Ask a Professor

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Ask a Professor

Shelley Decker

Shelley Decker

Shelley Decker

Karen Hindhede, Cactus Contributor

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Karen Hindhede , Professor of English, teaches at Signal Peak Campus.

Chardae asks, “What is it like having an adopted daughter?”  

Adoption to me is simply a fact: like I have a brown-eyed daughter, I have a daughter who likes to read, I have a daughter whom my husband and I adopted at birth.  As in any mother-daughter relationship, we have our ups and downs.  I worry that she doesn’t get enough sleep (which she doesn’t).  She thinks I sing terribly off-key (which I do).

She looks similar to me so sometimes if I mention we adopted our daughter, people will say something like, “Oh, I never would have guessed that. I thought she was yours. I thought she was your own.”  I find such comments annoying.  The meaning of the words, though unintentional, dismiss and diminish.   I understand what is meant; that people think my daughter is my biological child, but biological or adopted, she is mine; she is my own.

Chardae and Daylon ask, “What was it like living in Zimbabwe and how does it differ from your life now?  How does the recent news about Zimbabwe make you feel?”
Even though I lived in Zimbabwe over twenty years ago when I taught in the Peace Corp, this is still a defining experience for me.  Recently, I was at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and got excited seeing a stone sculpture, which I guessed correctly to be Zimbabwean.  Little things, like the sculpture, take me back and connect me to this country where the people were so welcoming and where I had so many adventures.  Sometime I will tell you about baboons, or Victoria Falls, or my spitting cobra story. . . .

Zimbabwe is shaped like your left palm and sits above South Africa.  The landscape and temperatures are very similar to this part of AZ.  I taught 8-11 grade English to students who walked an hour to and from school; they were learning English as their second or often their third or fourth language.   It was dusty, dry, and people dug water from a river bed where water flowed only about two weeks a year. I walked a lot more than I do now, was constantly sunburned, and learned how to share bus seats with multiple chickens and children.

My hope now that the former president, Mugabe, has announced his retirement after 37 years as the dictator is that the new president will make some of the drastic, necessary changes since all eyes are on him and plight of Zimbabweans.  In the 1980s and 90’s, Mugabe’s early years, the world considered Zimbabwe the Jewel of Africa.  The country had a 94% literacy rate and the government was able to feed its own people.  Drought and Mugabe, with all his political machinations and greed, have crushed the people and killed the land and infrastructure. Most of my Zimbabwean teacher friends left the country years ago because they could barely survive.

Rhett asks, “How do you balance your personal life with teaching?”

I do not think it is possible to actually find balance, only to strive for it.  In that pursuit, I try to exercise most mornings and read for pleasure sometimes during the day or just a few minutes at night.  Sometimes both of these are challenging to fit in, so I have to be creative.  Maybe I don’t have enough time to go for a walk, so instead I’ve furiously done jumping jacks in my living room before heading off to school, or instead of reading at night, I’ll listen to a book on my phone in the car while heading home after dropping my daughter off for dance lessons.  The important aspect here is that the exercise gives me energy and helps me focus for the day ahead.  The reading is a way to decompress.  I also try to avoid too many electronic distractions.   I am not a Luddite, but I am not a big social media user. I try to accomplish a few specific, important things each day—both work and personal. I think setting little goals throughout the day keeps me organized and focused. I also try to eat well and get about seven hours of sleep. Ultimately, I try to see the good in others and in situations and try to pay attention to the world around me; that, in turn, gives me the energy to invest in the people and work that I so love.

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