Where I Fell Short

At my last job, I was, among other things, in charge of a free ESOL program for adults.

As you might know, my students were basically two main groups: well-to-do trailing spouses of East Asian businessmen, and underprivileged parents from our preschool, who were usually Latin American but not always.

And as you might guess, the well-to-do students usually needed less help but showed up far more reliably. I wanted to help the other students, but our funders needed bodies in the room, and sometimes you just have to search for the students who will be there.

A lot of funding is this way, of course. Going after the truly neediest isn't sexy, and succesful metrics are sexy. And I knew that if I expended energy and money on trying and trying and trying various interventions on students who were likely to vanish, we would possibly lose the money paying the salary of the woman who helped me run the program and taught many of the classes.

I actually decided to go back to school for this reason, along with the simple desire to author my own studies and professional writing.

I think there's a way for such programs, free programs for adults with less means or time, to flourish, to keep students engaged, to keep them in the room, to prove themselves worthy of the type of funding other programs (particularly those for children) receive.

I'm reading yet another book on behavioral economics, and the book makes it clear that the way education is planned for the poor or otherwise challenged isn't really working. We can all point to a very dedicated student or two - I know we had some! - but we can't point to people who aren't present. I admit I got frustrated with the students on occasion - I really got mad when they wouldn't come. But I was ultimately annoyed with myself because I couldn't figure out how to make it work.

There is a way. The way is removing hassle factors, reducing cognitive load, and providing the concrete path towards reducity scarcity in their lives. WHICH hassle factors, HOW to reduce cognitive load, this will have to be studied. If what is distracting them is unpaid bills, does an organization offer short-term low-interest loans to students? Does it offer childcare? How close does it need to be to their homes for them not to find attending a hassle? What if the courses were shorter, so they didn't seem as overwhelming?

This can be answered. No one is truly asking (or maybe they are and I can talk to them). There is room for an adult education nonprofit that seeks to educate vulnerable adults in a way that isn't just throwing services at them but really meets them where they don't even realize they can be met.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Liar

Anxiety is a liar. A liar that speaks to you from inside your own head with your own voice, so it's hard not to listen.

And of course, sometimes, the liar is right. Sometimes the things you fear really do happen, not because of what the lies said, but just because. Sometimes, if you worry about bad weather at an event, it'll happen. And sometimes, you just might do poorly on that test. 

It's hard to sift through the mud to find the truth underneath it. It's a part-time job, or maybe a full-time one. And anyone who juggles this and comes out standing upright should have your support, even if they wobble occasionally.

Keep going.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

The Only One

Had a great and fascinating conversation today with other male teachers of color about their experiences being the "only one" in various spaces growing up.

And it led me to think about how much it had impacted me. How much of the way I think is derived from the anxiety of feeling like you don't fit the larger group? How much of the work I do comes from the things I experienced? It has certainly harmed me, but it has also certainly helped me.

I think this experience, usually being the Only One, is something I need to capitalize and expound upon. Because it is powerful, and it's something to celebrate.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Agility

Soft skills.

I've written about this before.

It's a bad name, because it implies a lack of strength or importance relative to "hard skills." Everyone knows you need certain hard skills to get each job, but you need so-called "soft skills" to get just about any job.

I can think of many situations I have been in that were caused be a lack of soft skills.

But people associate "soft" with "feminine," and of course we all think negative things about femininity.

I truly believe soft skills are going to make all the difference in the next stage of adult education. They are, however,  hard to measure and quantify.

Before we can measure them, though, we need to give them a different name.

I asked friends, and one mentioned "finesse." I like this, but I think it connotes a bit more... slickness than I want?

I looked up synonyms, and you see things like "common sense." But I want a word that's used elsewhere (like "soft") that can be applied here. You know what I chose because of the title of this post.

If "hard skills" connote strength and force, then what I am looking for is the flexibility and pliability needed to relate to people. "People skills" is fine as a term, but "agility" carries everything I am looking for, and is something to which we can aspire.

Will I use it in my future research? No idea. But it's a start.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

April 1st

April 1st 2015:

I am starting a new class, a professional development class my job suggested me for and that I was accepted to. I've become somewhat frustrated at work, feeling like I'm never going to make much progress - as it turns out later, I'm kinda right - but this will be nice. Most of all, I just want to make some connections with other people. I show up early, as ever, but I'm not the first one there. A woman comes out of the classroom as I enter (it turns out she's on the way to the bathroom to avoid people), and, not really thinking beyond the split-second impression, I greet her enthusiastically and she smiles back. Later she'll tell me she knew right then. I'm not very good at first impressions but this was the one that mattered the most and I guess I got it right.

April 1st 2016:

So, that was fast. We're in a federal courthouse in White Plains and my mom's colleague's husband, a federal judge, is joining us in marriage. Some of her siblings are here, our parents too, and it's nice. She knows deep down that I have always wanted a big party, but we're going to get that celebration six months later, and this day is about us. Of all these April 1sts since we've met, this is the only one that isn't cold. In fact it rises above 80 degrees by mid-afternoon, which is wonderful in my suit.

But most importantly, it's not an April Fool's joke, people thought I was crazy for rushing into the engagement the previous summer, and maybe I was. We had a lot of kinks to work out and it turns out we still do. But we are committed to figuring out how to work our lives out together.

April 1st 2017:

You know, it sort of feels like a race in hot weather. We made it through but it took a lot of work. We got our one-year medal, but we're a sweaty mess. Are we alone in this? Admitting to this feels like a failure, but if we pretend otherwise, we don't make any progress. We put the work in and we reflect on all we have learned and accomplished. But anyone can make it to one year. 

April 1st 2018:

This year is a revelation. Are there still difficulties? Yes, sure. And any couple you see posting instagram pictures from Europe that seems outwardly perfect is just lying to you. Don't fall for it.

We decided to stay in our apartment longer. I settled into my job. I applied for and got into school. We found new rhythms and ways to connect. And it makes us realize what joys await us in the future.

Don't give up just because you have to figure things out. 

No, we're not posting about "marrying our best friends" or whatever, because we probably wouldn't spend much time together if we weren't a couple - we are very different people. And that's okay. In fact it's great. Alissa is different from any person I've ever met, which confuses me sometimes, but also exhilarates me. I can only hope she feels the same about me.

As I've hinted at, I've spent a lot of this past year doing a lot of work on myself, and it's work I never would have done without her support and guidance. That seems self-involved, but the work is allowing us to connect in ways we hadn't yet.

The fact is, we rushed and stumbled into this, and we were filming without a script. The script is finally catching up to us, and the next several decades, while not without work, are set up to be singularly rewarding.

On to the third year, then.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

2014

In March of 2014 I ran 1:30:18 in my first NYC half. By the end of that year I was at a 1:23:47 half and ran a BQ at 3:00:53.

Now, look, it's stupid to shoot for a BQ - which, at this point, is basically under 3:01 - and not go for the 3 hours, and I have two marathons in which to do it.

I have much higher goals than that, and a lot of time. I have half a year, basically, to get near my best speed. I'll shoot for PRs, but not at the expense of the non-obsessive life I have now.

2014 was fun, in some ways. I ran all over the city and especially Queens. And every new race was basically a chance to be fast for the first time.

But I was miserable that year. Feeling stuck, at work, and didn't want to admit how down I felt.

I got obsessed with running to fill a hole. And it led me to great places, even though there was pain along the way.

What I want now is to recapture the good from 2014, the increasing speed and endurance, without the struggles.

If I can do that, I can get back to BQ level for the 2020 race and then run the race strong, finally.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

NYC Half 2018

Pros: I finished second on the team. Yay.

Cons: If I had known I was only 30 seconds behind my teammate... oh man. Oh well.

Pros: Beautiful course! Truly! One of the best I've run in this city. Maybe the best!

Cons: Hard course! One of the hardest I've run in this city. Maybe the hardest!

Pros: I feel great! Truly!

Cons: I wish I was faster, truly. Only 10th fastest half out of 15.

Pros: You cracked your skull and strained your back. You're healthy and running!

Pros: And you only really slowed down because of 42nd street.

All in all I really good morning. I'm happy. It's been a good week.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Getting Into School

(I can't write this without coming off privileged, but it's the life I've had.)

When I got into college, it was exciting, but it was basically a relief. It was something that had been built up over years and ultimately, because I applied early, I was just hoping I got in so I didn't have to apply to a bunch more schools. Our housekeeper called from our house to say there was a "large" package at home, and I delayed going home because I was so scared. Then I opened the envelope, and a map of Princeton fell out. And I knew I was in. 

I was kind of a middling high school student until the last two years, and so I was convinced I'd be rejected. I've always believed I was worse than I was. I called my parents (individually) and heard their pride, and it was a great moment, where success had not been inevitable but been achieved anyway.

There have been few moments that felt the same in my life.

***

When I got into my masters program (since I can no longer just say "grad school"), I was still living with my dad after Korea. I was actually coming back from my aunt's funeral, a sad experience where she had died far too young. I was sort of emotionally blank, and then I got the letter in the mail. It was nice, but I was in such a weird place that I didn't really get to think about it.

***

And then there was yesterday.

In January, I went to the open house for the Hunter EdD program, which lined up perfectly with my very specific goals (a part-time EdD program that was here in the city, reputable, and wouldn't explode my debt). I was told there that, after applying, we'd receive notification about interviews within a week. But it took two weeks, so when, at said interview, we were told we would find out our fates in the next two weeks, I assumed it might take three or four. That was Friday.

So when I got an email (21st century!) saying the result was available on the website (and I scrambled to figure out my password), I was shocked it had happened so quickly. And although I was still stressed, I can say honestly I didn't immediately think I would be receiving bad news. I never assumed success, but I wasn't full of fear. I was excited to read the news, and that could have been devastating - I really placed a lot on this emotionally - but it ended up being great.

I'm not the first in my extended family to attempt to acquire a doctorate - my great-uncle had a doctorate in education. My grandfather was an educator as well, and in a way I feel as though I am carrying on their tradition. But ultimately I'll be the first (that I'm directly related to) Dr. Gerald, and one day, I think I'll actually achieve the lofty dreams I've started to let myself really hope for in my career.

I've spent more than ten years fighting off guilt for running away from a financial career, and, before I met Alissa and got this much better current job, scowling when I saw classmates with outwardly impressive lives while I couldn't even afford a taxi home after a night out.

That's stupid, but it's the way I thought.

I think, finally, I can move on once and for all now. I think I can finally sit in my skin comfortably.

This is the last time I'll ever get into school (I hope, dear god I hope I don't do this again), and I think it's going to make all the difference.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Social Comparison

I'm not about to break any news here, but most of us, even if we would prefer not to, compare ourselves to others in one way or another. Sometimes we do it by choice, or because of external factors (eg school rankings, quintiles, etc), and sometimes we do it without thinking about it, looking at instagram pictures and thinking about our own lives and what they might lack.

If you want to read up on social comparison theory, here's a summary of it.  But I write today to say it's something I've long fallen prey to, and I bet most of you have to.

I am committing to new practices not to get lost in measuring myself against others, but the question is: can you do the same? It's much easier said than done, and one's own brain chemistry sure makes it harder.

But when you feel yourself slipping, remind yourself of something good about yourself that doesn't have anything to do with being better than someone else.

Would I advocate turning off all social media? No. I'd say, though, if there's a particular person you often compare yourself to, maybe hide them. Or make it harder to see what they're doing it.

Or think about the fact that something is a challenge in their life, no matter what they are choosing to show the world.

We all have objectively good things about us, valuable things to cherish. It's lip service for me to say this when I have a tendency to compare like all of you, but it's still worth saying.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Faster than Last Year

Yesterday I ran my first race since the fall where I actually felt strong.

 

My goal this year is simple enough: get back to Boston for 2020 and then never go to Boston again.

I have two marathons lined up in the fall. Sure it would be nice to PR, but mostly I just need to stay healthy, and get the right nutrition so I don't get sick during/before the race again.

Instead of fixating on those races, though, the goal is simple: be faster this year than you were last year, in every race.

I failed this goal immediately during my first race of the year, on Superbowl Sunday. But, I was coming off 3 weeks where I was unable to run more than half a mile without considerable pain.

Now that I can actually do both speed and distance work, it was good to see that I could equal my pace from last year. And it was particularly good to see that last year was the thick of marathon training and yet I, coming off an injury, did better this year.

If I don't hurt my back again (big if, but still) and train smart, I should be able to keep improving until the fall.

Not sure how the NYC half will go, but I approach it with excitement and confidence rather than my usual anxiety and trepidation. 

 

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality