responses.  I understood.  She had hired me to help her child do better in English, not to help her earn a D!!  Yesterday, finally, she reached out and asked if I could help Krista with her next paper.  I was so relieved to get another chance!

About a month ago I was sitting on my couch in the evening when I received a tutoring request that went something like this, “I am a high school freshman.  I could use help in my English class.  Would you be willing to work with me.”  A freshman?  Sending his own email? Asking for help? We exchanged a half dozen emails and I met him that weekend.  He is the son of parents who immigrated from India.  In fact, last year, they went back to India for a year so that Saj (fictional name) could study there and experience the culture.  He is very bright.  Our first assignment was preparing a recitation and analytical speech about Oedipus.  We worked for a couple hours on this project –first planning, then writing and practicing.  Yesterday we spent an hour getting familiar with the new PSAT and SAT since Michigan just adopted these assessments after years of using the ACT.  He asked me for homework so that he can practice before I see him next week.

About six weeks ago a mother contacted me.  Her daughter is only in sixth grade, but she is very advanced and has always had an English tutor.  Would I be willing to write a curriculum for her — reading comprehension, writing, analysis, vocabulary, and grammar?  Well, sixth grade is a little young for me, and I would have to drive about twenty minutes to get to this student, but I agreed.  Again, she is Indian.  Her parents are highly educated, as are Saj’s.  And, I will admit, this girl is indeed, ‘very advanced’.  I show up every week with comprehension questions on the book we are reading together, The Book Thief.  I also give her questions about literary elements — irony, symbol, metaphor, narration, characterization.  I keep trying to find something she can’t answer.  I have not yet succeeded.  I’m not sure what she will study in high school — I’m using up all of my material!

I also have a couple adult students.  First is Cherise.  She is an RN who is studying to become an Advanced Practice Nurse.  She works in a pediatric clinic in Ypsilanti and is hoping to be the lead practitioner when her supervisor retires.  She has files of knowledge on nursing, but her writing skills are limited.  I wish I could videotape our sessions — she spends time explaining medical terminology to me; I spend time explaining sentence structure to her.  We are two middle aged women leaning over documents making a way to convey meaning.  She’s a quick study.  I show her parallel structure one time, she points it out in the next sentence.  I remind her that academic writing is in third person, she locates the personal pronouns she needs to delete.

My other adult is Carla.  She dropped out of high school to have a baby fourteen years ago.  She works in purchasing for a manufacturing plant in the area, but she wants a career change.  She wants to work in the criminal justice field.  A community college admitted her and she is taking a composition course online.  But she’s never written a paper before! We met to discuss her first paper, walking through sentence by sentence until she was comfortable with it.  We also discussed her next assignment — a research paper.  She lives thirty miles away, so we have only met once, but she emails me her documents and I make comments and ask questions in the margins.  I coach her — you need more research, make sure you are including your opinion, don’t forget to document your quotes.  She’s doing all this work in the evenings after working all day and while parenting a teenager.

And that’s not all.  There’s  a brother and sister I meet with weekly, a couple of students I met with just a couple of times each to do test prep, and twin sisters that I assisted with a huge research paper.  They contact me online, I meet them in libraries or at their homes.  For a moment or a season we are connected for a purpose.  Sometimes I think I am helping them, most of the time I think they are helping me.

That’s the kind of work I like to do — the kind where I feel privileged to show up and blessed when I leave.  May you have that kind of work to do, too.

Psalm 90:17

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;

establish the work of our hands for us —  yes, establish the work of our hands.

What to do, What to do, pt. 2

Remember way back in November when I broke my unemployment by working as an election agent?  I had been unemployed for four months or so and I agreed to sit in a press room at the county court house and report election returns via my smartphone.  It was my first post-teaching gig.  I had actually applied for that job while I was still living in St. Louis and interviewed for the position on the day that we moved in to the little house by the river.

The same agency that hired me for that position called me this morning.  They want to hire me for the months of March and April to drive about thirty miles one way, buy stuff, and then go donate that stuff to a shelter.  It’s not great money, but it’s 20-25 hours of work each week for eight weeks.  I was tempted to say yes.  I mean, they sought me out.  Why not?

Well, there are a few reasons.  The pay is not great.  If I am going to commit to something for 20-25 hours a week, it has to be worth my while.  I emailed the hiring agent and told her this.  She replied by telling me that they would compensate me for mileage — which would add up to a decent sum.  They would also pay for my travel to Cincinnati for training.  This would include lodging and meals for St. Patrick’s Day weekend.  That’s tempting, especially since the grand baby is in Cincinnati. But still, is it worth 20-25 hours of my time for six to eight weeks?

The second issue is that three of us are sharing one vehicle right now.  I know —  it’s practically un-American.  We have one car and one television.  (Actually, we have always only had one television, but that’s a story for another day.) We are working it out with only one car, but it takes some pretty fancy stepping including a Google Calendar specifically for car usage.  Taking a job that’s 20-25 hours each week in a small town thirty miles away would really bog down that calendar and make it very difficult for others to ‘share’ our one vehicle.

The third issue is that I am now a certified math story-problem grader (impressive, I know) and I am scheduled to start grading the short answers of unsuspecting third through eighth graders in early March. That, my friends, will earn me about the same amount of money as the purchasing position without leaving my home.

The fourth issue is that I am building my tutoring clientele.  Last week I did eight hours of tutoring.  This week I have six hours scheduled.  Tutoring does pay enough to make it worth my while.  And, it’s doing what I love to do. And, it uses my gifts.  And, it allows me to interact with students and their parents.

The fifth issue is that I have also applied for a short-term full-time proofreading position that starts the end of March and goes through July.   That position is for a textbook company.  It would give me something to do while students are on their summer breaks, and it would give me some excellent experience in proofreading.  Now, I haven’t been offered this position, nor have I even interviewed, but if I take a position buying things and donating them to a shelter, I won’t be available for a proofreading position.

So, what should I do?  Step one: I contacted the textbook company and inquired about their hiring timeline.  Step two: I will keep tutoring!  Step three: I will grade those math tests! Step four: I will pass on the purchasing gig!

My very first post on this blog was entitled ‘What to do, What to do”.  I’m still asking that question, but I am getting some clarity as I move through this next chapter. 

Psalm 90:17

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us.

Establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.

Tick, Tick, Tick

It’s December 3.  Can you hear that clock ticking?  I’ve been saying all along that I was going back to work on January 5.  That is just over one month away.

And not just any month — December!  December is busy for everyone, but for the Rathjes it might be just a bit crazier than it is for most.  We have four, yes 4, birthdays in our immediate family during December.  Two of our members are on academic calendars which have final exams during December.  And, we are involved in church work which is especially dense with activities during December.

So, after just three days in this month of all months I am sitting here thinking to myself, “am I really going to be ready to go to work on January 5?”

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that I have cheated a little — I just finished editing a novel for a local author, I am coaching a graduate student through his dissertation, I have been blogging, I jumped in with both feet to a project making hygiene kits for women in Kenya, and I have been pretty busy exploring avenues for improving my health. I haven’t really been ‘sitting around eating bonbons’.

Certainly I haven’t been working nearly as hard as I had in years past.  I do take time almost every day to exercise and to rest, but I have been, at least in the last six weeks or so, fairly productive.  Yet I’m not sure I am quite ready to go back to work.

I saw a job posting today at the University of Michigan for an English Language Arts Specialist.  Doesn’t that sound fancy?  It’s a position that supports beginning teachers and the educators of beginning teachers. My wheels started turning and I thought, “Wouldn’t that be exciting to help shape tomorrow’s educators?” And then I remembered that I came home from my Bible study this morning, ate a bowl of soup, then plunked myself on the couch for a couple of hours.  “Come on, Kristin, what about that position working with non-traditional students trying to complete their diplomas, wouldn’t that be great?”  Yes, it would; I would love it, if I could be sure I would be able to get out of bed and to school every morning by 8:00.

Sigh.  I’m tired.

I know the plans I have for you…

I know.

Do not fear, for I have been pleased to give you the kingdom. 

I remember.

Don’t worry about tomorrow…each day has enough trouble of its own.

So true.

Many are the plans in your heart, but My purpose prevails. 

You promise?

I promise. 

Ok. Thanks.

I Peter 5:7

I will cast all my anxiety on You, because You care for me.

(Rathje Revised Version)