MALS: My Amazing Lessons in Self
By Theresa Jo Grzybek
For years, my husband had been asking me to move south. I had myriad excuses: my friends are here, the kids are still in school, I want to finish my education at Nazareth, I like the area. You get the idea. I was stubborn and afraid. All that changed when he bought me a rake and said, “I don’t do leaves.” That same year, for Christmas, he bought me a shovel and said, “I don’t do snow.” I thanked him for his generosity and said, “When do we move?”
During the worst economic times in recent history, we sold our house and most of our possessions, quit our jobs, and moved to Florida. We had no jobs, no house, and no “stuff.” People thought we were crazy—including me—but I made the decision easily. It was all due to the lessons in self I learned while in the MALS program.
My life had been like any other. I graduated from high school, obtained a Practical Nursing License, got a job, and my own place. I met my husband, got married, had kids, and was a stay-at-home mother. Life was good! Eventually I decided I wanted to get a degree and teach elementary school. My husband was in full support and my journey began.
I graduated with a B.A. in 2002 from Nazareth. Knowing that New York State requires a Masters Degree for permanent certification, I began checking out programs. All of my friends had lots of advice. “Literacy is the way to go.” “You should get a degree in reading, that’s the up and coming thing.” “Have you thought about getting certified in Secondary Ed.?” The only thing I was certain of was that I wanted to have fun with my education. Nazareth must have been inside my head, because that was the inaugural year of the MALS program.
As I read about the program, I became really excited. It sounded as if I could satisfy the requirements for NYS certification and still have fun while I was doing it. The thought of taking ecology and business and ethics classes scared and exhilarated me at the same time. I was an English major, and these types of classes would be totally foreign to me. This was definitely going to be fun! I had no idea at the time how the program would transform my life. When I started, I thought I knew myself pretty well. Boy, was I wrong! I not only earned my graduate degree, I learned amazing lessons in self along the way.
Prior to MALS I was happy with the status quo. I liked my husband, my kids, my friends and my job. I really didn’t like change and there were many times I was filled with self doubt. I thought I had reached my potential and if things just remained as they were, everything would be good. There was no reason to change my life or my outlook and no one was going to make me.
My MALS professors were not happy with the status quo. They pushed, prodded, and pushed some more. They challenged my way of thinking and the way I reacted to things. They would not allow me to settle. Every time I thought I had done my best work, I was told I could do it better. I re-wrote one paper 15 times, because Dr. Potts told me it wasn’t my best! Fifteen I realized that if I had written it 15 times, she had read it 15 times, and cared enough to help me learn about myself in the process. All of my professors demonstrated this same vigor and dedication to learning, and elicited the best from my peers and me.
I found the design of the program, with its peer interaction, to be a vital force in my learning. My peers had much to offer, both, individually and as a group. We laughed, cried, and shared our fears, hopes, anxieties, successes, and failures. The supportive structure of the program challenged and stretched my thinking, allowing me to “see” things I hadn’t before thought of.
I have put to use the lessons I learned in the MALS program. I approach my teaching and life with a new vitality and vigor. I push and prod my third graders and then push some more. I examine their different needs and come up with a variety of different approaches to “reach” them. I allow them to interact with each other, so they, too, may know the benefit of laughing, crying, and sharing their fears, hopes, anxieties, successes, and failures with others. I try to challenge and stretch their thinking as they learn about self and I continue to do the same.
I am no longer satisfied with the status quo. I ask myself, “What if?” I am willing to take chances, such as selling everything I own and moving to Florida and starting over. I live every day to the fullest. I still like my husband, my children, my friends, and my job, but now I really appreciate them and what they have to offer. I still have self doubt at times, but now I know that I can overcome any obstacle. I have learned to look at the world in different ways and am ready to explore the possibilities it holds. While I haven’t yet reached my potential, I will continue on my journey toward it, taking the time for more amazing lessons in self.