Rocinante’s 10th birthday

Despite being Rocinante’s 10th birthday, it has not been her best year. We can blame my PhD for that. For the last four years I basically only had time to ride to Trader Joe’s for some groceries, or for a quick ride (about half an hour each way) to lunch in beautiful Hillsborough or Saxapahaw, although mostly we would just ride to Five Guys just outside Chapel Hill. The only trip we made was to explore the North Carolina seashore, at the end of my first year at UNC in the spring of 2013. After that, between my dad getting sick and the pressure of my studies, there were no more long rides.

Although we would have loved to ride down to our new home in Naples, Florida, there was no money for the logistics, nor the time, if I was to make it to my nephew’s first communion in Madrid. Rocinante just rode inside a truck with the rest of my few belongings.

But we have great plans for our new life in Florida. Starting with a leisurely exploration of the Keys, a trip I have wanted to take for years, ending in Hemingway’s home in Key West. Then there is the West Coast and the East Coast, even “the panhandle” to explore. All very exciting.

The winter of 2006 was a tough one for me: I was still dealing with having closed my company in Madrid, with moving to the US, with not making friends. I was struggling with my first year teaching at a public school, and I was looking forward to Tracy getting well after her long sickness. I have been riding since I was 14, so getting a motorbike seemed like a worthwhile hobby to get me out of that slump

. I did a lot of research, made a few visits to Boston Harley Davidson, and had a massive tiff with Tracy. Ten years later I can safely say Rocinante saved my life.

So hopefully Rocinante will forgive me for my neglect over the last four years.

The Job Search Part II, looking for jobs in secondary schools.

Since I had taught high school for seven years before embarking on my PhD., I knew I loved working with that age group and in my heart of hearts I understood I was to go back to teaching them.

Back in 2011, in case I didn’t get accepted into a doctoral program, I contacted Southern Teachers Agency to help me look for teaching jobs in the South. I loved working with them, although I did get into UNC. So this time around I contacted them again, and I could not be happier with how they worked with me to find the perfect job. In fact, Southern Teachers was the only venue I used to seriously look for a job teaching secondary school Spanish.

Things took off right from the time I signed up with them. I did a very promising Skype interview in November with a boy’s boarding school in the mountains of North Carolina. During Christmas break, an all girls school in Chattanooga Tennessee booked me to go interview with them as soon as I got back stateside, which I did. They put me up in a beautiful hotel in downtown Chattanooga, and the morning of the interview I was picked up by the head of facilities,  which I found a very telling gesture. Unfortunately, things did not pan out that well later, as I was pretty much abandoned halfway through lunch to walk myself out of the school, disappointing. In January, Southern Teachers held a job fair in Washington DC, which coincided with me having to do some paperwork at the Spanish Consulate (that story is for a different blog entry). During this fair I met and spoke with many schools all over the South, but my most rewarding conversation was with a school in Florida. Our pedagogical ideologies clicked right in place, I was very impressed that there was a school that was not obsessed with AP exams, “we tolerate them” was their precise wording, preferred not working with textbooks, and so on. My cup of tea precisely.

As winter progressed I had many phone and Skype interviews, I also had to take days off to go interview at schools. This, besides requiring a lot of time, was unneeded in many cases, like when I had to teach a sample class at a school in Charlotte, North Carolina only to not be hired because “I did not use technology”. Of course this was what they call a “tablet school” where every student has a tablet and thus they are slaves, victims, to the technology. It did not help that they had given me a really bad unit to teach, with very little “meat” and a bunch of vocab – which I am against, vocab is hard to memorize and easy to forget. I was a bit disappointed at first that they rejected me, but when I realized that the best teachers in history: Socrates, Plato, and Jesus only had a stick in the sand as technology, I realized it was not me who was in the wrong. The plus side of these school visits was that I got to visit many places I did not know: Chattanooga Tennessee, Charlotte (twice), Asheville NC, and eventually Naples Florida, for that school I had been so impressed with at the job fair.

During my dissertation defense, after many interviews, and with a few offers on the table, Seacrest Country Day School in Naples Florida left me a message with an offer. Against all prognostications, that was where, surprisingly, my heart had been since that original chat in January.

The ultimate test of cerebral fitness*

It has been nine months since my last entry. In my defense, it has been a crazy year. I am at Miami International Airport and this is the first chance I have to write, it feels good.

You see, I was busy finishing and defending my doctoral dissertation, which was a very difficult but rewarding process.

As soon as classes started in the Fall I was having my twice weekly coffee with Irene, my director, to finish and fine tune each chapter. At the same time I was teaching two classes: Advanced Intermediate 204, a new class for me, and Intermediate 203, my “standard” class. Oh, and I had to write an academic article if I wanted to have any chance of applying for a university job. On top of all that I had to prepare my job search, but those items will have their own blog entries.

The work only got more intense in the spring. I was assigned an extra class from the regular Spring load of one section, this one teaching Advanced Spanish at the Gillings School of Public Health. I had to give up my volunteering shift at the Ronald McDonald House, as well as cutting down on the number of concerts and plays I went to (although I did not totally give that up).

April was when the proverbial rubber met the proverbial road. Finishing and editing my dissertation and going to job interviews. Spring Break was anything but break, driving to Charlotte and flying to Florida for job interviews.

But everything came to a head on April 8. That morning I spent two and a half hours locked up in a conference room with four of the professors on my committee, and Ana Rueda from the University of Kentucky looming over all of us, Skyping in on the massive screen, like a science fiction overlord, only much nicer and sweeter! I also had like ten spectators: old students, friends, including Mandey from Zog’s, my friendly librarians Teresa and Becky, and colleagues that came to give me moral support. Poor things, they had to endure my grilling session.

I passed. Walking out of the meeting, feeling exhilarated but exhausted and numb, I had a message on my phone. Seacrest Country Day School in Naples Florida – my top choice for work – had made me an offer while I was defending my dissertation. Coincidence? I think not.

After defending I thought things would slow down, wrong again. I still had to do edits on my dissertation, dress up as Don Quixote for a marathon reading celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death, chair a panel at our Carolina Conference on Romance Studies, teach and wrap up my four years in Carolina. My mom and my little sister came for my hooding ceremony and we had a blast. After that I moved to Florida and had only enough time to dump my boxes before heading back to Spain for my nephew’s First Communion, which explains why I am sitting at the airport now.

*with thanks to Murray Head from his song One Night in Bangkok