By Linda Garris Christian, Adams State University retired professor of teacher education
I have always liked ASU's "tag line" – Great Stories Begin Here. While my "great story" did not begin at ASU, being here has certainly enhanced it. I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on how my experiences here have contributed to my "great story".
It is hard to believe 17 years have passed since Paul and I came over LeVeta Pass and said to each other, "We live here!" For five years, we had been coming to Colorado in the summers to escape the Arkansas heat and humidity. It had been a dream of Paul's to live in Colorado but not as much mine. I wasn't sure about living somewhere that it got -35 in the winter. However, it turned out that he was right to convince me to move here and be a part of ASU.
I thought we might stay three years. Long enough for Paul to build and sell a house, also his idea but in the end a good one. Math is clearly not my strong suit. I also did not figure in that finishing things is not his strong suit. Never, ever, in a million years did I think it would take 17 years to finish it. (And the only reason it is finished now is that we are selling!) Also, you should never have an artist build a house. You end up with a piece of art, not a house. Furthermore, as he says, an artist who is an optimist and a perfectionist is a very bad combination. He under estimates how long it will take to do something and it is never good enough so much be done again and again. If you have seen the master bathroom in my house, you know exactly what I am talking about. Besides the fact that the shower would accommodate three defensive linemen, the square footage makes it bigger than some offices at Adams, and you can hear a sucking sound from the aquifer if you fill the Jacuzzi tub, the tile work belongs in the Sistine Chapel.
Proud to be an Adams State storyWhen I took this job, I had been offered a job from Mesa. I was not keen on that idea as I would be replacing a saint who had been there forever and was much worshipped. Also, the position was a lot of administration with teaching – in other words two jobs. I wanted to teach. I ended up at Adams and loved it. However, in a short time Dean Baldwin had talked me into the hell of administration. I ended up replacing Saint Lois Widhalm who I admired then and now but I was nowhere near her equal. I told the dean he would need to hire at least three or four people to replace her. (And he did have to!) I stayed in the associate dean role for three years and then returned to teaching. I have survived two deans, seven chairs and countless colleagues, both faculty and staff.
I am proud of my work here at Adams. This is where I belonged. Working with students who were a lot like me as a first generation college student was very rewarding. One of the highlights has been the work in early childhood education. When Dr. Novotny and I began we both assumed this was a one-time deal. We would serve the needs of the Head Start staff here in the San Luis Valley by using our existing Interdisciplinary Studies Degree and providing a BA with a focus in ECE and Business. Then I would go back to teaching full time in Teacher Education. We are now finishing our fifth cohort and this summer a sixth group will begin. We have had cohorts here, Pueblo and Colorado Springs. In the process we have been able to attract and keep many wonderful adjuncts so that students get a variety of expertise and perspective. With their help, I wrote new syllabi (and all the required wonderful CDE documentation and alignment) for a new BA in ECE that will have the option of licensure for those who want to serve in the public school as teachers there. This is a huge accomplishment. I wanted this to be a real early childhood degree as opposed to a modified elementary education degree and I think we succeeded.
Students become family
My latest pleasure was working with the Boettcher Cohorts. What an amazing group of teachers! They are our hopes and dreams for the future, bright, energetic and with "great stories" that began long before they reached ASU. One of my "retirement" goals is to compile some of these for publication. I am optimistic about their potential and abilities in helping their own students write great life success stories. Having been in some of their classrooms I have seen how they are reaching students and serving their communities. ASU can be proud of these fine graduates.
My growth here has been facilitated by far too many individuals to mention. A key player has been Title V. After my first CELT experience way back when, I was hooked. I tried to take advantage of all they had to offer and became convinced that if we wanted to succeed as a university, school or department, we had to seriously examine our ideas surrounding diversity. While I still have a long way to go, my work in this area changed my teaching and learning. The second group from which I have learned a great deal are my students, especially the non-traditional students. I hope they learned something from me because I certainly learned a lot from them. Most are mothers and/or grandmothers and we even had one male cohort member here in the SLV. Most had been out of school for years and were returning for the BA because they needed it to keep their teaching positions in Head Starts or preschools. Some have limited computer skills and access to computers or reliable internet access was a constant issue. Some were English Language Learners and others dubbed me the "grammar police." I am in awe of how they managed 40 hour a week careers, their community involvement and their family obligations along with classes.
They reminded me constantly of the importance of family and I strove to keep "la familia first" in mind as I tried to balance the content and their lives. While they tease about ECE Boot Camp (their name for our summer one week intensive on campus) most agree that it helped to bond them as a "Sisterhood." They are role models in what it means to be a support system.
So long to SLV
Unfortunately, my health does not allow me to continue working. So in a few weeks, Paul and I will leave the Valley for new adventures, yet to be determined. While I am sad to leave, I am hopeful that I will find better health wherever we end up. I am also confident that exciting things are happening here at ASU and that what I helped to build will continue to grow and prosper. Our graduates continue to represent us well and I love hearing their "great stories" as they go out into the world in their careers and lives.
There are only a few things I will not miss about the San Luis Valley. They include the wind and dust, vicious mosquitos, gnats and no see-ums (although I think those are everywhere!), and the puddle jumper associated with Great Lies Airlines with pilots not old enough to shave. (Although I do have to admit they always manage to eventually get me to Denver and back safely!) The list of what I will miss is much longer. I will miss waking up to Mt. Blanca every day, the sunshine, being able to see forever with no trees in the way, amazing sunsets, the smell of roasting chiles in the fall, green chile on everything, living in the middle of the desert with an alligator farm, going to any store or restaurant in town and seeing people you know, especially students and most of all, I will miss my church and ASU families. Were it not for them, I would have indeed only stayed three years.
Career dedicated to educating
Areas of Specialization:
Child and Family Development; Early Childhood; Teacher Education; Home Economics
Ph.D. Child Development, dissertation on Child Involvement Activities of Families –Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
M.S. Child Development and Family Relations – Louisiana Teach, Ruston, Louisiana
B.S. Early Childhood Education – Louisiana Teach, Ruston, Louisiana
ASU Teacher Education Professor Tenure
Early Childhood Courses
Perspectives in Teaching and Learning
Supervision of student teachers and field students
Graduate Level Courses for Boettcher Program
Designed and Implemented Four-Year Program for Non-Licensure in Early Childhood Education
Cited in: Marion, M. (2010) Guiding Young Children.
Keep it: Free child care articles, (2009) Child Care Information Center
McNamara, J. (2009) Make a joyful noise: A simple song has the power to bring people together. School Library Journal
Garris Christian, L (2007) Understanding Families, Chapter in Spotlight on Young Children and Families, Book by NAEYC
Recent National Presentations
"Supporting children of incarcerated parents", presented at NAEYC's Annual Conference, November 2013 with Dr. Tony Romero
"You can't teach what you can't remember: Remembering play", presented at NAEYC's Annual Conference, November 2012
"How understanding family dynamics can enhance our work with young children", presented at NAEYC's Annual Conference, November 2011
"Why adult play matters: When was the last time you played as an adult?" presented with Geneva Torr at NAEYC's Annual Conference, November 2011
San Luis Valley Early Childhood Community Partner Award August 2012
San Luis Valley Early Childhood Council Inspiration Award August 2010.