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Albert Dimmitt, Jr.'s
Application Essay for Facilitator Preparation

In applying for preparation as a formation facilitator with the CFHE, applicants are asked to provide a personal statement about the relationship of formation to your current sense of vocation, including a review of the awareness-building activities you have engaged in. The following is Albert Dimmitt's response. He's an Emergency Medical Technology faculty member from the Penn Valley Campus of Metropolitan Community Colleges in Kansas City, Missouri. Al response seemed to us both unique and typical. Only Al could have recounted his dance with formation so honestly and clearly. Many of us come to this work with doubts and questions, unsure about what formation is and how we might respond to it. So we asked Al's permission to share his response to one of the applications questions, thinking that it offers a wonderful introduction to a formation journey.

-The CFHE Staff

My first exposure to formation work came when our campus professional development program distributed copies of Palmer's The Courage to Teach to participants of campus professional development events. I read the cover and promptly put in on the bookshelf, where it remained for a considerable length of time. When I saw it there, I always knew I should pick it up and read it, but there never seemed to be the time.

In the early spring of 2000 a colleague called and asked if I would serve on a team to organize our district's efforts to implement a "courage to teach" program. I had just recently become very comfortable telling people that my plate was too full, and that I didn't feel I could take on more. That's what I told this colleague, but fortunately she wouldn't take no for an answer. She became very persuasive, so I reluctantly agreed. The team met and put together a funding request, but I was still unconvinced. I had begun to read the Palmer book out of a sense of duty. If I were participating in this, and advocating a program, I felt like I should at least know what I was "selling".

As I read the book, my response was mixed. Based on my background and experience, I was very uncomfortable with the spiritual elements of its message. Through the 1980s, I had been very suspicious of the "new age" movement, and there were parts of Palmer's approach that, superficially at least, reminded me of that time and place.

The first large-scale event in our district-wide formation effort was a retreat that was held the weekend before the start of fall classes. As a member of the team I felt it my obligation to attend, though I remained skeptical. The month long "break" between summer and fall classes had been disastrous. One thing and another required that I spend my time at school during that period. By the time the retreat came along I was wound pretty tightly, and all I could think was that here was a weekend obligation leading into the stresses of opening classes. At the same time, however, I kept remembering the advice of my colleague when I would tell her I was too busy in the summer to go to Taos, or participate in some other formation event. "If you're too busy, that's all the more indication that you need to be a part of this." Though it made little sense to me, I found myself thinking about her advice as I drove out of town to the retreat site. I was ready for a break, a time away.

It took twenty-four hours for me to decompress. I never think of myself as being high strung, and most of my friends and colleagues would likely characterize me as pretty laid back. Only late in the second day did I realize how tight I had been. I felt a bit like a patient going through detoxification taken kicking and screaming. I was intrigued by the quiet times, and amazed at the calm exhibited by our facilitator and several of my colleagues.

Through the first evening and the first full day I struggled with the process. The promise I saw in formation work kept butting against my rational, practical and realist habits. I was uncomfortable journaling, though I enjoy writing. Although I'm thoughtful, I found the reflection difficult.
Peace began to set in during the second evening. I started to think about the way I do my work, and how I wanted to do it. I thought about the importance of my values to me, and the ways in which those values have become increasingly compromised by some of my "practical" approaches. I thought especially about a conversation I had with a student who felt that I had "softened" or "sold out" since one of her friends had taken my class. She was convinced that I no longer demanded the high caliber of work that I had several years ago. Through that evening and the next day I was able to see (to admit?) that to a large extent that student was right. I had become worn down, and discovered at some level that it was easier to be less demanding, even if it felt cheap at the same time.

I have come to appreciate time for reflection, and have even begun to set aside time to allow it. The insights I have gained through participation in the retreat and the subsequent reorientation of my teaching life have altered my approaches significantly. I enter the classroom with a degree of respect and anticipation that I've not experienced in some time.

Albert Dimmitt, Jr.
Penn Valley College
Metropolitan Community Colleges
Kansas City, Missouri