The Dossier and the Run-away Horse and Buggy

Two true stories here. These stories relate to my job as a teacher educator. You see, writing a promotion and tenure package “aka dossier” is expected when you reach your fifth or sixth year at a higher education insitution. It’s basically a reflection on your time spent at the college, and this tenure package is focused on persuading your division chair, a committee on promotion and tenure, the provost, and the college president of your value to the college in three areas: teaching, scholarship, and service. All of these people review the dossier, and then letters are written to the president regarding their review of your tenure and promotion package.

In public education (I previously taught high school), my tenure came after my third year teaching. Basically, if you were breathing, you received tenure…that was my experience. In higher education, that is not the case. If you are not promoted, you find out in December and then you begin looking for another job. You can stay until spring, but you will not return to the college in the fall. During this time of working on the tenure package, I found the other “true story” that I will share later; it is a personal narrative that I wrote during SVWA@BC, a writing academy for teachers formerly held at Bridgewater College.

First, the dossier. I have watched others go through this tenure and promotion process over the years, and many have ranted on social media about how much of their life was lost with hours and hours, days upon days, encumbered in promotion and tenure justifications. Others just seem downright stressed. I will say that it consumed me. Here are three instances to prove it:

  1. I was at a conference the month before my tenure package was due, and when I walked by a closet that said “wiring closet,” I thought it said “writing closet.” I actually walked back into the building because it seemed odd that a college would have a writing closet. That is when I saw my misread.
  2. One night, there was a man, a very tall man, in a black trenchcoat with a hat at the foot of my bed. I could not see his eyes; his back was towards me. He would NOT leave. I threw my lamp at him and missed. My husband said something like, “Look, just leave.” He would NOT leave. It was the most vivid dream (and no, I did not really throw the lamp).
  3. On a bike ride, a car passed me with the license plate CPT BOSS. I read that as Committee of Promotion and Tenure Boss and thought of my provost.

That said, I forged ahead, and like anything that seems big and scary, good is in the midst. I think this process is healthy for these reasons:

  1. Reflection is good. We encourage reflection in teaching and learning, and I know that I will be a better teacher having gone through this process. I’ve read all my course evaluations, analyzed my teaching methods, and I know steps to take to become a better teacher. We can always do better.
  2. I found an article that I was published in 2017 that I never put on my curriculum vitae.
  3. It motivated me to update my websites (Academia, Linkin, ResearchGate, this one).
  4. Finally, I found a personal narrative I had polished for publication that was written during a writing academy with teachers that I have not found a home for yet, so I am going to put it here for now. True story.

Owned the Road

The horse barreled out of the gravel driveway ahead, kicking up the dust that lay underneath. He turned toward our minivan as we headed to church on Dry River Road, sleek coat glistening with dew in the morning sun. The stallion’s bulging leg muscles galloped as the gap between us narrowed, buggy rolling roughly behind his hind quarters. Nostrils flared as he pressed ahead, reminding me of Disney’s Spirit running free on the Plains. Seemingly without the confines of reins, he was capturing the freedom he longed for. Opaque, black blinders forced his eyes to focus on the road ahead, diverting him from honeysuckle lined fences, telephone poles, mailboxes, and front yards of country houses. He owned the road that we visited this Sunday morning, and as we met for the face to face passing I thought the owners must be late for church. The quick acceleration and intensity of this horse was not the norm. Looking inside the buggy to make the usual eye contact and greet the driver and passengers, I lifted my hand from the steering wheel and waved at no one. The horse and buggy clambered past us, hoofs clipping along on their own accord.

Disbelief danced in Grant’s eyes that briefly met mine. In our house, we did not teach our children that a horse goes “Neeeiiigghhhhhh.” Instead, in cadence to the beat of horses’ hooves, we made clip clop sounds between our tongue and the roof of our mouth, clip clop sounds that we hear daily on West Dry River Road, “Clip, Clop, Clip Clop, Clip Clop.” The clip clops were behind us now, making a sound as they passed that was faster than we ever mimicked, and I wondered if Grant was predicting the unforseen possibilities that could come of the runaway horse and buggy. What if it reaches the S turn? What if it makes it to 257? What if it collides with a car? When and why will it stop?

            After anxious chatter, we agreed we had to do something.  Our children, Katrina and Patrick sat buckled behind us in the built-in child seats of our 1997 Plymouth Voyager named “Plumpy,” an eponym for the Candy Land character.

“Where are we going?” Katrina asked as I turned our old van around in the same driveway from which the horse had barreled.

            Grant looked back at her, “We’re going to stop that horse!”  The magnitude of his answer filled the car with silence as I floored the gas pedal.  I thought if we could just get around it, then I could stay in front of it and slow the van gradually to stop the horse. This all played out nicely in my mind, but after several attempts to pass, I began to wonder. The horse consistently veered into our lane as I tried to pass, forcing me to drop back. Finally, there was an opening on the road, and I put my aggressive hat on. I passed it, and started the plan, keeping my eye on the rear view mirror and making the horse stay behind me. Within seconds the horse seized an opportunity of a window he found, and he became the aggressor, dashing around the side of the van as I tried to slow.

             Reaching the end of Family Farm Lane, our driveway, made this adventure feel even more bizarre. We were heading away from church, and Katrina and Patrick’s silence was not the norm. It is likely they were watching, as I was, another unusual sight. At the foot of our lane sits the Rhodes’ two-story brick house. In their yard, a neighbor dressed in his Sunday best was flagging us down.  This man was a horse trainer in the community, but I did not know this as his eyes met Grant’s as he signaled us to stop. His black fedora and crisp white shirt told me he was from the old-order Mennonite community, and I had a hunch that he had somehow caught word of the horse’s flight. I slowed and he pulled open the dented sliding door and hopped into a squatting position, grasping firmly to the inside handle near the roof. He left the door open. His swift mount into the car revealed his fitness, and I guessed he was in his late 30’s, not too much older than Grant and me.  “Catch that horse,” he said.

I floored it and noticed that when I turned my head to see him, Katrina and Patrick were sitting wide eyed, soaking it all in. We tried our best to chase the horse down fearing the large S turn that was soon ahead. Our mission was to stop that horse before we got there. If the horse reached the S turn first, it was surely not going to stay in his lane, and that could mean tragedy.  As the gap narrowed between us and the horse and buggy, I heeded the horse trainer’s terse words, “Drive up beside it.”

“Okay,” I said. Pressing down on the gas, I positioned us beside the horse. Its blinders kept us out of his vision, but I knew he had to hear and feel our presence. His brown hair, black mane, and undeterred rhythmic hindquarters paralleled our van.

“Closer… closer,” he said. First, I fixated my eyes on the road ahead and then, with a fleeting glance that showed asphalt, hooves, spindled wheels, and a runner, I inched closer and closer. My hands clutched the wheel, and I focused every bit of energy I had on control. The hooves on the pavement matched my heartbeat. Double yellow lines contrasting the black pavement whizzed by, and the horse’s stark, black mane bounced on and off of his strong neck.   I sensed my position was right, and like a skillfully skipped rock on a still pond, the horse trainer deftly leapt over and into the buggy. With my hands on the wheel, I drove speechless, as I saw him take the reins and take control of the horse.

What came next was as surreal as the takeover. I turned the van around, and within seconds I began shaking.

“You want me to drive?” Grant said with a grin.

“I’m good,” I answered, as I turned into a nearby driveway. That was that. We drove to church, business as usual.

That Sunday morning strangers worked together with adrenaline rushing. There were no stunt doubles, just neighbors compelled to solve a problem together. As I entered our Sunday school class, still shaky from the release of nerves, we shared our morning adventure. “What ifs…” were bounced around. What if the horse trainer would have fallen? “What ifs” can mean little or everything, I thought. No “what ifs” kept us from acting in the moment of need. That Sunday morning, I experienced what it was to just Be, to just Do.

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