Tag Archives: University of Illinois Chicago

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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My Brain is Working Hard

Hi, all.

It’s been about four weeks since I’ve posted anything, and this post won’t be substantial at all. But I needed to check in and let you know the following:

  1. Yes, I am still alive
  2. No, I haven’t left the house very much for the past three weeks because all I’ve done is read, read, read for my two classes and my butt is half-asleep all of the time and I already need to buy some new highlighters
  3. Yes, I am having a wonderful time doing all of this reading and being a student and I’ll tell you more about it later this week

And just to show you how much fun some of this stuff is, I thought I’d give you a little slice of heaven from the journal article I’m reading tonight, Do the brain networks of scientists account for their superiority in hypothesis-generating? (Lee, 2012):

“All functional volumes were then spatially smoothed with an 8-mm full-width half-maximum (FWHM) isotropic Gaussian kernel to compensate for residual between-subject variability after spatial normalization (to allow for comparisons across subjects) and to permit application of Gaussian random field theory for corrected statistical inference (Worsley & Friston, 1995).”

THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!

my brain is doing this right now

my brain is doing this right now

So, just be aware that I’m working hard, even though my body isn’t moving very much.

I’ll catch you all up very soon.

Sabbatical? Sabbati-CAN!

Today is Thursday, August 18, the third Thursday in August. I’m sitting here at my desk at home, feeling strange, because for the past ten third Thursdays in August, I have been at MCC’s Fall Faculty Development Day, which is the first official day of the semester for faculty members. And for six of those ten years, I didn’t just attend the day, but, as the chair of MCC’s Faculty Development Team, I planned the day with my FD teammates.

So, while a couple hundred of my faculty colleagues are sitting in workshops three miles away, why on earth aren’t I there with them? Because this semester, I’m on sabbatical. And I’m so excited about this that I can barely handle it.

Sabbatical

At my college, tenured faculty can apply to take an academic sabbatical after they’ve taught at the college for four years, and I thought that this year was finally my time.

I hadn’t applied before now for a couple of reasons. Because I was chair of faculty development, I always felt like I couldn’t take off for a semester and leave the team in the lurch. Yes, I could have left someone else in charge while I was gone, but I was never super comfortable with that kind of arrangement (I might have a problem with delegation…maybe).

The other reason, though, is the true reason: I’d never before had any idea what I would focus on for a sabbatical. At MCC, sabbatical must be proposed “for graduate study, research, or other professional development activity,” and I just hadn’t yet found a reason for an entire semester’s worth of leave for any of those things. For the past five years, after deciding that I wasn’t yet sold on getting a Ph.D., I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of second master’s degree to pursue. I looked at a lot of programs, some fully online, some face-to-face, some full time, some part time. And after five years of asking questions, doing research, and attending graduate school open houses (yes, I really am a Power), I finally decided to get a Master of Education in Instructional Leadership at University of Illinois Chicago.

Grad School Swag

Grad school swag

After I made my decision, I talked it over with my dean and then set to work on my sabbatical proposal, which was due last Fall, the year before I planned my leave of absence. Clearly, the focus of my sabbatical would be on graduate school classes, but I didn’t want to take more than two in one semester, even while on leave. And while two grad courses will surely be enough to keep me busy, I thought I could squeeze in a bit more to do, so I added some activities and turned in a three-part proposal:

  1. Enroll in MEd at UIC and pursue graduate courses toward that degree;
  2. Work on Creative Writing “2” course proposal; and
  3. Continue to work on my own analytical and creative writing and submit work for publication.

For years I’ve wanted to work on new curriculum to add to MCC’s creative writing offerings. Each time I’ve taught a section of creative writing, I’ve had students ask about a second class. In fact, the creative writing club I advise was born out of my students’ desire to keep working on their writing in a workshop environment. And because I knew that it will be reasonable for me to write a new course proposal this semester in addition to completing my grad work, I put it on my list.

And that third bit I just threw in for fun. Last year I contributed to the feminist film websites Bitch Flicks and Cinefilles, and I want to keep doing that this year (as well as submitting some of my new short fiction to lit magazines). So why not add it on? In fact, I recently started working on a new Bitch Flicks article for their August theme week about sisters. I’m going to write about sisters in horror films, so this is the “research” I get to delve into this week:

Research is hard.

The best research can be done while eating popcorn and sitting on your couch.

While I am so very excited (I AM SO EXCITED!) to be taking this semester to focus on my own professional development, it feels weird (weirdsoweird) that I won’t be teaching until January. Yes, I’ll be in a classroom, and yes, as usual, I stocked up on necessary supplies before this new semester begins:

Notebooks

I couldn’t decide which notebook will be better: the fancy one with a fancy tab and pen holder, or my old stand-by composition book? I have four days to decide. Wish me luck.

Folders

These are my new folders.

One of my two textbooks.

One of my two textbooks.

But there are some big changes, and the one in particular that is both upsetting as well as exhilarating is the fact that I won’t be wearing my First Day of Fall Semester Dress:

First Day Dress

Hello, friend.

I found this dress five years ago at Dovetail in our old West Town neighborhood. This dress —  handmade, cotton — hung on the rack next to another dress — sleeveless, blue, handmade, cotton — and both fit as though they’d been sewn just for me. They’d been brought in together and were clearly home-sewn. I got them both, and since then I’ve worn the red-and-white number every first day of class Fall semester. It’s the perfect First Day dress: light enough for the hot weather, very teacherly, and it covers up all of my upper body tattoos (which I hold back until the second day of class; it’s like a little surprise if students stick around after we’ve gone over the super exciting syllabus).

But I don’t know if I want to wear my First Day Dress to my first class next Tuesday. I mean, obviously I want to wear it, but I feel like I need to make a change in wardrobe for this huge change in my life. Last week I had dinner with a former student who’s now finishing up her bachelor’s degree with a final semester of student teaching (yes, clearly she is my favorite student because she’s going to be an English teacher and wants to eventually get her master’s degree and come teach at MCC). She and I talked about our first day of school outfits, and she recommended that I wear something different than my go-to dress. And I think she’s right. I’ll be in a different role next week than I usually am, and that means a different wardrobe. Thanks, Shaz, for being the best.

So, I still need to figure out what to wear for my first day as a student (OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO BE A STUDENT AGAIN!) and it will likely include a t-shirt and jeans. Because that’s what I wear when I’m not teaching (because that’s really what I love to wear), but that also means that all of my wonderful dresses and skirts will be lonely in my closet all semester. Maybe I’ll take them out when I go to the grocery store.

I made another change to my appearance in preparation for sabbatical: I got a hair-cut. Now, that’s not really any big news, but it’s kind of a drastic hair-cut, so I thought I’d mention it. I’ve had short hair for some time now (the longest it’s been since freshman year of college has been shoulder-length, and that’s never lasted for more than a few months), but this week when I went to visit the Amazing Audrey, she took almost all of it off.

Hair? What hair?

Two separate days, two different t-shirts, both white. When I’m not teaching, I am so boring.

If I were teaching next week, I don’t think I would have gone this short. But there’s something wonderful about knowing that while I’m in class, I won’t have all eyes in the room trained on me; I won’t have to look professional or teacherly; I won’t even have to wear make-up! (j.k. I will totally be wearing make-up since I can’t go out to walk the dog without mascara.) This idea is so liberating that I just needed to liberate almost all of the hairs from my head.

And now, I think I’m ready. My first class is Tuesday at 2 p.m., and I will probably not sleep very much on Monday night. But that sleeplessness will also be an effect of me binging sister-focused horror movies for a week and a half. Whatevs.

Wish me luck — I’ll let you know how it goes!

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