Straight A’s and perfect attendance for two semesters!
I am well on my way to a Bachelor’s in History at UCCS. I sat down with my adviser and it looks like I’ll need three more full semesters. I transferred in with two Associate’s degrees, so I am a senior with lots of credit, but there are still a lot of miscellaneous requirements to check off. Primarily, I need lots of upper division history classes, which are challenging but OH so interesting! This summer I took Immigrant History and Cemeteries and Memory in America. This fall I am taking Medieval Science and Technology, The Ottoman Empire, and Religion and American Culture. Besides the three history courses, I need to take Freshman English (hoping that will be easy for me) and I’m filling my oral communication requirement with Improv. It should be fun!
History was definitely the best choice to mesh with a writing career. All through both semesters, I came up with tidbits to put into my stories (did you know the hand/torch of the Statue of Liberty was on display in a public park for years before the statue was assembled?) and things I’d like to explore further (Penrose and Palmer, both great philanthropists in the early days of Colorado Springs, did not see eye-to-eye…) Many of the ideas are Steampunk-related, figuring out ways to tweak the Victorian timeline to create an alternate history. Other ideas are about the clash of cultures; something easy to extrapolate into a SciFi story.
Alas, I do not have time to actually write the stories yet.
A year ago I told myself that, this time, I would not stress over doing everything exactly right. I allowed myself to let some things go. Although I turned in every assignment, many of them were not my best work. Sometimes I only skimmed the assigned reading. Sometimes I (gasp!) skipped it altogether. I still went to class and still participated even if I wasn’t completely prepared.
It worked. I not only passed, I managed to get A’s in every class. (One was an A- last spring.) I worked hard, but I also balanced the other things in my life, and it paid off.
Yet I am very fortunate. I got perfect attendance, but I was never sick enough to miss class. I never had a family member in crisis when I needed to be in class. There were never any other spontaneous issues that could have kept me away from campus. There were a number of instances when I needed to do schoolwork, but instead had to prioritize something else. But it wasn’t crippling. I was always able to either find another piece of time to get it done, or I let it go (like the reading) and limped through.
One great aspect of school is that it sets you up for success. You’re presented with a to-do list, and you do it. But this is so different from real life, and that’s a frustrating realization. This is beyond the condescending platitude “No one ever said life is fair.” You can be well-qualified for a job and still not get hired. You can be excellent at your job and never receive recognition or reward. You can set off on a journey and either find something incredible and new, or look back and realize there was so much that you missed.
I will continue to manage my energy (and spoons) and do the things on the list that my teachers and the university created for me.
Then I’ll try to find a way to make this academic thing a permanent gig.
That Thing You Do
Me at the UCCS library, wrinkles and all, writing a blog post and doing homework.
There’s a thing many teachers do, myself included. They ask a misleading question or lead into an activity counting on the class to give a specific answer, one that is not the “right” answer. Used at its best, this tactic can give the students an eye-opening and inspiring experience, such as John Keating (played by Robin Williams in The Dead Poets Society) when he had the young men walk around the courtyard and they quickly fell into step. He pointed out that they can each walk differently, in their own path. The young men in his class grew during his time with them, forging their own way and becoming the better for it. (With one notable exception but that’s a spoiler for the entire movie.)
Used at its worst, this can be a condescending put-down where an insecure teacher just wants to make themselves look smart and rob the students of the same privilege. Fortunately, I don’t have any examples of this, but it does happen.
Next time I teach, I think I’ll alter the tactic if I find myself using it. During the summer, history classes in Immigration and on Cemeteries both brought up “The common thought at the time was _____.” Instead of asking the class “Were non-whites desirable as citizens and neighbors?” the professors pointed out that people, in general, in that time and place, generally had certain attitudes that affected their culture and laws. If I were to ask a group of intelligent, compassionate students a question, I shouldn’t expect to trip them into giving an answer I plan to swiftly contradict. Instead, I could ask “What are some of the prevailing attitudes regarding ____?” Like in Family Feud, where they polled a bunch of people and the contestants, instead of giving their OWN answers and opinions, try to guess what “most people” would say.
I had my first Improv class yesterday and it was wonderful. I am really going to enjoy this! (I also have a sore knee because I stupidly took a prat fall and came down harder than expected, but that’s a story for another day.) We did an exercise where the class formed a circle, then one at a time we left the circle and filled the space inside the circle. When instructions were given, I visualized John Keaton’s class in the courtyard. Our professor had said we could enter “however we wanted” and the examples were of people with moderately understated entrances moving around the space and then, in a few moments, finding a spot to stop. One by one we entered, each of us coming up with something slightly different, whether stomping, dancing Vaudeville-style, or floating like a winged creature. At the end, we were all inside the space, but the group was very concentrated to the center. We didn’t “fill” it.
The teacher pointed this out, without seeming exactly critical. I think he’s done this many times and it’s probably the common thing that most first-time theater students do. He also pointed out that, although the goal was “fill the space,” most of us also chose to amuse our fellow students while doing so. Unlike John Keaton, instead of emphasizing how original or outrageous we could be, our prof taught us that the goal was for the group to work as a cohesive unit toward the goal of filling the space. Being too absurd was actually counter-productive to this goal.
Part of school, and work, and relationships, and life in general is figuring out what the expectations are. At the beginning of the improv exercise, I knew there would be some kind of expectation, and we wouldn’t know what it was until after we’d done the exercise. The expectation could have been “You should have all shown some originality! All you did was step inside and spread out.” Since the first couple of people did something interesting to enter, the rest of the class followed suit. Following another’s example could also be either a desirable thing or an embarrassment. After the fact, the teacher may say “Well, I see you all made the same mistake.” Or, as in a class where we are supposed to be actively and spontaneously interacting with and responding to each other, following a classmate’s lead would supposedly be a good thing.
It’s the beginning of a new semester. I’m meeting most of my teachers for the first time. I’m learning their expectations, both stated and subtle. It’s a nervous time, but I’ve been through it many times before and I’m okay with it. I’m not as prepared as I’d like to be…financial issues mean I don’t have my books or other necessities yet, but I have forced myself to accept this and work with the circumstances instead of panicking.
Today’s my work day.
Let’s see what I can get done.