Four years ago, a new semester started in my online classes, and I got scared.
In one of my sections of research writing, a section that was very lively from the first day and never ceased to have excellent energy, there was this one student, and she made me nervous. You see, during the first week of class, students were asked to post personal introductions of themselves and then reply to two classmates’ messages. This activity is a nice way to break the ice and to get at least a few connections going.
This one particular student, however, didn’t reply to just two classmates.
She replied to every single person’s introduction. And there were 50 people in that class.
Whoa, I thought to myself. I’m going to have to keep my eye on this one. She could be a real handful.
As the semester progressed, though, my fears were allayed; this student, a woman named Deanna, was not crazy or too much or out of control. Nope. Rather, Deanna was a steady, positive influence for the entire class. She never missed an assignment. She never turned in work late. She never made a single excuse — even when her father died, and she had to make a through-the-night drive across several states right when an important assignment was due. She was a damn delight.
After that semester ended, it occurred to me that Deanna would make an excellent student mentor. Our college has a program that allows online instructors to draft stand-out students as mentors who are then embedded within online sections. Flattered, Deanna accepted my offer, and for the next few years, she and I became a team within the online classroom. In addition to the instructional materials that I would provide to students, Deanna would post a weekly tip for the class, answer questions if she saw them before I had logged in, participate in discussions when they were lagging, and complete a critique of every student’s rough draft of the research paper. She did all this in addition to taking her own classes and working full time.
During these years as a team, we became friends more than anything. Eventually, Deanna approached me to ask if I would be willing to serve as the faculty advisor for Phi Theta Kappa. If anyone else had asked me, I might have said no. But since Deanna was the president of our campus’ chapter of PTK, I was willing.
For the next two years, Deanna and I worked together to bolster the health and presence of the PTK chapter. Not only did we hold monthly meetings, we started having chapter officers do presentations during Student Success Day, and one semester we ran an ESL group on campus, in an effort to forge connections with our international students. Even more, we traveled to various PTK conferences, both regional and national. There is a very specific intimacy that comes from hanging out in airports and staying in hotels with a student/friend. Put another way: I could walk up to a Starbucks counter and know what kind of drink to order for Deanna.
Just last week, on the day before my birthday, Deanna came over with a four-pack of my favorite beer in one hand and a screamingly fine chocolate cake in the other hand. After days of pain and isolation, I felt myself emerge from behind my sling a little bit that afternoon as three of us shared beers, gossip, and cake.
Over these past four years of getting to know Deanna, I have learned a great deal about her. I have learned about her years with her emotionally abusive ex-husband: one of his weekly demands of her was that they go into the bedroom and spread a towel onto the floor near the bed; then she would stand on the towel while he sprayed tan lines onto her body. I have learned that this ex-husband also constantly told his wife, who has battled anorexia since her teen years, that she was “fat” at 5 feet 4 ½ inches and 120 pounds. I have learned that she has the softest of hearts: her house, which she bought from her parents when they wanted to move, has often served in recent years as a halfway house for young people dealing with issues of finances, sexuality, and homelessness. I have learned that even though she became a nurse several decades ago, she is willing to push beyond the easy comfort of a known career and retrain herself, now that she is in her 50s, for a new life as an English teacher.
And I have learned that during the first week of our research writing class, the reason Deanna responded to every single classmate’s introduction was this: she couldn’t bear the idea that her classmates had devoted time and effort to creating descriptions of themselves, yet their introductions might go unacknowledged. As she explained to me, “I know how terrible it feels to try at something — but not be seen.”
It came as no surprise, then, that when I put out the call asking if anyone would be willing to share the details of “a day in the life,” Deanna willingly agreed to give me an assist. Here, then, is Deanna.
I have decided that sometimes I wear too-many-damn-hats! It wasn’t always this way. There was a time in my life where I possessed just enough that I could either juggle them quickly – or sometimes wear two at a time. I possessed the hats of trophy wife, mother, and nurse. Though I had children, life was simple then. However, over time, the hat of motherhood wasn’t needed as much. Additionally, one of those hats just didn’t seem to fit quite right. It was too constricting, restricting, controlling, and confining — plus I was required to wear it 24/7. So, after 23-years, I decided I’d had enough, and I held a small bonfire of hats and walked away. Ran actually.
I discovered that once I was rid of the “constricting and confining” hat of trophy wife, I could take on bigger, better, and even MORE hats!
With my day beginning from the time I walk out the door at 5:30 am (sometimes at 5:15 am) and going until 10:30 pm at night, many of these hats are in a continual rotating basis.
Monday through Friday typically looks like this, with some slight time variations depending on what classes I have:
5:45 am-10:00 am – nurse hat
10:30 am-3:20 pm – student hat
3:45 pm-6:45 pm – nurse hat
7:15 pm-10:30 pm – student, girlfriend, and Phi Theta Kappa advisor hats
The open times in between are spent driving to and from campus. When I have volunteering, work time shuffles as I can be flexible just as long as I get those 40-hours in. Most of my phone calls are made during drive time <gasp> yes I wear a headset! It really is the only time I have figured out where I can make phone calls to family or PTK members.
On weekends, while there is no time constraint, I’m girlfriend, student, PTK advisor, writer, and archer or hunter (depending on the time of the year). Happily, I don’t have to get up until 8:30 am on the weekends – yet I’m typically not in bed until 1:00 am.
Am I insane? Perhaps. Yet I believe if there is something that interests me then damn it – I’m going to buy that hat and see if I can wear it.
My current hats:
Girlfriend: this is the easiest, most carefree, and most fun hat that I wear – non-stop. Of course it is a younger hat, but one that I love wearing. It fits me very well and never goes out of style. At the age of 45, I found the love of my life: a man 13-years younger whom I had been good friends with for two years before my divorce. I was surprised as heck when he told me he wanted to date me. I can honestly say that I am no longer who I was because I have blossomed without the restriction I had been placed in during my marriage. It is this relationship (of more than 7-years) that has afforded me the freedom to pursue new hats. In this hat I have traveled to France, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This hat will eventually see me (with Shawn) living and teaching in Thailand six months out of the year.
Full-time Student: taking 14 credits at a time – in the classroom five days per week — with too many outside of class hours to think about. It would scare me if I did the calculations. Happily – this hat does not resemble a cone-shaped dunce hat. This could also be called my “planning and preparatory hat” as it is this hat that is needed for the dream of living in Thailand. Admittedly, it was difficult getting used to wearing the hat of student after being out of the classroom for 27 years. Starting with an Associate’s Degree, now working on my Bachelor’s Degree, and then heading into Master’s in English is a time commitment but necessary for the life we envision for tomorrow.
Nurse: though I initially burned this one, I did get a new one in a slightly different model. I wear this hat 40-hours per week typically. However, sometimes I have to put the traditional nurse’s hat back on for family and friends — you know, when they have questions that they don’t want to bother their doctor with. After graduating from practical nursing in 1983, I spent the next 27 years as a pediatric nurse, an OB/GYN nurse, and a medical surgical nurse in a hospital. Now I use my nursing skills in Quality Review. This is a job (and hat) that is flexible enough that I can don my student hat over it.
Phi Theta Kappa Advisor (PTK): the honor society for 2-year colleges. This hat has undergone some style changes since I first put on a PTK hat in 2011. It initially started as a chapter officer and then regional officer and morphed into the eventual advisor hat. Sometimes this involves giving workshops, just listening, or helping with scholarship applications. The transition in style has definitely been a learning process, and there are times when this hat gets a bit uncomfortable to wear.
Volunteer: while I was wearing the trophy wife hat, I was not allowed to volunteer because, after all, what would I get out of it? Since my divorce, I have found that I enjoy wearing the hat of volunteer. Wearing the hat of the fryer queen at the VFW burger nights (this hat looks more like the tall paper chef hats we see on TV) along with keeping their wireless internet up and running has been a great way to give back to those who have served. Donating blood and working with elementary kids as a Rolling Readers classroom reader looks like a baseball cap with the words – “Just Ask Me & I’ll Do It” written on it. If I can fit it into my schedule, I will happily accept any volunteer hat that is offered.
Writer: this invisible hat allows me to blog under a pseudonym so I can be deep, snarky, give advice, or be serious; my “Avie Layne” hat is a fun one to wear. I’ve honestly tried this hat on from time to time since I was a teenager. Undeniably, as a teenager, what I wrote was truly horrible – but it was a learning process. During the later years of my marriage, I dabbled in writing, but it wasn’t a hat I could bring out very often.
Archer/Hunter: YES – this hat is camouflage (or bright orange) and is typically worn from August through January. A full camo ensemble accompanies the wearing of this particular hat. This is the newest hat in the bunch. I’ve never been athletic, but trying archery at a fellowship event showed me this was something I could do. I discovered, in this past year, that I’m actually quite good at it. Later, I decided it would be a fun hat to wear with my dad during deer hunting season. This year the hunting hat was in practice as I think my quarry knew that my hat was very new and stayed away. Next year, however – my hat will be quite broken in.
Future Hats: While I will always have the hat of girlfriend, there is the possibility of changing the style slightly to that of wife. Of course, this time it won’t be the trophy style – rather it will continue to be comfortable, carefree, and easy. While we are living in Thailand, my hat will be teacher of English language, lover and chef of Thai cuisine, all while keeping my writer’s hat close at hand. In the months each year that we will be back in the States, at the property we lovingly call “The Lake House,” I will don the hat of gardener and make a slight variation to the teacher hat while teaching community classes on cooking. This little tree of hats could happily sustain me for the rest of my life.
Growing up under the hot Kansas sun, Deanna Keller spent many hours sitting under the apricot tree with her nose either in a book or writing in her scruffy notebooks, carefully composing stereotypically bad teenage poetry with a Number Two pencil. Exploring writing as an adult, she found her voice by blogging about her observations and musings surrounding life using a ghost name, which she has done for the past five years. Creative Writing classes at college opened her eyes to the idea of short stories for young adults and ignited new writing passion. Many are based on the stories of her parents’ poor childhoods growing up in the Ozarks of Arkansas in the late 1940s early 50s. Currently, as student at The College of St. Scholastica pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English, she will continue on to a Master’s in teaching and a certification in online education in order to teach at the high school or community college level. She plans to pass along the love of writing to future students and assist young writers in finding their own writing voice. Deanna’s motto is, “Never let anyone prevent you from reaching for your dreams. The only failure is in not trying.” Deanna blogs at: Avie Layne.
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