By Ingrid Mesarina-Tibbetts
When I began the DLite Elementary Education program in 2013, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I had just graduated with my AA degree in Early Childhood Education and was excited to find an online program that would allow me to work and take care of my two sons while earning my teaching degree. I was very nervous and doubted myself at times, but I was determined to try and do the best I could. Upon completion of the Dlite program, I had planned on becoming an Ojibwe Immersion teacher, where my children attended school.
My two boys and I moved into BSU Cedar Apartments, single-parent housing, on campus while I took Ojibwe language courses in addition to the online Dlite program. I enjoyed sharing my college experience with my boys who also took pride in living on campus. They wore their BSU beaver gear and attended campus events with me. Through our stay on campus, we were also spotlighted on Lakeland News and highlighted on the BSU homepage and BSU News online. These are still very memorable for my boys who are now 11 and 13 years old.
Although I received a lot of positive attention and encouragement through this time, I really struggled with balancing out life. When I first began the program, I did not realize how difficult it would be being a single parent, working full-time, and taking full-time course load. Between my major and minor, I was taking 12-14 credits each for three semesters. I still remember Dr. Bridge’s warning at our first F2F when she said, “Time is your biggest enemy.” This rang true throughout my studies, being a single parent trying to support my family. I often felt like I was racing time and there was never enough time in a day, between getting kids up early to school, myself to work, stopping to check on mom, then go home and cook supper and bathe kids. I’d put my kids to bed early in hopes to get some study time, but being as exhausted as I was, I’d accidentally fall asleep with them sometimes. Then, I’d have to get up and do my homework between the hours of 1-4am, before getting up for work at 6 am and doing it all over again. This was my life for a couple years and surprisingly, I was able to do it while making decent grades. I completed my Ojibwe language Minor and Certificate of Ojibwe Instruction in 2015. However, it wasn’t long before it all became too much for me.
Life took a toll on my studies and my grades began to suffer in the Dlite program. I took Incompletes and IP’s in attempts to hang on the best I could. After so long, the IP’s turned to F’s. In addition to the usual student challenges; time management, balancing family-work- school, exhaustion, burnout, fatigue, and unhealthy habits like caffeine and junk food, I also had immediate family become ill, in and out of ICU, grieved the loss of friends and family members, job-related stress, and compassion fatigue. Thinking back, I probably should have just taken time off, but my stubbornness and determination wouldn’t let me quit.
My biggest support as I began my journey was my family. I’ve had several personal and professional mentors throughout my time in the Dlite program. The main ones being the four teachers at the Ojibwe Immersion school who always encouraged me to pursue my teaching degree and licensure. They motivated me to work alongside them one day. However, due to unforeseen circumstances and administrative changes, several of my mentors resigned their position which did impact my life and my thoughts and goals of teaching in that school.
In 2016, I made a difficult decision to resign from my position and accept a job at Bemidji Area Schools which was a significant decrease in pay, but it would put me back in the education field that I so longed to be in. I feel like this life change gave me the push I needed to get back on track and has led me to have a better understanding of working in the schools every day. I enjoy sharing my knowledge of the language and culture with the kids and staff at my school while also helping with academic and social support. I am currently in my third year at Bemidji Area schools and I am now married and gained four step-children. I receive a tremendous amount of support from my husband, family, colleagues, and administration.
I think back about myself as a student and how different teachers in the Dlite program have made my journey either more or less difficult for me. I think about the different philosophies that my teachers have carried and how that influenced their teaching and my experience as a student. I think about the students I will work with who will go through life challenges and how I can respond and support them while also holding them accountable for their academics. I was lucky to have been shown this support by a few teachers and advisors in the Dlite program.
Taking Human Relations early in the program with Dr. Bridges, has helped me to recognize my own bias’s and fears and to try to understand other’s perspectives. This along with other courses have helped me to welcome and accept opposing views and to also share my own voice and perspectives. I believe this experience has helped me gain the confidence needed to be an advocate for myself, students, and teachers. I am now serving my second term on the tribal school board where I once hoped to teach.
My passion for education, language, and culture, has led me to the field of teaching. My goal has always been to use my education and experience to give back to my community. As an educator, I hope to teach children in a useful, meaningful, and relevant way, that will develop in them, not only a love for learning western academic knowledge, but their indigenous language and culture as well. The Dlite program has increased my knowledge and awareness and has prepared me to teach and support all children with various backgrounds, demographics, and learning styles.
Early in the program, I thought highly of the constructivist teaching method and still do. However, I now realize there are other classroom approaches and that not one way is the best way. Every theory and classroom approach have its strengths and weaknesses. As an educator, I will take from each as I see appropriate for myself and my students. I still believe in the quality of building relationships and a positive classroom environment. I believe there must be a balance between teacher and student led instruction.
I’ve taken a lot of detours getting to where I am and, years overdue, I am finally at the end of my Dlite journey. I’ve been so close, for so long, that it is still surreal to me that I am really going to be done. I believe love from my family and friends, along with my passion for education, the Ojibwe language and culture, have carried me through despite all the setbacks. Going through the Dlite program has taught me how important it is to take care of myself before I can take care of anybody else, whether it be my family or students in my classroom.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” -Ernest Hemingway