Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The First Day of School

I can’t say that I actually remember any of my first days of school. Kindergarten is a hazy fog. I remember my fifth birthday because I thought I would be able to go to school the next day because obviously I was old enough. But they wouldn’t let me in. How disappointing. I can’t even remember with any clarity where we actually lived or what school I did time at for my kindergarten year. I guess I huffed too much paste in the boys’ room and killed off those weak brain cells.

I have no recollection of my first day of junior high, high school or even college. Nothing in particular really stands out about any of those days, except for the first few days of third grade that I spent disease ridden in a hospital bed.

But tomorrow … Tomorrow is the first day of graduate school. I hear stories all the time about people with a family working a full-time job and attending grad school in the evenings. I never really thought I would end up doing that myself. Had I really intended to pursue a graduate degree, I should have started immediately after finishing my baccalaureate degree. That would have been the smart thing, and that's what I tell students now if they are anticipating future education. But let’s face it, when planning a career in journalism, a graduate degree is definitely not required. Heck, a college education isn’t even a prerequisite to get a job as a reporter. (Please feel free to insert your own jokes about pinheaded journalists.)

(Dramatic music builds in the background ) But, alas, as the winds of change blow wistfully across my career paths, I sway toward the lure of higher education, reshaping my will in order to fulfill a higher calling that has been thrust upon me by fate. I must, at long last, return to the classroom where I will face the demons that lie before me in an attempt to climb the next rung on the corporate ladder. (music builds to a crescendo) After all, to advance in the field of higher education one must advance academically as well. (music fades)

OK, so my reaction might be somewhat dramatic, but how would you like to be going back to school when you're 33? It’s easy for me to sit around with college kids and rehash stories of the good old days and offer them advice about which professors to take (I work at my alma mater), and which ones to stay away from. But it’s not so easy to sit here thinking about returning to the classroom and having to take another 37 hours -- 40 if you count the leveling course.

Can I do the work? Sure. That is not the question. The questions surround the time commitment that I will have to make for the next three years. I hope to finish in two, but that may not be an option. I have to work classes around my schedule. The university will foot the bill for four classes (12 hours) a year, but if I want to finish in two years I will have to take an additional two courses, paying for the tuition out of my own pocket. Finding the classes will be easy enough. I work at our main campus and we have three other campuses within an 80 mile radius where courses are offered, as well as our virtual campus that houses all our online courses.

Yet, the fact remains that I am a moderately impatient person. Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not one of mine. I will start my first class tomorrow and want to complete the whole degree within a year. After all, as a full-time student I regularly took between 30 and 35 hours a year, not counting summer terms. It’s at this point that I have to tell myself, ‘Idiot! Those weren’t graduate level courses.’

Oh well, since this first course is a leveling course (junior/senior level) I can use it to get back into the swing of things. I assume I’ll have to spend some time in the library – yuck! I never liked spending time in the library. They are always so depressingly quiet, and librarians have a tendency to be strange. But I will be better able to judge how things will work once I am back in the classroom. Then perhaps I can double up during some terms and try to finish in two years, culminating in a magnificent graduation ceremony where I will be decked out in colors.

And the most important thing about earning a graduate degree? Once you have a decorative robe, you no longer have to feel like a piece of trash wearing a Hefty bag while marching in the convocation line with all the Ph.Ds during the year’s first chapel service.

After all, we must have our goals.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Seventh Inning Stretch

There we were, standing in the dugout. The hot West Texas sun was beating down on our pale, sun-burn prone skin. There was no shade on our side of the field, but that was OK. It was the first softball game of the season and we were just excited to be there. Of course, by “we” I’m referring to myself, the other coach and the six girls who were wondering if we would have enough people to field a team.

Eventually, two more girls showed up and we knew, by rule, we were allowed to play with eight. Our young warriors warmed up on the sideline as Jackson and I penciled in a lineup and batting order.

This was it … the moment of truth. If you have never experienced 9 and 10-year-old girls softball, then you haven’t … well, I’d like to say that you haven’t lived, but that would just be blatantly incorrect. What I should say is that if you haven’t experienced 9 and 10-year-old girls softball, then you haven’t experienced 9 and 10-year-old girls softball, because quite frankly, there is nothing else like it.

The fact that I’m helping coach this team is amazing in and of itself. But then again, Jackson needed someone who knew how to keep a scorebook; something I can do in my sleep should the need ever arise. Jackson’s daughter, my niece, is on the team. He needed help coaching and apparently I was the logical choice.

For someone who generally hides when there are large or small groups of children around, coaching youth league softball isn’t exactly a dream come true. However, since it is sports related, I have been able to tolerate it so far. The kids aren’t that bad and if you can keep them busy doing stuff, they don’t really have time to annoy you. I can definitely think of worse things to do.

Anyway, the game was nothing spectacular. In fact, it was anything but. If you play pitcher or catcher in this league you see a lot of action. If you play anywhere else, you can use the time to finish your homework, check your email on your palm pilot, talk on your cell phone or brush up on your psyche-out chants if you don't feel like lugging your electronic equipment onto the field with you. This is apparently why you hear singing and chanting coming from the dugouts of high school softball teams. All those girls must have played youth league softball where they never had anything else to do.

As a sports reporter, I once talked to a high school softball player and applauded her and her teammates for not being like every other team in the state which found it necessary to rattle off those annoying sing-songy chants throughout the entire game. She agreed, thinking it was kind of stupid.

At her next game, however, the team decided to start chanting. I was sitting near the dugout taking pictures and keeping a score book. When I heard the sudden noise I looked over at her, giving her one of those “what-the-heck” kind of looks. To her credit she was not taking part in the singing. She returned my gaze then promptly turned around and told her teammates to stop it because it was embarrassing. I had to like that girl.

At our Tuesday evening game, however, our young kids had nothing better to do since the game really didn’t involve them. They worked on their songs and chants while watching the grass grow in the outfield. The pitcher and catcher tossed the ball back and forth in a failed attempt to get the other team out.

All-in-all it was a stunning tale of inadequacy as the two teams combined to score 17 runs on 2 hits in two innings of play. The game was called when the time limit expired.

That’s right, 17 runs (we lost 9-8) on 2 hits. There were a grand total of 27 bases on balls issued. Neither team managed to get three outs in any particular inning. Due to league rules you are only allowed a certain number of batters per inning. When that number had batted, the inning was over.

To our credit, our team got both hits. And our pitcher did manage to strike out a couple of batters in the second inning, but walking 27 batters doesn’t make for exciting softball.

Needless to say, at practice today, our girls are going to work on pitching.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What's in a name

Well, I have finally decided to take the plunge. I am returning to the classroom in search of that elusive master’s degree. I have kicked around the idea for several years but continued to have hang-ups concerning what degree to pursue.

My undergraduate degree is in communications. Let’s face it, working in the communications field is not that difficult. While it helps to have a degree it is not required. And furthermore, a graduate degree in communications will do little good unless you want to teach in that field.

My other option was along the same lines – a master’s degree in education. Once again I don’t really want to teach, but I could have specialized in English and taught creative writing or something like that at a high school level. Lord knows an alarmingly large number of high school students definitely need a little help learning how to write. Some are quite eloquent. Others, however, couldn't write the sentence “See Spot run” if you spotted them “see” and “run.”

There is another big drawback to pursuing a master’s degree in education at my university, dealing with certain personnel issues. I don’t think I would be able to stomach taking classes from certain individuals. I'll just leave it at that.

But I had an epiphany the other day as I sat in a small office in our business building. Our virtual campus is housed in the business building and I was talking with the director of the VC when the Division Chair of our business department wandered in.

At this point I have to side track to tell you the name of the Division Chair. I promise you that this is absolutely, positively, 100 percent true. I could not make this up no matter how hard I tried.

Our Division Chair is a military man complete with short, cropped hair and demanding demeanor, although he is very good natured and has a good sense of humor. He grew up in a small town 20 miles east of here and was always known by his middle name – Brian or Byron or something like that. It wasn’t until he stood before a large congregation of students at Texas A&M University as a freshman that he realized how humorous his name really is. Our budding young Division Chair was required to stand before this large group and introduce himself. As he walked up on stage, he decided to use his name as it appeared on all of his official documents. This proud, young, military man stood before the group and introduced himself as Otto. B. Schacht. (last name pronounced Shot). To top it off, he married a woman named Madonna.

Needless to say this man is good for a story or two.

Anyway as we were talking I suddenly realized that a degree in management would be perfect for me. I have since checked on all the criteria and will soon be registered to pursue a master’s of art in management.

Of course, I just want to be known on all my official documents as Jonathan R. Petty, MAM.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Cool kid

Isn't she cool?

My daughter is a regular little fashionista. I don't really know if "fashionista" is a word, but that is the way I describe her. She has a definite sense of style, be it wearing cowboy boots with a miniskirt, or matching her shoes and hair ribbons. She does an excellent job for a 6-year-old.

She obviously loves pink, but has been known to wear other colors. A while back she decided she wanted to wear her black mini skirt. I said OK as long as she picked out some other clothes to go with it. She came back with black shoes, black tights and a black long-sleeve t-shirt with a pink lace spider emblazoned on the front. She showed them to me and asked if they would go good together. Even I knew enough to say yes.

Once she was all decked out with her hair fixed the way she wanted it (she's good about telling us if she wants a pony tail, dog ears, half pony tail or leave it down) she looked at herself in the mirror and said, "(Aunt) Rachel would like this outfit."

I wonder what she'll be like when she's a teenager.