Adult Education is a difficult field. It is heavily regulated and heavily scrutinized. Funding is scarce so service providers—that might collaborate—compete instead. Performance measures are often at odds with students’ learning goals, individual needs, and personal struggles. Contract requirements are as nuanced and detailed as local statutes and federal law. State regulations are revered and deadlines must be met fiercely, but information isn’t always given accurately. Information isn’t always given at all. There are benchmarks, outcomes, indicators, abbreviations. Much is documented, stored, and assessed. We quantify what we should qualify. We use data to solicit more funding, but not to improve program quality. There’s a great deal of contract negotiation, of coalition-building, of bravado.
When we make decisions based on incomplete information, we impact people’s lives. Policies change daily. Teachers and staff feel disrespected. Documentation and unpredictable due dates create conflict, constrict, and become a barrier to positively impacting families and communities.
Although educators are highly-educated, professionally-trained, well-traveled, multi-lingual, and dynamic, their expertise is questioned and their impact is minimized. Outsiders to the industry (not all mind you, but some), question the competency, the intellect, and the acumen of those of us who remain in the field.
Managing adult education programs is much like learning to love Biscuits.
The transition was less than seamless.
- I’m afraid of dogs.
- I’ve never owned a pet.
- I don’t think animals belong in the house. Yes, I’m one of those people.
Biscuits sheds everywhere. I find her hair on the couch, in my shoes, and all over my clothes. Sometimes, when she’s played outside for too long, or she’s overdue for a bath, she has a certain doggy-esque smell that, if I’m being completely honest here, grosses me out. Although she’s not allowed on the bed, sometimes I come home to find her lying ass-down on my favorite pillow, smack dab in the middle of the bedspread. The struggle is real.
On top of that, she has a pretty ridiculous personality. She doesn’t like dogs that are her size or smaller. If she’s close enough, she’ll try to bite their face. She doesn’t like dogs that are twice her size or bigger. If she’s close enough, she’ll try to bite their face. She doesn’t like things with wheels or musical instruments. She doesn’t like babies or hyper-active little kids. If she’s close enough, she’ll try to bite their face.
She purposely ignores you when you call her name. If you have food, she’ll politely approach you, sit, blink her eyes, and wait to be fed. When she wants attention, she’ll tear little bits of paper and leave them in piles next to the trash can. She doesn’t like being told what to do. She likes to be elevated.
If she senses that you’re in a rush during her daily walk, she’ll purposely take more time. If she senses you’re in a rush because it’s cold outside, she’ll purposely take more time. If you tug at her collar in order to expedite the process, she’ll dig her heels into the ground and stand firm. But if you politely, and it has to be sincere, ask her to keep going, she’ll relax her heels and keep walking. If she senses even the slightest hint of insincerity, she’ll purposely take more time.
I inherited Biscuits from my partner’s ex-wife. He hadn’t actually wanted a dog. He liked pets, but didn’t need one. At her request, they got one anyway. She named her. They helped train her together. They taught her how to sit and not to poop in the bed. They taught her how to cross the street and weaned her off eating shoes and socks. For more than ten years, they loved each other. Since high school, they loved each other. For me, if not for him, Biscuits is a constant, visceral reminder.
Sometimes I get frustrated because days are too unpredictable. Expectations that haven’t been voiced must be met anyway. Policies that haven’t been created must be followed. Processes that haven’t been learned have to be instituted. I put in extra hours to become more informed and better prepared, only to find that I could fare better with more patience and mere consistency.
Loving adult education is making a commitment to the families we serve—to persevere and to add value– despite and in spite of the struggle.