Saturday, July 5, 2014

Grad school is hard.

Nobody said it wouldn't be and I certainly wasn't expecting anything other than to work my ass off.  But like most things, it's difficult to know exactly what to expect until you're in it.  And all I can say is that grad school is hard.

I started this whole plan of going back to school to get my Masters shortly after I returned from Thailand in December 2009.  I started looking into programs, and researching different options.  One of the first things I learned was that I would need to take two years of a foreign language at the college level before I could be accepted into the MA-TESOL program.  So by summer term 2010, I was enrolled in Spanish 101.  By March 2012 I had finished up my Spanish classes and just had two more pre-reqs. to take before I officially started graduate school in Fall of 2012.

So I've been doing this whole "going back to school" thing for a solid 4 years now, and it's not over yet!!  To revisit that Winston Churchill quote "This is not the end, it is not the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning", I would say that I am definitely in the middle of the middle.  If I continue to go to school part time while working, I have at least one more full year of classes, and then however long it takes me to do a culminating project or thesis.  So I'm just trying to take stock of where I am and what I've been doing.

(and not doing especially well at times)

Time-management has been hard.  The content of some of my classes has been hard.  Working with group members has, at times, been hard.  Coming up with new ideas and planning lessons for my classes and tutoring sessions has been hard.  But I think what's been hardest has been the constant mental and emotional roller-coaster I've been on.  When I'm at work, I need to have my work brain on.  Then I go to class and I have to switch to my school brain.  Then I go back to work and try to shift back into work brain without losing what I was starting to absorb during class.  After work sometimes I have to shift into my teacher brain.  Then in the few hours I have at home before I need to go to sleep - I make my brain try to produce things like syntax trees for class or communication exercises for my students.  I have been asking a hell of a lot from the three pounds of grey-matter between my ears lately.  Seriously - for an itty bitty little squishy thing, there's been a ton of work going on up there.

(this is the kind of thing professional language educators do apparently)

The process of becoming a "Professional Language Educator" has been hard.  I'm having trouble developing my identity.  I mean... that's a sentence I don't think I would have even written before starting this whole grad school thing.  But we talk about things like that - what kind of teacher do I want to be.  Do I want to be a skilled technician, a reflective practitioner, or a transformative intellectual?  Am I going to take a normative approach or will I embrace critical theory?  I thought I just wanted to be a teacher.... like, a *good* one.  Hmmm.... not sure what that means anymore.  One of my assignments was to write out my teaching philosophy.  I banged my head against that assignment over and over  - I still have no idea what my philosophy is.

There's so much to think about when you think about how to teach.  Content and techniques, of course, but then there's culture, interpersonal dynamics, and political systems at work on local, national, and global levels.  We are constantly being asked to reflect on our experiences in the program, as students, tutors, and teachers.  I broke down in tears in the middle of the computer lab while writing up one of those reflection papers.

As hard as it's been to develop my identity as a teacher, I'm also trying to merge that with my already existing identity, as a woman, as a single woman who dates men, as a traveler, as a friend, as an employee, as a crafter, as a geeky dorky nerd.  Who the fuck am I anymore?  I mean, I know who I am, and I do actually think I'm pretty awesome ... but if I try to articulate it... I get lost.  And a lot of the time I don't feel like I'm doing especially well in any of those areas, and that makes me sad.
(Apparently I am the girl who smiles in pictures regardless of how stressed out I am.)

I do know what I need though.  I need some time to process all of the things I've experienced this year but haven't had time to sort through.  I need to vomit out a lot of the crap that I've been subjected to, and find a way to reinforce my emotional boundaries.  And I need to fill the well.  I need to fill my soul up with good things.  I need to spend what time I can this summer taking care of myself so I can go into next year strong and ready.

One of the things that really helped me when I was living abroad and going through that whole transformation was having a blog where I could document and organize my thoughts... but also get a little feedback from people.  I mean, obviously I talk to people all the time, and Facebook is great for quick updates and witty one-liners.  But the kind of stuff I've been experiencing cannot easily be condensed into modern-attention-span-chunks so I'm going to give it the time and space it needs.   I enjoy reading blogs where people are authentic - and not just pinterest-perfect  - and I know I'm not the only one.  So hopefully little injection of authenticity will help me sort myself out but also show other people that you know, life can be hard sometimes.  But you know... you keep going.. and hopefully one day you look back and you realize what an awesome thing you did and it will feel good.


Lisa said...

I think you're pretty awesome too! I took a certificate program and the hardest thing for me was keeping my brain in the right gear - not spending my work time thinking about my next paper or presentation and not spending my study time thinking about work, and most importantly, not spending family time thinking about class or work. I made a point of never thinking about house cleaning during that time.

Rebel said...

Thanks Lisa! I know I'm not the only one who has had to balance work and school - it's tough but it's worth it!