Sonja Redmon, Director of Transitional Programs to College and Career at Wayne Community College

Hello readers! Today we are talking with Sonja Redmon, former Director of Transitional Programs at Wayne Community College. Ms. Redmon has 30 years of experience in education including 22 years in the director position. During her tenure, she saw the program through many changes and helped it grow to one of the Top Ten in Enrollment in the State of North Carolina and Top Three in State Performance Measures.

The end of June 2018 marks the end of Ms. Redmon’s educational career. As she looks forward to retirement and the new adventures there, she has taken a moment to reflect back on her career and her legacy and share some wisdom with us.

How long have you worked in education? At which colleges? In what roles?

I’ve worked in education since 1988 when I was hired as a part-time Adult High School English instructor.  I worked as an instructor for a few years and was then hired as the lab coordinator. In 1996 I was hired for the director’s position. All of these roles were in the Basic Skills department at Wayne Community College.

What made you choose a career in education?

As the saying goes, I fell into education sideways. In other words, I did not choose education as a career, it chose me. My mother worked at the college in 1988 and heard about a need in the Basic Skills department for an English instructor. I was ready to get into the job market at that time since both of my children were in school and I had an English degree so the rest is history. No pun intended since I also have a history degree!

You have worked in both instructor and administrative roles in your career. How did these different roles help you become a better educator and communicator with others?

Working as an instructor helped me tremendously once I became an administrator. I could still identify with the needs of the instructors and that is something that stayed with me throughout the years. Sometimes, budget or higher ups would get in the way, but I always tried to do what was best for instructors and students.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from teaching?

Ha ha. I quickly learned in the beginning that I didn’t know everything and that if I only listened, the students had a lot to teach me as well.  Another lesson learned was that I couldn’t save them all no matter how hard I tried. It took me a few years to learn that bitter lesson.

Besides advancing your career and salary, what made you change roles from teaching to administration?

That change was primarily about career advancement and salary. Back in my day as a teacher, the maximum pay for part-time was $9.00 per hour and that was even with a masters degree.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from leading other educators?

I’ve learned that like the students, other educators had much to teach me. Even after all these years, I was still learning from other educators including my teachers as well as teachers and administrators from other colleges. I never attended a meeting or workshop that I didn’t learn something. That’s why I have always been a strong proponent of professional development.

You have worked in fields outside of adult education. What made you choose to work in Adult Education?

I liked helping people. It was just that simple. I liked making a difference in a student’s life, and I liked making a difference in my instructors’ lives. I cannot even count the number of times an instructor has said thank you to me for hiring them. That has been special.

You chose to not only work in adult education but get your degree in it. How did that help your career?

Being in education administration, I knew I needed to go back to school myself and earn a masters. Adult Education seemed the only way to go since I enjoyed what I was doing. I also knew an Adult Ed degree allowed for multiple career opportunities. When I applied for the director’s position, a Master’s in Adult Ed or a similar degree was a requirement, so I can safely say that my degree helped me to get hired as director.

I’ve always been glad I made that choice.

You have been an avid supporter of professional development for your team. In your opinion, why is professional development important?

Lifelong learning is important in all aspects of life and especially in this career field. Change in adult education is constant whether it’s a better way to teach math or new requirements from WIOA and OCTAE. Learning from an expert and learning from peers at other colleges is vital to stay on top of the game. Teachers and staff have been fortunate to have access to the strong adult education staff at Appalachian State University. Like I said in a previous question, I’ve never been to a workshop or even one of our weekly meetings that I didn’t learn something. For those of you reading this, if you think about it, neither have you.

We all know that education is a challenging place to work in because it is often thankless, politicized, and changing. In the past few years alone, we saw a lot of changes in adult education that affected our budget. What advice can you give to current and future administrators navigating their way through shrinking budgets?

All you can do is keep a positive attitude and plan, plan, plan. By planning ahead, you may be able to save a job or two when in a low budget year. You do this by trimming out the non-producing areas. That is hard for me to say because I’ve always thought that a class with only one student was a class that was a gift to that one student. He or she needed the one-on-one at that point in life.

Communication is also critical. Instructors and staff must realize that they hold the power to make or break a program. Enrollment and retention are 90% instructors and staff. The best recruiter is a satisfied student and the best retention is when a student learns and doesn’t feel the class is a waste of time.

When negative changes happen, it is hard to stay motivated. What advice can you give for motivating your team when circumstances are demoralizing?

I believe communication is the key. Just keep everyone updated on what is happening. Often not knowing leads to imagining even worse circumstances. Communication also allows for input from everyone on how to deal with the situation. We all like to feel useful and when we do, it’s a natural motivator.

In your experience, what has been the biggest thing that helped you adjust to changes when they happened as well as help you lead others through those difficulties?

Patience. Patience with the changes. Patience with teachers and staff protesting the changes.

A lot of the changes in adult education have influenced educators to leave adult education or retire before their positions were cut. With so much fear over job cuts, why should anyone stay in adult education?

Adult education is a worthy cause and a good career. Job cuts can and do happen in all areas of education as well as in the private sector. There were positions cut this year in curriculum. It’s just a fact of life, especially in this day and time.

Think positive and make yourself valuable to the team is my best advice to anyone whether in adult ed, curriculum, or K-12.

You have been the Director of Transitional Programs to College and Career for many years and many of the current employees you leave behind have only known you as their leader. What do you hope will be your legacy as you leave this role?

I hope that I’ll be remembered as someone who cared for both students and employees. I also hope to be remembered as the director who grew the program into one of the top ten in the state enrollment-wise and one of the top three in the state performance-wise.

As you retire and look back on your career, what advice would you give to younger educators working in adult education now?

Accept change.

Persevere through the bad times. You’ll have more good times.

Hire the best team possible. The instinct for that will be gradually learned.

Stress professional development. Knowledge makes everyone’s jobs easier.

Thank you, Ms. Redmon, for sharing your time with us today. We appreciate your insights and all you have done for your program at Wayne Community College. We wish you much joy and success in your retirement. 

A Biblical Perspective On Caring For Aging Loved Ones

When I was very young, maybe five, I visited my great-grandmother. She was crippled with arthritis and bed-ridden and she scared the crap out of me. She said, “come here let me squeeze the puddin’ out of ya'” and I thought she really could squeeze the life out of me. Of course, I know better now, but that doesn’t change the fact that my only living memory of a woman I would later love and respect is one of fear and retreat.

When I was a little older, I used to visit nursing homes with my parents. We would sing old hymns and dad would preach a short sermon. Then we would visit the rooms and pray with anyone that needed it. I remember the people would smile and mumble along to the familiar tunes. They were especially happy to see young people and stared at my sister and me as if they could drink in our youth through exposure. I remember they smelled like moth balls and looked a little frightening with their sagging jaws and skin.

When I became an adult, I volunteered at a nursing home to help teach a lady to paint. I went into her room and talked to her about her life and shared with her some fun techniques to try with her art. I got to know her and some of her life story. She didn’t seem old or scary, she was experienced and interesting with a strong, healthy mind. I thought of her as a friend. One day she had bad headaches and couldn’t see me. One day turned into two. Another day she was fine and happy to talk again, but she told me she didn’t want me to “waste my time” coming out there. I got busy and stopped coming for a while. The next I heard, she was dead and gone. I never got to say goodbye.

I think humans are funny about age. When we are born, we think it is adorable when babies are covered in drool, spilling their food, and making messes. We have compassion for their short-comings and reward every small gain they have because it is progress. But when all these things happen with an adult, we treat them with fear and disdain. We invest in plastic surgery, exotic pills, and drastic health care programs to try to stave off getting older. Nothing stops the inevitable.

It’s one thing to deal with the effects of aging personally, but what about when our parents are getting older?

My pastor, Andrew Price, says there are four stages that aging parents go through.

  1. First, they become grandparents and enjoy being able to invest in their kids’ kids without all the hard work of day-to-day parenting.
  2. Second, they become retirees and get to reap the rewards of hard work and investments. They have time to relax, travel, and enjoy life. They make great mentors for others at this stage.
  3. Thirdly, they realize they can’t do all they used to do and they have to start relying on their kids to do some things for them. During this role-reversal stage, parents worry about having enough insurance and money to cover their needs and children struggle to care for their parents without treating them like children.
  4. Fourth, they become completely dependent on others for their care. In this stage, parents are no longer able to care for themselves, so the kids have to arrange for care for them. This can become a financial and emotional burden for everyone.

Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
    and parents are the pride of their children. Proverbs 17:6, NIV

There is a lot of joy for stages one and two here, but I feel a deep sadness for stages three and four. Some may say it is because dealing with aging parents reminds us of our own mortality, but for me, it is more personal than that. My parents are my heroes; I’ve always looked up to them. They are barely into their sixties, yet I am living through part of these later stages with them now because of their health.

It is hard to see your heroes get knocked down.

It is hard to see them depend on people for their basic care. It is infuriating when those people also don’t care about doing their jobs well...if at all. Strangers will never know the value of your loved ones or care to know their story the way you do.

What is also hard about stages three and four is realizing that the person you love may not be with you much longer. You’ve gotten used to life with them in it. Now you feel cheated to think they won’t be there for the rest of it. At some point, whether you want to or not, we all have to say goodbye and try to live without our loved ones. It’s not easy.

I’ve had to say goodbye to more loved ones than I care to think about, and I have never been good at it. I’ve realized that I have a lot to learn from old people, even the mean, and scary ones.

Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.  Psalms 90:10 NIV

Some Lessons I’ve Learned From Older People

First, take care of your health. The stuff you put off when you are young catches up to you when you are old. It pays back with interest…negatively.

Second, spend quality time with the people you care about. If you didn’t care to get off your phone and play with them when they were young, why should they care about taking time out of their busy lives to visit you when you are old?

Third, be encouraging to your children. No child deserves to be put down by their parents. If you can’t be nice to them and encourage them into being a better person, you probably shouldn’t have been a parent at all. Don’t be surprised when no one comes to your funeral.

Fourth, plan ahead. Save what you can save. Invest what you can invest. Life costs more when you are older.

Fifth, don’t live with comparisons and regrets. You can control your choices but you can’t control them for someone else. You gain nothing from holding back on your dreams and goals or comparing what you have to what others have. At the end of the day, Facebook lies, Twitter glimpses, and Instagram only shows the cropped shots. If you get too caught up in what others have, you will end up scared and wasteful with what you do have.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… What do workers gain from their toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. 

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear (revere) him.

–Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, NIV