The Pluviophile

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The smell of rain brewing in the sky,
The clouds – dense and tempestuous,
From the distance grumbling a sigh,
Saturnine guests invited to quench the parched earth,
As a pluviophile waits in anticipation for the precipitation.

Claire-Marie Brisson

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Why I Teach – A Journey

imageStanding in front of a classroom full of thirty students might sound daunting to some, but to me, it’s the most invigorating part of life. The first day of class, the students flow into the room and sit in the sage-coloured chairs, their outfits crisp, their eyes perky, and their lips sealed. The weeks that follow, the students begin to start wearing sweatpants, their hair becomes frazzled, and they sometimes skip. At the end of it all, it’s as if they had run a marathon. Some run to the finish line confidently, others proceed with caution, and still others sit on the sidelines, procrastinating until the last minute. As I write this today, I am seeing off another talented batch of students as they finish their final exam.

Along the journey, these faces become the mosaic of a teacher’s life. From the very first moment that I taught in a high school classroom as an undergraduate student with big dreams, to where I am now teaching university students who display extraordinary determination and passion, each of my students remain in my memory. Thousands of students will stream in and out of my life in waves throughout my life, and for that I am most thankful.

Teaching goes beyond a career for me. I wake up in the morning and smile, despite any personal upsets or feeling ill. My students are like a reset button for me. Entering the classroom for me is seeing rows upon rows of individuals that I am able to educate, inspire, and motivate towards their goals. They may not always complete every assignment perfectly, but that doesn’t change my perspective of them as individuals. After they leave my classroom, some keep in contact, others leave forever. Sometimes life will create a chance encounter where you’ll meet again, and that’s the beauty of teaching – wherever my students will go, I know I’ve made just the smallest difference in the world.

It’s in helping my students that I feel the most rewarded. Teaching the subject matter is one thing, incorporating it into my students’ lives is another. When a student approaches me for extra information about a subject, advice in their general life, or simply wants to reach out and share something with me, I feel enriched.

My students leave me with a trail of cards, souvenirs, and memories, and I am forever grateful for them. They are small tokens that remind me of the good times shared in class and the smiles they brought to me. I continue to learn the art of generosity from my students. Though life may not be easy for them, particularly in their role as students, they never fail to make me feel appreciated and happy.

Though my comments may sound idyllic, many fail to recognize how much of a time investment teaching is. “You only teach for two hours every day? Oh that sounds like a dream job!” exclaim my friends who work cubicle jobs. There is indeed a lot of flexibility in teaching at a university, however, consider the time that goes into preparing lesson plans, PowerPoints, handouts, quizzes, exams, review sheets, and on top of all of that being accessible to students, and you have a whole different perspective. Moreover, most university lecturers don’t just teach at one location to make a livable wage. Teaching isn’t the easiest life path, but for me, it is certainly the most rewarding.

Out of all of the experiences in my life, I continue to be the most grateful for my career. In so many ways, the love and support that I feel while teaching surpasses the feeling of being a millionaire. Money can buy you a lot of things, but it certainly can’t buy you the chance to see so many incredible minds at work. As I look at the stack of exams that I dread checking to finish up the semester, I realize how lucky I truly am to have had such a positive experience with a myriad of stars that continue to blaze their paths through life. Thankful doesn’t even describe it.

Claire-Marie Brisson

Incorrigible Youth

image Age. The saying goes that it’s just a number, and in truth it really doesn’t matter how many times you’ve made a full revolution around the sun, it matters what you take from it.

As with every year, the days preceding and following my birthday (26 April) tend to be a time of reflection for me. It’s a time that I’m grateful for all that has happened in my life – good and bad – because I see how it continues to make me develop and reevaluate my perspectives. I equally think about all the adjectives that represent the multiple facets of my character, and how those grow as I do.

Despite the sand that continues to accumulate in the bottom of my life’s hourglass, I realize that I will forever identify with having incorrigible youth.

Now what on earth do I mean? Incorrigible usually has a negative connotation implied when it’s defined. To me, it’s life’s greatest blessing.

Though we may mature, grow, age, get stretch marks and wrinkles, and have our hair fade to a soft grey or become a dry desert, we must always nourish what’s inside – our heart. It’s within your heart that you should raise the anchor and let your passions set sail. I’m incorrigibly in love with life, and giddy with the happiness of youth. Youth is the burning fire that continues to be rekindled within my heart, and it has no age. The moment we forget how it feels to muddy a pair of shoes running through a grassy field, the joy of standing in the rain, the true sweetness that comes from observing the smallest things in life – in that moment we forget that life’s treasure box exists.

One of life’s treasures is sharing a true laugh with someone. Laughter is one of the most sincere emotions I know. Share it. It’s catchy. Laughter is the song of the child that still wishes she could wear a tiara outside while riding a bike. It has no hidden agenda.

Though my exterior may look studious at times, hardworking at others, and on some days even glamourous (or at least, I do try) my inside is graced with an incurable youthfulness. In anticipation of my birthday, I celebrate the child that I was, am, and will forever be, even when I’m 100. Embrace your quirkiness and love your child within – they’ll be glad you’re not neglecting them anymore. 🙂

Claire-Marie Brisson

Taking the First Step

makeithappenAmbition. Honesty. Dedication. Three words I try to live by. 

To be honest, I haven’t been ambitious, honest, nor dedicated in one area of my life, and that is taking care of myself. Yes, I love doing my makeup and trying on different clothes, but in reality, that doesn’t translate to total wellness. I exert myself outwardly to the point of neglect, and today I’m taking the first real step to change that.

I’ve gone on and off trying to monitor my weight and my nutrition. If you’ve known me for a while, you know how I’ve tried to go to the gym, have continually tried to work on maintaining a healthy weight, and always strive to eat well. I avoid all kinds of foods that are bad for me for the most part, however, I realize that eating things labeled ‘organic’ doesn’t always mean that I’m nutritionally on the right track.

Furthermore, I put myself under a lot of stress. I had at one point dedicated myself to spending several minutes every day meditating, but somewhere along the line that disappeared. I want to regroup and reclaim the Claire-Marie I want to be.

I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I don’t think I can drop 20 pounds in a week. To be honest, that’s pretty unhealthy and can shock the body. When I see the photoshopped models in magazines, I realize that marketing is intended to make every body type feel self-conscious. However, I recognize that there are some simple steps I can take to advance myself both physically while at the same time mentally working towards my academic goals.

Writing this isn’t easy, but here’s my first step. I’m not writing about it to glorify it, or to make others feel like they should follow suit. I’m writing to hold myself accountable, so that one year from today I’ll be able to see how I’ve progressed, if at all. I do hope for the best.

What exactly, then, am I going to push myself to do?

The Plan

  1. Drink more water
    This sounds fairly simple, but I just don’t get enough water every day. This has an immense impact not only on weight, but also on other basic needs my body has, including skin issues.
  2. Reevaluate my food intake
    I’ve reactivated a program to help me count my calories. But beyond recording that the yogurt I eat has 120 calories, I am equally going to monitor the amount of total fat, carbs, and protein to see what’s going on. Furthermore, my work schedule makes my eating times rather weird. I’m going to try to normalize my food schedule.
  3. Schedule exercise
    If you could see my Google Calendar, you’d be fairly shocked at how much work goes into my week. This doesn’t mean that I’m sitting the whole time, however it definitely means I’m not scheduling in exercise as I would like. I like the motto of ‘no excuses.’ I’m going to reincorporate morning yoga, quick dance breaks, and other exercises that will make me more active. (Or just scheduling the simple walk I enjoy across campus for starters).
  4. Less stress
    This one is going to be hard for me, however it needs to be done. I tend to lead a fairly stressful life given my duties. Good ways to de-stress such as disconnecting from all technology for spans of 10 minutes, going for walks, meditating, and reading are great ways to take some ‘me’ time and are very doable. I used to enjoy going to a meditation group, too. I might schedule that in at least once a month.
  5. More sleep
    Another one that will be hard to do, given how many different things are whizzing around in my life. I’m dedicated to at least getting 7 hours per night, which is my preferred sleep duration.
  6. The brighter the food, the better
    A fast-paced lifestyle sometimes translates into eating things that are convenient instead of better for you. I don’t eat fast food, however, I do eat quick meals from the organic section that are just as bad as their ‘standard’ counterparts. I’ve heard that colourful foods are better – and that translates into way more fruits and veggies.
  7. Less beer, more wine
    I love both, but beer really takes a toll on my waistline. I’m going to try to limit myself to one or two beers a week. Wine will never get nixed from my diet.
  8. Coffee choices
    I tend to drink café au lait, which can be fairly high in calories, despite the fact that I never use sweetener. I’m going to switch to black coffee as often as possible.
  9. Stay on the go as much as possible
    Some days I sit all day grading, writing, reading, and watching videos online. I can change at least one of these hours into taking time to care for myself.

Here’s to the first step,

Claire-Marie Brisson

Wanderlust: Escaping the Quotidian

wanderlustWanderlust. Origin: German. It literally means a strong desire to travel. The kind of desire that makes you prone to check airline ticket prices bi-weekly. In my daydreams, I’m constantly on the go, in flight, exploring and moving forward across our chaotically brilliant blue sphere. The beauty of imagination is that we can envision ourselves doing other things, even when physically doing something else. Imagine the countless times your mind drifted off to other worlds in class, in your cubicle, or while listening to someone on a horrendous date describe their own self-obsession. In my case at least, my mind has a sense of insatiable wanderlust.

The idea of travel is exciting for so many reasons. We become creatures of habit when we’re familiar with our surroundings. What we pass on our quotidian commute to work blurs into a familiar, groggy haze. We’re very prone to set ourselves on autopilot and drift half consciously through our day. We wake up, we clean up, we dress, we leave for work or school, we come home, we eat, we sleep. Repeat for 365 days, save weekends or sick days. And those days have their own routines, too.

Idle living is a direct product of the lives we’ve created outside of the state of nature. Most of you reading this belong to the first world. You have a roof over your head, clothes and shoes on your body, access to clean drinking water and some source of food, and the luxury of technology. The fact that we are able to claim “boredom” echoes how far removed those in the first world are from the instability of life in the wild, where resources might be scarce and security a constant question.

This is why we should create the question marks for ourselves in life. The thrill of going to an unknown city with no map and no tour guide might sound frightening to some – mainly because it disrupts the entire routine we’re accustomed to from day to day. Travel is the catalyst for so many other things. When we break away from what we know and enter into a world that we don’t know, perspective adjusts accordingly.

Wanderlust, though sometimes negative in its influence on what your savings account might look like, is a sentiment that is a productive longing equal to learning. A former professor once told me that the best way to keep the mind active – once students had cycled out of the education system – was to randomly pick a spot on a globe, research it, learn the language of the area, and if possible, plan a trip there. I couldn’t agree more with him.

There’s something thrilling in setting future travel goals for yourself, too. On the lackluster days where I’m confined to my cinder block office, I become my own mason and build adventures that I hope to experience one day. The best in the meantime is to reenvision each day as an adventure. Notice the oddities of your daily routine. Dare to change your habits. Drive a different route to work. Stop for lunch at a new café. Whether at home or abroad, your life is built for exploration.

Claire-Marie Brisson

Graduate Hoops – Defining Graduate Study

gradhoops

The graduate student: a role that few outside of the realm of academia investigate. It is often said that graduate students are idealist perpetual learners afraid of the ‘real world.’

You’re so lucky you chose such an easy career path,” quipped an acquaintance with me once. “All you do is talk to students, write papers, and read.” As a graduate student, you will be confronted with these remarks for years to come.

As one can already tell, this viewpoint is as uninformed as it is stereotypical. Many misunderstand the labyrinth of ‘hoops’ a graduate student has to pass through to achieve their goals. Whether the end result is to become a professor, a researcher, or to hold another job title, the culture of graduate school is enigmatic to most.

Even more puzzling is the role of the university instructor. To undergraduate students, the person lecturing at the front of the room is immediately identified as “professor.” On occasion, I receive e-mails that say “Dr. Brisson.” I will be one day, but it is wrong to assume that every instructor holds a Ph.D.. For the most part, undergraduate students are equally unaware of what the words ‘tenure,’ ‘dissertation,’ and ‘part-time faculty’ mean. Throw ‘graduate teaching assistant’ into the mix, and it becomes more puzzling.

In lieu of writing an entire book on the subject, here’s a list of terminology and a few definitions that might be helpful to a prospective graduate student.

The GRE: an exam that measures your aptitude in several areas. These include quantitative reasoning (i.e. math), writing, and verbal components. To summarize, this exam is irrelevant in its content matter for the majority of prospective students. It does give a general sense of how someone works under pressure, with most sections timed for about 30 minutes. I would not say that it allows for much creativity, save for in the writing sections.

On the test day itself, the examinee jumps through several hoops, including signing legal paperwork, being wanded by a metal detector, and having their photo taken. It’s an isolating environment which, in my view, aims to increase stress levels. I highly recommend eating a protein-rich breakfast, including eggs, nuts, and milk (‘brain foods’).

GTA/GRA-ships: ‘graduate teaching assistantships’ or ‘graduate research assistantships.’ Awarded to incoming students, this is a way that one can complete a Master’s or Ph.D. without worrying about the cost of tuition. Some programs include stipends and health care benefits. Depending on the university, these stipends can be quite inclusive or meagre. At most public research institutions, GTAs teach introductory undergraduate courses. They may also act as an assistant to a professor. Research assistants are usually employed in labs.

In my personal view, the word ‘assistant‘ should be removed from this title, particularly in the humanities. I don’t assist another instructor; I am the instructor. Though lesson plans are departmentally agreed upon, the way in which the material is taught is autonomous.

Teaching will either be a frightening or an exhilarating experience if this is your first time doing it. If you did not complete any education courses in your undergrad course of study, you could try substitute teaching to see how a classroom environment feels. Although college students are – for the most part – more docile than high school students, there are many similarities. To substitute teach in a high school, you need at least 90 credit hours accumulated within an undergraduate program.

Classes and The Program: this is the obvious expected component of the graduate student. You take, depending on your program, two to three classes per semester. Certain requirements such as readings and essays will pop up throughout the semester. As I am a humanities major, you will more than likely read a handful of books. Expectations at this point are to be able to be analytical and to postulate new ideas from synthesis of material. In earnest, this is the most exciting part of the graduate program. You will learn and grow in more ways than you expected. And to the naysayers, it isn’t easy. That’s the fun in it.

If you are not prepared to dedicate yourself to your subject in every shape and form, you are not prepared for a graduate program. Although many individuals are fantastic students, being a great student doesn’t make the cut. You have to have something beyond a love of going to classes. I’m in love with my subject, and I’m prepared to analyze it and make advancements in it for the rest of my life. There is no ‘maybe’ in graduate school. Passion is going to pull you through your exams, your dissertation, your doctoral thesis, and your publishing requirements.

Graduate programs each are structured differently. Some will not write a Master’s thesis, others will have a capstone project in lieu of an essay. Checking into different program requirements is your best bet. Personally, I will be completing a Master’s thesis, oral exams, and a defense.

The Inspiration: this is not terminology, though it is worth noting. If you’re still hesitant to apply to a graduate program, consult with a mentor. You’ll find that graduate school is academically challenging and incredibly inspiring. The quality of your work – no matter what your specialty – will ameliorate in unexpected ways. Your program will be tough, yes. You will have days where you regretted it because of your workload. But at the end of it all, it’s an incomparable experience. You will be making significant developments in a specialty that interests you, and that makes graduate study fulfilling.

Should you have any questions for me, feel free to list them in the comments below, or send me an e-mail, which can be found in the ‘about’ section.

Claire-Marie Brisson