The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Grad School Parents

    So, my delightful children now officially have TWO parents in graduate school.  Joy.

    This is the one thing I wanted to avoid and never thought was going to happen. A year ago, I decided to go back for my Masters for many reasons, but honestly mostly to put off full repayment mode on my student loans.  My parents kind of hated the idea -- if you know me well, you might even remember that they planned an intervention to try to talk me out of it, which ended in me convincing them that I really needed to do this financially, and them convincing me to promise I would not let myself get signed up for any new responsibilities at all while I am in graduate school.

     During our post BA years, Marc and I had both talked about going back to school eventually, but I kind of knew that mine would be sooner rather than later. A masters degree translates much more directly to more money in the teaching world than it does in average ministry position. When I decided to go back, Marc made comments about going back "someday," but I made it quite clear that it would need to be after I finished, as we can't afford two sets of grad school loans, nor could we handle both of us bogged down by grad school homework.

      But things changed as life has a tendency to do. Marc got a new job at the Lutheran church where he grew up. We are really thrilled to be at this church. Their doctrine really lines up quite perfectly with where our hearts lie on many important issues, and we are very happy here overall. The only drawback is that Marc has always been considered a pastor in other churches we've been at, but in the Lutheran denomination, ministers are only considered pastors if they are ordained. Their ordination process is long and tedious. It requires   a Masters degree from a Lutheran seminary, an internship, etc.

      Now, you might be thinking, "What's in a name? Pastor.... Minister.... That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  Well, not exactly.  Not having the title of pastor limits what Marc can do in the Lutheran church, pretty significantly, so his potential for growth is very limited. More directly impacting us would be the fact that without the title of pastor, they will not report him as "clergy" to the government. This affects us financially pretty profoundly. Most pastors (except a few high profile exceptions) do not make much money, so they receive some tax breaks. It basically goes back to the days when most clergy lived in parsonages on church property. Since church property is tax exempt, this creates an unfair advantage for churches with parsonages. To even the score, pastors' housing costs are tax exempt regardless of where they live.  We have always benefitted from this tax exemption. It has allowed us to stay in a lower tax bracket and survive fairly comfortably.

      Well, no "clergy" title... no tax exemption. We will be in a much higher tax bracket by the time we file next April. This has the potential to really, really break us.

     We thought a lot about what to do, and Marc decided that it was best to just start the ordination process, especially since it is five years long. (Yes, you read that correctly... FIVE years).

      So, he filed the paper work, went through interviews, applied to graduate schools, etc. Somehow, he ended up at a seminary in Iowa. It is a long story, but it is basically a distance learning-hybrid program. He does have to travel to Iowa several times a year, but the majority of his classes will be distance learning.  His reading list is out of control. He has about five times the reading I have this semester.  (Not at all exaggerating).  This is going to make for a very interesting year. Graduate school has not been a walk in the park for me, and I am, and always have been, a very good student, but working full time, parenting, and keeping up with all the homework has been a huge challenge. The only reason I have gotten through is that I have been able to just tell Marc when I am overwhelmed that he needs to just completely take care of the kids at night and let me just work.  That is not going work any more.

      We have been down this "let's be students together" road before. We got married in college, so this is an old familiar dance. We know each other as students quite well. The difference between Marc studying and me studying is that I can have the television on, be chatting a friend on facebook, and still finish writing a research paper. Marc can barely focus if the water is running.

      I distinctly remember an incident when we were in college where we finished dinner, and I decided to   do the dishes before starting on my homework, so Marc could get started on a paper that was due the next day (yes, you read that correctly - that's just how he works). After a couple of minutes, he says, "Can you stop that?  I can't think."

      "Stop what? Doing the dishes?" I asked.

      "Yeah, it's too loud. I need to focus."

      Marc swears it will be different now, but even if he now does have the ability to focus with noise, he will still need time to do his work. Judging from the size of his reading list... a LOT of time. So, that means I will no longer be able to rely on him taking care of the kids while I get my work done. I really don't know what we are going to do.  I sense the kids are going to start going to bed much earlier, and we are going to start staying up much later. Our coffee budget is about to double.

      On the plus side, it is only one year. I will be finished in May, and after that it really will not matter than much.  But it is going to be an interesting year.  I started my fall classes last week and I already have quite a bit of homework due this Thursday. One would think I could use the long weekend to focus on getting it done, but my five week grades are due Tuesday, so I need to finish grading all my students' papers before I focus on my own. I couldn't rely on Marc this week to help if I wanted to; he is in Iowa.

      Marc has been gone a lot in general lately. He was at summer camp this summer, and at the national Lutheran youth gathering, and he went to Vegas with a friend, and now he is gone again. I am getting really used to being alone. Fortunately, I have some really great friends.   Friends who will do a "girls night in" at my house instead of a girls night out to celebrate the three day weekend. After putting the kids to bed last night, we caught up on my patio, enjoying the perfect weather, and it was just as good as any restaurant or lounge could have been.

     As much as I worry about how we will manage this next year, I am proud of Marc for rising to this challenge and facing it with so much confidence. It is going to be an interesting five years in general. The process involves things like a "cross cultural ministry" internship, and a term as a chaplain in a hospital, as well as his many classes. It is going to be a season of new experiences and challenges, including financial challenges, but at the end of five years, he will be ordained in a church that is a perfect fit for him, and for our family.

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