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How I Became an Instructional Designer: Mary

In the last few years I’ve noticed an increase in the number of questions I’ve been asked by visitors to Arizona State University about the Instructional Designers on our team, Instructional Design & New Media, in EdPlus. People want to know about their backgrounds and academic credentials, how we find them, how we hire them, how they work as a team, how they manage their workloads, and more. It occurred to me as I answered these questions that there is a lot I don’t know about how the Instructional Designers in our group arrived at their jobs. I decided to interview some of the team to find out more about the paths they’ve taken to get here. Along the way, I was fortunate enough to have access to some of our colleagues at King’s College, London, with whom we work as part of the PLuS Alliance. In the end, I was able to interview six Instructional Designers from ASU and three from King’s College. My goal is to include Instructional Designers from our other PLuS Alliance partner, University of New South Wales, in the future.

The following includes highlights, pivotal life moments, and milestones that came out in the conversations. One post in the series will be published here at the TeachOnline website each week for nine weeks.

Mary (30s) – Phoenix – ASU

I was born in Dodge City, Kansas, of all places. So, I did get the hell out of Dodge. I spent most of my childhood in Kansas, but I also lived in the United Arab Emirates for numerous years. My father is Lebanese, and I actually started learning French when I was in UAE for primary school.

I loved French. I always have, and I just loved to travel. One of the most visited places in the world is France. You see images of France everywhere, so as I was growing up, I just knew that one day I would go. I didn’t realize I would major in French and ultimately pursue my master’s degree in it.

I was not interested in school whatsoever when I was in high school. I loved to learn, but school actually bored me when I was a teenager. I didn’t find it challenging, I didn’t find it interesting. So, I was involved in lots of extracurricular activities.

I was working at WalMart full-time and taking classes, just a few here and there at the community college. My French teacher, Mrs. Goff, was in the lane at WalMart and said, “You’re meant to do more than just work here, Mary.” She came to my graduation when I graduated with my bachelor’s and my master’s. She was very influential; I don’t think she realized how much so, but I’ve since told her.

I had no idea what I was going to do with this degree. What do you do with a bachelor’s in French? Not a whole lot, unless you want to teach, and I really didn’t want to teach high school. It just didn’t interest me. So, my advisor, Dr. Hayes, sat with me and suggested, “You know, I think that you should go to graduate school.” So, I’ve had all these people kind of telling me what I should be doing throughout my academic career.

One of the perks of being a graduate student at The University of Kansas, and specifically in the French department, was that your first year you’re required to teach French. What I found was that I actually really loved teaching. I didn’t realize that about myself because after that first education class, I believed education was not for me. Since it was a requirement, however, I taught French, and after my first year, I won an award for teaching, which was all based on student evaluations. That was a nice affirmation, I guess, of what I was doing.

I went to meet with my advisor, who was so stressed out at the time. He was going through the tenure process and was preparing to present at a conference and finishing up an article, all at the same time. I looked at him and thought, I don’t want this to be my life. This is crazy. And so, I finished my master’s degree but decided not to pursue my doctoral degree.

Right around that time I was hired at Odysseyware, which is now merged with AlphaOmega Publications, but at the time, they hired me to develop their online French program. So that was really my first foray into instructional design and curriculum development. We developed four courses in two years, which was huge endeavor. We had media specialists, audio specialists, we hired a ton of French people to do the audio recordings. It was fantastic.

Around that time, I also picked up my first high school teaching position, which I said I would never do. It was my first-ever high school class, and on the third day, we went on lockdown because someone brought a gun to school. Later in that first year, I had a switchblade pulled out in my class. I had fights break out. It was crazy. Yet, it was probably one of the most rewarding positions I’ve ever had because of the students.

Honestly, I cried almost every day when I left school during that first quarter. But through the second, third, and fourth quarters, I think I’d gained most of the students’ trust. I didn’t have any behavioral issues. Not one. I think once they figured out that I was there to help them, whether it was just being someone to listen to them or whatever the case was, there was a shift and they began to respect and appreciate me. In fact, I had a student who was transferred into my French class in the third quarter, and he started cussing at me, which was not uncommon at that school. But he started to call me some names and, literally, before I could even respond, I heard chairs shuffle and saw three students standing up, saying “No one talks to Miss Chabaan like that!”

I know I taught them something beyond French, but soon after, I left the high school to work for University of Phoenix. I really enjoyed working there. We had the instructional and development team, and I thought it was a great. It was a really good introduction to instructional development and design.

Now I would say I’ve taken over the reins to my life. Whereas in the past, I really was guided by a lot of people because I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do; I didn’t have a clear path. Today, however, I’m pretty confident what it is I want to do, what I want my work and career to be like, what I want my work-life balance to be like.

Marc: What one piece of advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. I was a perfectionist when I started college, partly because I did so poorly in high school and thought I had something to prove, not just to myself but to others. I would say, don’t sweat it. You’ll get where you’re meant to be.

 

Additional editing: Debra Sims