Collateral Learning.

At the end of every school year, I talk to my classes about collateral learning. I tell them that I realize they have six or seven teachers who, for 10 months, tell them their class is vitally important to their lifelong success. And then I tell them, almost like it’s a secret, that for me, I’m more interested in their collateral learning. What did they learn this year about time management? Friendship? Setting boundaries? Identifying passions?

Yes, math and science and social studies and English and the arts and journalism are important, but what did they learn about how to live a fulfilling life? That is equally important.

This morning at 2 a.m., I thought about collateral learning in my current schooling. I’d been working on a JavaScript lab for nearly 7 hours, and while I’d asked for help and identified minor bugs, the lab still wasn’t passing the autograder.

It’s 2 a.m., an hour I hadn’t seen in who-knows-how-long, and I’m tweaking bits of code in hopes of being declared worthy, and I’m failing over and over and over again.

Oh, let me be clear: the code works just fine in simulators. In code validators, I’m getting zero errors. The people who helped me say they can’t find anything wrong with the logic or syntax of my code. It’s just the class automatic grader that doesn’t like something about my code and refuses to pass it. And since the autograder is a robot and can’t point to a specific choice I made, I’m a little stuck.

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Same errors for seven hours. I mean… just give up, amirite?

So at 2:12 a.m., I finally shut my laptop, turn on my meditation app and think: what am I doing to myself?

I haven’t written anything since starting this class. I haven’t practiced the piano. Haven’t practiced the music for the choir I’m singing in this summer. Haven’t read anything for enjoyment (because let me tell you, while informative and helpful, reading about JavaScript is not really enjoyable right now). Haven’t seen any new movies, haven’t binge-watched any TV shows. Haven’t edited any podcasts, organized my real or digital life, or seen any friends.

(I have gone to Jazzercise, so at least that’s something.)

What am I learning, exactly?

So before drifting off to sleep, I resolve to reevaluate my goals for this class. I make a list of things I need to do today, and things I want to do. And I go to sleep.

I woke up this morning with collateral learning still on my mind, and in the past month of working on this class, I’ve learned that I am not the best about self-imposed boundaries. It’s always been hard for me to say no to people, so this should not come as a surprise, really. But I didn’t think I would ever work on something for so many hours and be unable to set it aside, take a break, and do something that brings me joy.

I’ve learned that–right now, at least–I enjoy web design more than web development.

I’ve learned that I need to track my time spent on this, I need to plan more things in my days so my time with the class is more focused, and I need to be a tidge more forgiving to myself when I’m slow to grasp content.

I’ve learned I need a break.

Coding Hope.

Wednesday night, I finished the coding class, and now I wait to find out if I made it to phase two. My second project bothered me, though. We had to create an card about an animal, and the only specs we were given was the size and what basic info the text needed to contain. I didn’t like how it looked when I finished it in February, but I moved on anyway.

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See the design problems? There’s a weird line at the bottom, and a weird drop shadow and the text is too close to the left border, and I really don’t like the font…ugh.

So tonight I went back to it, and guess what?

I knew how to fix it.

I looked at the code and knew right away what I needed to play around with to bring it closer to my design standards. In less than five minutes, I had this:

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This gave me such hope. At some point in the past six weeks, something clicked, and I knew how to use code to improve a web design. Now, I still struggle with how to use code for a website’s functionality, but I no longer think I won’t figure that out someday.

I just might be able to do this.

Stupid (for a short time) (I hope).

In January I was notified of my acceptance to the initial phase of the Grow with Google Scholarship program. I have until April 11 to complete 20 lessons and three major projects.

I’m on the final project right now, and I’ve never felt dumber.

Wait–that’s not true. I have felt this dumb before. 


I carried feeling that dumb that with me for years–to the point where I tapped out of math courses after my junior year of high school, and when BYU told me I could take four semesters of a world language instead of two semesters of math, j’ai dit, “d’accord, je les prends.”

So as I have been working through these programming lessons the past two months, most of the time I feel pretty stupid. And in this past week as I’ve worked on the final project, the level of stupid I feel far exceeds what I remember feeling in advanced geometry.

But one thing I’ve learned in this course is how open many in the coding world are. The forums for the class are supportive, and people often post tips or hints for how to best complete quizzes and projects. Two weeks ago, the program directors offered to pair up people who were struggling with people who were really good programmers. So I signed up.

Tonight, someone I’ve never met face to face spent two hours walking me through different pieces of the code I’d tried to build. He asked questions and sometimes I answered them wrong, so he would give me hints, and a couple of times, he gave me the answers but then asked me to tell him why those answers were correct (and I could at least do that). When I finally signed off, he said, “Good work tonight!”

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This is part of what took two hours to fix and clean up tonight.

My first thought was “Good work? I barely understood what I was doing and you gave me A LOT of help! How is that good work?”

With his help, I am confident I’ll complete this course. I am zero confident that I’ll be selected for the next round, because I just haven’t truly learned the skills I need to be successful and I doubt I’m in the top 1500 students. I’m probably (definitely) helping him get into the next round just by having to suffer my inane questions and sloppy syntax.

And that’s okay. Really, really okay.

Because I have learned that there’s so many resources available for me to continue learning and practicing. I’ve learned that while taking courses at the local community college might be nice, it’s not necessary for what I want my second act to be.

This course has humbled me quite a bit; so much of what I’ve done in my life has come pretty easy to me, even the things that felt difficult at the time.

It’s been a long time since I felt motivated to become better at something I was really, really bad at. (And I am really, really, really bad at programming right now).

In fact, this might be the first time that’s happened. Sounds like a bucket list item to me.

The Hearing.

“Did I remember to spell my name?” I leaned over to Stueve and whispered.

“No,” he said, and my eyes widened. “I’m kidding! Yes. You did.”

I still can’t remember spelling my name.

It’s odd what adrenaline does to the memory–I clearly remember rushing the phrase “to posit” and worrying that it sounded like “deposit,” but I can’t remember spelling my name.

For the first time in my life, I attended a committee hearing on bills presented to the judiciary committee of my state’s legislature to testify in support of a bill. I had little idea what to expect, since I cut short my political science studies to drop out of school for a year.

A story for another time.

I arrived at the capitol building well ahead of the hearing’s 1:30 p.m. start time, and I knew I was in for a long day since they moved our bill from third to last in the order. And had I paid closer attention to the other bills in that hearing, I might not have arrived so early: also on the docket was a resolution to put medical cannibis on the November ballot and let voters decide if it should be legal.

The cannibis resolution was fourth in line, and it ground the pacing of the day to a halt. Proponent after proponent shared their experience and reasoning as to why the people of Nebraska deserved to decide this issue, as opposed to relying on legislators to work out a bill. Then opponent after opponent (though they numbered far fewer) attempted to persuade the committee to not advance the resolution. And committee member after committee member asked question after question of most of the opponents.

Two hours later, the hearing on the resolution ended, and we took a 10 minute break. At this point, I’d been sitting in the room for three hours.

It took another hour to get through the next bill, which would place restrictions on citizens with juvenile records from purchasing firearms, and finally, at around 6 p.m., Senator Adam Morfeld read in LB 886.

Prior to Morfeld’s speech, the chair of the committee asked the crowd, “How many of you in the room plan to testify either for or against this bill?”

I saw over a dozen hands go up.

And I wondered if I should speak. I had written my comments–could they possibly be any different from what the other people would say? Maybe I could just save them and send as a letter if the bill made it to a floor vote. It was so late, and I was hungry, and Stueve had brought six kids to report on the hearing. Everyone in the room could go home three minutes earlier if I didn’t speak.

I turned to Stueve and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t speak.”

And I don’t remember his response, but it was akin to this:

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And then I remembered that I sat through two hours of testimony about cannibis and dammit, I was going to take my three minutes.

(Yes, the situation warranted a swear.)

So I moved to the front row and after several others testified in support of the bill, I added my voice to the many. I nearly ran out of time, because in all of my practice runs, I forgot to factor in that I would have to say and spell my name. Precious seconds, when limited to 180 total.

And I’m glad I testified. Not because I think anything I said was going to persuade the committee either way, but because if I’ve learned anything the past year, it’s that I can no longer be a passive recipient of the benefits of democracy. Instead, I need to be an active participant.

And whether it’s voting, making phone calls, writing letters, or showing up and testifying before a committee in support of or opposition to legislation, active participants are the people who will keep the democracy strong. And I don’t want to be left out of that hard work.

In another life, setting policy was the career goal. Spending six hours in a hearing room at times made me wistful for that road not taken. But in the past 24 hours, as I’ve seen multiple reasons why teaching has been the right road for me these past 17 years, I also realized there’s no reason why I can’t travel the policy road in the future.

All or nothing, all the time.

My winter break this year was utterly delightful. A perfect balance of time with friends, work, lazy mornings, and glorious alone time.

I knew I’d need a winter break like that because I could feel a storm of sorts brewing. Not a destructive storm, necessarily, but a storm nonetheless. The kind that you sit on your porch to watch roll in from the west and then marvel that such an event doesn’t do more damage to all the surroundings. Like a lightning storm, perhaps. Or a snowstorm that lacks blizzardy winds.

Here’s the current storm:

  • Principal pianist for the school musical.
  • Working toward earning Adobe certification.
  • Starting a coding bootcamp.
  • Teaching full time (as usual).
  • Increased sports broadcasting responsibilities.

I’ve left out others–I still need to give time to my family and friends and church, still need to occasionally clean, still need to produce a podcast, still need to break into the most recent round of edits on my book.

I told a friend today that I’m not sure I know how to do happy medium. I feel like most of my life has been either all or nothing. I’ve spent summers of my teaching career bopping between my bed and couch watching Netflix, and then there’ve been summers of non-stop travel and school. I’ve spend school years doing just what was expected, and school years taking classes and implementing new programs and writing curricula.

I just don’t hang out in the middle.

So a few favors to ask between now and April: if you see me and I’m looking a little hollow, please smile and don’t mention the bags under my eyes. If you don’t see me for several weeks, please send me a text and make sure I haven’t gone completely off the rails. If you see a social media post and you think, “Hmmm she might be near a breaking point,” ask me when I last took time to see a movie or read a book or meet a friend for dinner or a beverage.

I’m sure I’ll thank you.