Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Speaking of Opportunities...

Most weekday nights, since last fall, there are 5 people doing homework in this house. Me, the Kid, and 3 young gentlemen. The young men are sons of family friends whose parents asked if we could tutor them to help bring up their grades as a couple of them were failing classes, and one was on the brink (2 are brothers, the other is their friend). Unhesitatingly, we said yes. We started off with just the 2 brothers, and added the 3rd guy midway through the second quarter.

When the guys first started coming over, it was obvious that they were only here because they HAD to be here. If given their choice, they'dve stayed home for sure (and I can't blame them). But as time has gone on, the change in both themselves and their grades has been nothing short of awesome. It could be our insistence on high standards--they were happy with D's, but I told them that anything less than a C is unacceptable. It could be that they just needed somebody to care who isn't their parents. Either way, it's working. Nobody got below a C- this term, and 1 almost made the B Honor Roll. For the first time EVER. [edited to update: the younger brother ended up getting 2 D's...but we'll let him live. For now.]

A couple of nights ago, the 2 older ones were talking about their futures. They're both juniors this year, and thought that because their GPA's were so messed up from an assortment of low and/or failing grades that they didn't have a whole lot of options. It was interesting listening to them talk about it all. One wants to go into the Army after high school, the other doesn't know what he wants, but is pretty sure he doesn't want to go into the military. I told them both that their GPA's are high enough to get them into a community college, and if they did well enough, they could transfer to a university after. Right now, though, that's beyond their ken.

As I was turning that conversation over in my head later that night, I realized that I really am lucky to have this second chance at a college education. It's not so much that I'll be a 'real' librarian, no, it's more that by having a degree, so many more doors are open for me. When I was younger, my mom told me that it's every generation's wish and duty to push the next generation just a bit further than where the family was now. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college. For me, then, it was never a question of "if you're going to college", it was a "when you go to college". And the same goes for my daughter. She's really smart and will have colleges and universities (and probably the military) actively trying to recruit her. Her opportunities, at this point, are vast. And, it doesn't hurt that she's looking at going into environmental engineering either.

So, yeah. I hate homework, always have, probably always will. But, man almighty am I glad for what I'll get out of it all--a nice diploma at the end. No guarantees, true, but a whole lot of opportunities.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ten Things I Like About Grad School

Since my friend Chris recently asked if I'd ever said anything positive about Grad School, I've been thinking about it all. And here's what I came up with.

Ten Things I Like About Grad School

1. It's made me a better librarian: When I started grad school, I really was just marking time until I got the piece of paper that said that I was qualified to do what I’d been doing for many years—be a librarian. I did just fine before, yes. After going through the MLIS program at both St Kate’s and UW-M, I can honestly say that I’ve become a better librarian. Sadly, most of the head librarians in the library system for which I work do not have MLIS degrees, and neither do most of the people who work at headquarters. But, I’m glad I will have mine.

2. I learned something from every class: Every single class I’ve taken has taught me something, even the really awful ones. I have tremendously enjoyed the ones that I find useful, such as any based around books (Reader’s Advisory, Literature for Children, YA Lit, and Multicultural Literature) and technology based ones (Library 2.0, Internet Fundamentals). I even liked the Early Books and Manuscripts class, even though it was an 8 am class in the winter.
The classes that I didn’t like, well, I learned things from them too. I learned that my innate mistrust and dislike of group projects can be tempered if I’m with a good group. I learned that I don’t want to be in management. Ever. I learned that I have no future in doing research proposals, nor do I particularly care.

3. I can conquer any mountain, 15 weeks at a time: The start of every term, although I’m apprehensive, I’m also normally intrigued as to how a class can go. Sometimes, though, by the middle of the term, it’s all I can do to keep going. But, each time I’ve made it. So far, anyway. It’s all about persistence and the refusal to give in, give up, and go home.

4. Improvement in my time management skills: Yeah, going to college, having a family, trying to have a normal life…there’s only so many hours in the day. I have used lists, calendars, post-its, and basically anything I can to map out what’s due when. Mostly that’s how I operate when I’m in school. One step at a time. On one of my Facebook status updates I once wrote, “School is like a crucible. It burns away all the unnecessary things in my life. Including, apparently, my sanity.” And really, that’s pretty much it. I have figured out what and who I need to make me happy. The rest is just gravy (Or frosting. I don’t like gravy very much).

5. Rise in self-confidence: I know there are some who would say perhaps I have a bit too MUCH self-confidence, and that’s cool. But, this experience has made me realize that I really am smart, and that is very good.
When I was in high school, I was one of the “smart kids”. Thing is, I always saw myself as one of the “dumber of the smart kids”. Some of it was that I didn’t want to work hard (which made my Mom froth at the mouth—it was great), and some of it was that I was scared that someone would figure out that I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing and would kick me out of the group. My teachers and friends saw something in me that I couldn’t see, and God Bless Them All, they tried so hard to make me work up to my potential. But, they couldn’t drown out my inner voice that said, “You’re not good enough, Give it up.” It wasn’t until I got back into college (which I hadn’t finished the first time around, but that’s another story for another day) and did really well that I believed it.

6. Most classes are at night: I’m a night owl. I wasn’t when I was little, but that’s because my parents enforced early bedtimes (which sucked in the summer). Once I hit high school though, and had to stay up later to get homework done, I found that I think better at night. When I went back to college when I was 33, I went to school in the morning, worked in the afternoon, and did homework after the rest of the family went to bed. When I started grad school, most of the classes were at night. The ones that weren’t were at the god-awful time of 8am (I had a 1.5 hour commute. Those mornings were not pretty.), but I tried not to take very many of those. After all these years, once I am able to go back to civilian life, I’m just hoping I can re-set my sleep schedule to a more normal one.

7. It taught me that things don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be done: Ah, yes, The Cult of Done. The “B and Done” mindset. I’m a perfectionist. And inflexible. And the two don’t go well together. If I can just get started on something, then I’m usually fine. It’s the getting started that gets me every time, because I don’t think I’m ready to write the paper, do the research, project, whatever. So, I end up writing something at the last minute, and turning it in all the while kicking myself for the crappy work (and then when I get a “Great job!” from the professor, I think, “Yeah, but how much awesomer would that have been if I’d done a better job?!?!?”). The flip side is when I turn something in early: I spend the time thinking about all the things I should’ve added, done, said. Wait. I do that either way…

But the “Cult of Done” and “B and Done” mentality at least frees me to just DO IT. And you know what? I still do OK. And, it’s DONE.

8. It’s reminded me that “sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together”: I won’t lie. I was 3 steps beyond being angry when we learned that no, St Kate’s was not going to get the hoped for accreditation and I’d have to transfer to UW-M and lose AN ENTIRE YEAR of credits. Oh, no. I was incandescent with rage. Are you KIDDING ME? WHY? Why does this kind of thing always happen to me (really, no lie)? At the orientation, I left no doubt in anyone’s mind who was present in that room that I WAS NOT AMUSED (and that I didn’t care about their stupid “matrix” either) that I had to take a whole year over, plus take competency exams.
But, at the end of this all, I’ve gotten to take some classes that either weren’t offered at St Kate’s, or I hadn’t been able to fit into my schedule before. And, I’ll walk out with a real MLIS that will be accepted everywhere.

9. My world has exponentially grown: Have I ever told you all why exactly I decided to become a librarian (for real, with a real MLIS)? No? Well, pull up a chair, because it’s a good story.
It’s not like I ever stood a chance to become something different, not really. When my Mom was pregnant with me, my Dad used to call me “Jerome” (who is the patron saint of Librarians). Mom said she didn’t know where in the world he came up with that because as far as she knew, neither of them knew a Jerome. Also, my mom worked in a book store, and my maternal grandmother had singlehandedly run her town’s library for many years. Genetics or Fate? Either way…
So, I used to get to read for fun, right? Well, one day, I ran out of books that I wanted to read. I started reading through the library I frequented. Seriously. I started at the A’s and just kept going. I was at about the P’s when I mentioned something about it to a friend, who was having the same problem. She said her library was selling Page-a-Day Book calendars for $5 and that she’d get us each one. We planned to read every book…which did not last long. But, there were some gems in that calendar. I started going to the library in the town I lived in, hoping to find some of the books (the library was not online at that point). The librarian asked me if I wanted to be on the library board, so I said, “Sure, why not?” After a couple of months, she said that it appeared that I knew my way around a library and asked if I wanted to be a substitute and work at the library once or twice a month. “Sure, why not?” It was fun, and as time went on, I got more and more hours and became a regular employee.
The assistant director of the library system came to the library to help when we were getting everything barcoded for the imminent jump to the new automated system; for whatever reason, she took an interest in me, and from that point on became my unofficial mentor. She “strongly suggested” that I go through the Minnesota Voluntary Certification program for library workers (and by that I mean whenever a workshop was coming up, she’d send the flyer to the library addressed to me specifically. Yes, I went. And finished the program.) At one point, she flat out told me to go back to school. She said that to be a head librarian in the system, I’d need at least a 2 year degree. At that point I hadn’t thought about being a head librarian, but went along with it. Once I was done with my 2 year associates, I decided to keep going and get the MLIS, because that way I could work anywhere as a librarian. And so I’ve endured almost 8 years of school so I could get this degree. The End.

Also, the things that I've learned have led me to really cool discoveries. I have such a huge to-be-read list that I joke that I can never die. There's so much that I want to learn about now. It's a far cry from having to read through the library because I can't find anything good to read. I've met some really awesome online friends that I wouldn't have had I not taken classes like Library 2.0 (or done the 23 Things on a Stick) and had to use Twitter/Facebook/other social media.

10. The camaraderie and the friendships: I hope to always remember that first day in Intro to Libraries (one of the 8am classes) when Professor Cathcart said, “I want you to take the time to introduce yourselves to each other. You are going to be colleagues, and maybe friends.” At the time, I was still an undergrad at St Kate’s, and felt out of my depth because everyone else was already done with their undergrad degrees. I am fairly reserved when I first meet people (yes, really), so this was 2 steps beyond painful for me. I remember thinking, “But I don’t CARE about these people. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be friends with any of them. And none of them are going to work out where I do.”
Funny how that works out though. In fact, it was my first 2 classes that I took that term (the intro class & Intro to Reference) that I found my people.
Seriously, who would have thought I’d become friends with Chris (who DID sleep through that 8am Intro class plenty of mornings, but is always the logical one of the 2 of us), Kay (who was a ‘let’s sit on the dark side of the room’ partner in crime), Lindsay (the voice of reason…and hilariously funny on Twitter), Beth (Back row of Reference, represent), Christie, Cary (who once he saw the light, moved to the back row in Reference class—long live Twins games on the laptop), Janelle, Katy (“Why is it I always get the mean looks for something you did?” “Because I know when to duck and look like I’m paying complete attention”), Stan, and all the rest.
I have been so lucky to go through grad school with these people. Really. I don’t think I’dve made it without them. Would I have gotten to know them in my “normal” life? Probably not. Is my life immeasurably richer for them? Damn straight.

So, thank you, Chris, for calling me out on my bad attitude about school. Honestly, getting to go back to college, and then getting to go to grad school was an opportunity that not many people have, and for which I am so thankful. It's good to remember why.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant

Hail, Caesar, those who are about to die salute you.

I know, dramatic much? Yes. Maybe. No.

Normally, at the start of every term, I'm filled with a renewed sense of purpose, and am ready to go. This time, not so much. Perhaps it's because I still haven't recovered mentally from Fall Term 2009. Perhaps it's because last year at the start of Winter term I felt like this, but knew (or at least thought) that the end was in sight. I really don't know.

I'm taking 2 JTerm classes. One professor, bless her, has decided to spread the work out over 3 weeks. This is not to say it'll be easy, though. This is the same professor that I took the Multicultural Literature class from last term. At least this time I know what she expects/demands, and what some of her quirks are. And, for whatever reason, the literature classes have always been my "for fun" ones, so that's also a plus here.

The other professor, bless her heart*, has decided to compact what would be a 3 week class into one week--well, 5 days. The staggering amount of reading, plus the assignments seem overwhelming to me right now. On the one hand, it's great that it'll be over by Saturday the 9th and I'll be able to really focus on the other class. On the other hand, O.M.G. tilt tilt overload. (*the difference between my use of "bless her" and "bless her heart" lies in the odd upbringing I had. Although I lived in the North, much of my family on either side had come up from the South a couple of generations before. 'Bless her heart' is just a Southern way of saying, "I don't agree with what she's doing, but I'm too polite to tell her so because otherwise my Momma will smack me upside the head")

So, anyhow, I will not die from homework or school. However, in some ways, that's exactly what I do. I have to refocus my attention and time toward something I'd rather not be doing (especially since I was SO CLOSE to being free at last after May 2009) and have to ignore anything that's not exploding, bleeding, or otherwise immediately in need of my attention.

I've wondered it before, and I'm definitely wondering it now: is there such a thing as PTSD as witnessed in college students? Or is it just me, in my never-ending quest for perfection? When I turned in my last paper on 21 December, I was drained mentally, physically, and emotionally. I just couldn't seem to transistion back to "normal" life over Christmas break. I felt caught inbetween worlds, and it was so odd. It's like I'd been pushing pushing pushing for so long, and once the term was over, all of a sudden, there was nothing. I knew I couldn't fully relax because the new term would be starting so soon, and started to wonder if perhaps I shouldn't have taken the 2 JTerm classes, and just picked 2 3credit classes for spring term. I don't know if there's ever been a study on how students are directly after a term, but I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one who feels like this. It makes it hard to recharge for the next go-round when I'm still keyed up from the last one.

Ah, but this time...this time will be the last, the Good Lord willing and the creeks don't rise. One can hope.