Grad School Lessons

Last week I posted a snippet about the type of reading I’ve been doing while on sabbatical from teaching this semester, but this week, I wanted to elaborate a bit with some lessons I’ve learned during my first five weeks in grad school at UIC.

I knew that being a student again would be a very different kind of work than I’ve been used to, but what I didn’t realize was just how different the work for this degree (a Master of Education) would be compared to the work I did at DePaul University for my first graduate degree (Master of Arts in Writing). While I did take four courses for my MA that focused on theory, rhetoric, grammar, and teaching, the remainder of my eleven courses were writing courses: writing the novel, creative non-fiction, magazine writing, short fiction, and screenwriting. And it’s remarkably different when your weekly homework includes doing a close reading of a Reginald McKnight story, and writing a draft of your own story for a group workshop, than when your homework includes doing close readings of case studies from the academic journals International Journal of Environmental & Science Education and Child Development.

THIS IS NOT A REGINALD MCKNIGHT STORY.

THIS IS NOT A REGINALD MCKNIGHT STORY. THERE ARE SO MANY GYRUS!

And, thinking about these past five weeks — the reading, reflection papers, discussion questions, and one presentation I’ve done (that made me feel like a teacher again for about fifteen minutes!) — I decided to share with you the lessons I’ve learned.

I Sure Love a College Campus

Now, this is a silly lesson to learn, because I already know this. I work on a college campus, and I love where I work. But my campus at MCC isn’t what people usually think of when they think “college campus”: It’s a single (albeit large) building where commuter students walk to-and-from the parking lot with their backpacks rather than to and from their college buildings by way of pedestrian walkways and quads.

When I went to DePaul, all of my classes were in the same building (the now-demolished McGaw Hall) and I lived on Deming Place at Orchard, which was only six blocks away. This didn’t give me a “college campus” environment, either, at least not in the same way I’d experienced undergrad at Madison, where everything sprawled out over a green, hilly campus, and most of my classes were in this 165-year old building:

What you don't see is Bascom Hill, leading up to this building, and a murderer of a climb to do every goddamned weekday morning for four years. Especially during a Wisconsin winter.

What you don’t see is Bascom Hill, leading up to this building, and a murderer of a climb to do almost every weekday morning for four years. Especially during a Wisconsin winter.

So when I got to UIC’s campus and walked from the #60 bus stop to the Education, Theater, Music, and Social Work Building, and I was surrounded by young adults wearing backpacks, looking all adorable and studenty, I felt right at home. A college campus is a place where it’s totally normal to hang out at the library (I was lucky to find a tiny seat at a counter in the technology section of the first floor at Daley Library last Tuesday), where it’s not uncommon to see someone walking around in pajama pants (I’ve embraced my jeans and t-shirts, but haven’t taken it quite this far yet […yet]), and where you might see art pieces in trees as you walk to your lecture hall.

Hey, tree eagle. Treagle.

Hey, tree eagle. Treagle.

And then, when I had to drive to campus one afternoon, this was my view from the campus parking lot:

img_9968

I mean, come on. Come onnnnn.

This wonderful view, as well as my new commute using CTA buses and trains, confirmed my love of college campuses and informed the next lesson.

I Kinda Miss Chicago

After spending five weeks floating around the Loop and UIC’s campus, usually on the #60 bus or the Blue Line, but sometimes on my own two feet, I realized that Chicago is so easy to maneuver, and I really miss that.

Now, I love Camp Crystal Lake, but it’s nice to be totally anonymous for a few hours every week, to be able to get lunch somewhere and then walk half a block to get a cup of coffee and then walk four more steps to a bus that will take me where I need to go in five minutes. It is so easy. And easy is so nice.

You Can Never Have Too Many Library Cards

I now have three working library cards (yes, I still have my Chicago Public Library card because it’s hard to part with something that was very important to you for so long, and it’s so small that no one will know and my wallet doesn’t mind don’t worry I asked): my Crystal Lake Public Library card; my McHenry County College library card; and now, as of last week, my University of Illinois Chicago library card.

I CAN CHECK OUT BOOKS IN THREE DIFFERENT LIBRARIES GUESS WHAT I’LL BE DOING THIS WEEK CHECKING OUT BOOKS FROM THREE DIFFERENT LIBRARIES, SUCKERS!

Sorry. The power has gone to my head.

I Know What My Professors Are Doing

Not, like, right now. I’m not a creepy weirdo. But I do know what they’re doing in respect to their teaching and grading practices. There’s a benefit to being a teacher-student.

See, I have weekly assignments due in each of my classes: a reflection paper, discussion questions, and a chapter self-quiz in one class, and discussion questions for another. I submit these all through Blackboard, our online learning management system.

And the first three weeks, my professors gave lots of feedback for all of the assignments. My psychology professor gave comments on each of my three page reflection papers, engaging my ideas and giving me thought-provoking comments. My policy professor gave general comments about my discussion questions. I was happy to get all of the feedback, but I certainly wasn’t surprised that week four came and went with no new grades entered into my account, and, in the middle of week five, when I finally got new grades, there were no comments.

The first few weeks of any semester, teachers have high hopes for the amount of feedback they can give each student and the amount of time it will take them to grade a single set of assignments for a single class. As the assignments pour in, however, and as the semester continues to chug along, teachers understand how unrealistic their hopes really were.

I go through this every single semester. I used to beat myself up over it, but then I realized, after chatting with my colleagues, that we all suffer this same fate. There’s never enough time, nor enough hours in the the day, nor enough energy in our bodies.

So, to my professors, I say, thank you, and I appreciate you and your work, and I won’t ask you when you’ll have my group project graded. You know the one I did two and a half weeks ago? Don’t worry, I won’t ask. Promise. I won’t.

Everything Is Better When It’s Covered in Kittens

Case in point:

coefficient-cacophony-and-cats

This is a passage from a week four reading assignment. I covered it in kittens for you.

I Don’t Mind Working In Small Groups

Now, most people (at least 99.9% of my students) dislike working in small groups. I force my students to do it almost every week during the semester, even if it’s just for a small-stakes discussion or activity. It’s good to generate ideas before a large group discussion; it’s good for brainstorming; it’s good to promote teamwork and individual responsibility.

But people still don’t like it!

I’ve used this to my advantage as a student this semester to take a leadership role in my small groups. For me, it’s really easy to do, and people speak up after I break the ice. In fact, my first group was so okay with my nerdy, group-happy participation, that they didn’t mind if I took a picture of the development model we were working on:

It's a puzzle piece and we rocked it.

It’s a set of puzzle pieces, and we rocked it.

And a few weeks ago, the group I worked with on a class presentation didn’t even laugh at me when I made this picture after being stunned and driven into hysterical laughter about the Federal Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) sex education programming for adolescents:

A required piece of curriculum included a video showed a young woman asking a nurse what would happen if she had sex before marriage; this was the nurse's reply.

Curriculum included a video dramatizing a young woman asking a nurse what would happen if she had sex before marriage; this was the nurse’s reply.

Of course I didn’t include this picture in the presentation, but my group didn’t kick me out for making it, so I think we all know who won here.

Teachers — All Teachers — Appreciate This Whiskey

teachers-whiskey

Um, or any whiskey, TBH.

I didn’t learn this last one in grad school; it’s just a Truth in the world. A TRUTH.

Well, that’s it for now! It took me about four days to finish this post because each time I started to work on it, I realized that I had more reading to do. So, maybe my next post will be completed by Halloween!

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