To everything there is a season… A prayer of gratitude this morning as I close a prominent chapter in my book of life.
The first college class I ever taught was in January of 1980 at Michigan State. Although my MFA was to prepare me for the professional stage I saw then that teaching was my true calling. Not teaching Theater or Speech - but teaching young adults how to develop into strong confident people by using the tools set forth in those disciplines. It was an awkward moment for me as truly I was to become the next Audrey Hepburn. A good fall back profession ‘just in case.’ My arrogance and ignorance were unmatched in those days. Royce Ramsay smiled on and Frank just shook his head.
New York, LA and Chicago gave some good professional memories but pounding the pavement took its toll on my tender feet… and feelings. Then Jack saw me in a performance at Cape Fear Regional Theatre and promptly offered me a teaching job at Methodist University. There I wrote a text book and brought Children’s Theater to the department with Edwina as the Snow White’s baddest beautiful witch. Little did we know we were soon to become mothers together and hang up the spot lights for little blue shoes and warm cuddles. I tried to keep teaching for a while but little crocodile tears waving by-by got to my heart one day as I left for a rehearsal. One would wait for me – the other would not as time screamed by. Easy choice to choose my child over others.
On to teaching Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, performing puppet shows, working on an Ed.D online, and writing/directing/producing/acting in Fund Raising Cabarets with my little guy in tow. Over achiever or neurotic ADHD? Who’s to tell…. Anyway, the church was a great place to teach of greater deeds - and it felt like home to this aging pastor’s kid. Writing Liturgical Dramas brought a Pipe Organ to life – and gave me lifelong friends Martha and Tim. Who’s a thought I’d be best friends with Lucifer…
A new town. A new school. They needed a Drama teacher to put on a play. I needed a cut in tuition. Deal! O’Neal’s first theatre production was a melodrama – much like my life at that time. Life imitates art all too often. My world blew up in my face and in this version there was no Dudley Do-Right to save me. But there was a teaching position open at the college across the street.
Single again, I nailed the art of raising a son while breaking down in the bathroom between classes. Adding a church job into the mix my day started at 5:00 AM reading, praying, and in-depth conversations with my Golden Retriever on our walk. All was going well until my five classes were suddenly cut to two due to low enrollment for next term. Interesting as to how God shows up in the strangest places… at the 11th hour. Didn’t see it coming as I was too panicked on how to pay the bills. Who do I know? Called the old Dean at MU – nothing he knew of but he’d keep his ears open. Good thing he shopped at Food Lion as he ran in Phoebe Hall from FSU who was out buying hamburger there that night. She just so happened to be looking for an Adjunct Speech Instructor. Bam. In less than 24 hours I was hired making more teaching two classes than the five I left behind. I cried in awe of God’s providence after the phone call. One of many times He had my back and tucked me in at night.
Soon St. Andrews had an opening and I was driving from one school to the next as both were only part time gigs with possibilities of Tenure Track positions opening up. I deeply suspected I’d pick St. Andrews as it was just like Olivet – small liberal Arts School. I did not have a lot of tech experience (yes Frank – you told me I’d rue the day I refused to learn how to build a flat) but I had Tom who worked in the library. My Ace in the hole as he was a brilliant craftsman. He saved my back end by building a set that could have sold in the real Estate Market for 200K. We were a grand team. I took the Mantle home and have it mounted over my fireplace – it was that good.
One day at FSU however a special student stopped me in the hall. Michael could appear scary. He was 6’2 Ranger big with piercing black eyes and a serious stance. He was also one of my elves in the children’s play which made for a great visual discrepancy and he was dear to my heart. “I hear you may be leaving us for St. Andrews.” ‘Don’t know Michael – haven’t made up my mind.” “You CAN’T GO! We need you here. We love you.” At the moment my heart knew he was right. I went home and declined St. Andrew’s offer.
The year after I accepted FSU’s Tenure track position all the Adjunct positions were cancelled. Once again I marveled at God’s insistence in saving my behind. It was a different kind of a tenure position however as I never really had a chance to put all myself into it. Those were the sandwich years. I was the wilted bologna between aging parents and a turbulent teen with two jobs. To boot, I set up hospice four times in five years and lost them all - two of them being my parents and one my best friend. Did I mention that my son had some fascinating encounters with reality and the law and then was almost killed in a car accident? Some days it was hard to breath much less lecture. But I did. I owe my colleagues however. They carried a heavier load due to my chaos. Good people – all of them.
When mom passed leaving me her business in 2012 I could have walked away altogether but I opted for Adjunct again as I just couldn’t leave. My classes were my constant. My saving grace. With all the changes in my life that left me looking for answers, I knew what I was doing on Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00 to 2:00. A hard reality at first to leave as I wanted to keep going… but it’s time now as new endeavors and challenges are calling to me.
Thank you all - too many to mention. Phoebe you always had my back and I owe you. Todd - you taught me how to be a professor by your example. BTW - I expect to see you Dean one day – or Provost. Too many students to name but so dear to my heart… You taught me more than you will ever know.
I find myself not being able to end this blog as I want. There is no poetic ending I guess as I will always be a teacher… and I suspect I will teach again on Sunday School and give Health and Wellness lectures for my business. After 2PM today however my students will no longer be from UNC-FSU. But I will never forget them nor the life changing experiences I gained at their tutelage. Good-by and Thank you. To everything there is a season…