500 Words At A Time: What College Was Not

Closing in on 100 500 Word posts and I think I have covered a lot about my college experience or re-college experience. College has been a lot of things to me and college has not been a lot of things to me…

Perhaps I should alter this from what college was not to what college is not…at least for a non-traditional student or as I like to say, adult with kids…

College has not been one party after another

Maybe if I was younger college would have been filled with more parties, especially here where there is little to occupy the time of the young, but I came here with some years on me and a family. Despite what the movies show, parties do not happen non-stop there are way to many pressures keeping that from happening. For people similar to Barb and I, who are you going to party with?

There is a lot of agism on a college campus. At a certain age, the students, faculty, and staff initially assume that you are a professor, employee of the school, or a parent looking for a kid. There are many times when I have used that assumption to my advantage (discount off because I am a professor and forgot my ID, thank you) or to get people to leave me alone or to get into places I would not normally get into (one of my dislikes for pinwheel sandwiches). On the other hand, most students do not want to do anything with an “old person” outside of class and are at times very insistent that they do not need you in class.

Then there is the parent factor. I wrote about this a few times before now. The gist is that some students will treat you like a surrogate parent, in that they come to you for advice, money, and dinner only when it is convenient for them…you know you did this to your parent. However, many of the do not want to hear the advice they came for, are unable or unwilling to say something as simple as “thank you for dinner” and I found myself spending time teaching them life skills that they probably should have learned from someone before me.

College has not been the time of my life

I have plenty of life ahead of me. I have many times in my life that have been much better than the last five years, thus I am confident in saying that college has not been the time of my life. This is not the apex of who I am or will be. Unlike popular media representations, years from now I will not be sitting around moaning about how good it was in college. Perhaps this is a me thing, but if school of any kind was the best time of your life you have not been living life to the fullest post school. Get out and live.

College has not been a free ride in money or time

Among some friends and family members not to mention people who are watching from a distance there has been this impression that going back to college is a free-ride. I or you, the college student, is doing nothing more than attending classes, which leaves you plenty of free time to do whatever. Let me put that notion to rest right now, even now in my last semester with a schedule set up by me for me, I have less time to do “whatever” than at any other moment in the last five years.

Time is a commodity that most college students do not have in spades, at least college students who are similar to me with a family. What did I do when I wasn’t in class? Homework, a time suck. Taking care of the family, my true job and as any parent will attest to time consuming. If I didn’t have time, surely I had money after all going to college is all about free money?

Fuck and no. In a few months I owe someone a lot of money. The money we had went to living and I am not ashamed to say we needed help from time to time and thank you to those who did help. College is expensive, unnecessarily so in several places-books to name one. Life outside of college is also expensive. The money we had went to living. The money we will be earning in a few months will also go to living…well shit.


Perpetual Motion 

Whew. I just sat down for the first time in a serious relaxing way. Previous sit downs were more of the, “I’m waiting for the next thing” way. Not nearly as satisfying as it may appear. Trust me. My day begins at 6:20 in the morning. That is when I get up and a few minutes later, get the children up. Why am I getting the children up that early, because we live in an agrarian society where the kids have to accompany me out to the fields to assist me with the crops and animals.

No, that’s not it?

Then I have no clue why children under the age of 15 are forced to get up each day at 6:20 in the morning. Perhaps a form of torture or more likely the same ennui that infects most human endeavors or “That’s what we have always done, thus that is what we will continue doing despite the fact that we know better.” Honestly, I have no explanation. This school system does not have 2-hours days for inclement weather, but does have people up before 6 am to prepare for a day of learning. Doesn’t anyone read the studies which say that we are doing our children, thus our future, a great disservice by continuing to perpetuate the school day as it currently is?

Oh, I see…my name and someone from ten years ago are the only people to sign out that study.

Today, was different from normal days as I had to split the children up. One child was allowed to “sleep-in” while the others got ready for school. Of course this change was questioned. The child who slept in was headed out for a busy day with me, it was not some weird form of reward despite what the children thought. I am a hard taskmaster. Children out the door for school. The remaining child and I prepared for what I knew could be a long day.

First up, a trip to the doctor where the oldest child needed to see a doctor for his asthma. The on campus doctors office used to be very good. This school year not so much. All of the doctors who used to work there are gone, as are many of the nurses. The new staff is mostly grumpy people. That is what we were expecting and when the lady behind the counter got grumpy with me and the oldest child over his cough, I feared the worst. Then the coolest nurse in the world showed up. From her Jamacan accent, her relaxed manner, and best of all she asked the oldest what he thought was wrong while watching me for silent verification. Then they talked smoking. Why smoking, because in her words it was a silly question to be asking a child, but she had too. Then the oldest launched into a diatribe on why smoking was bad. She was laughing in tears by the she left. The doctor was less funny, but equally attentive to the oldest child and me. I have not felt like a valued parent in a doctor’s office for a very long time.

Scripts in hand we headed out to fill the scripts, take back bottles, and pick up groceries.  I will spare you the boring details other than to say I have no idea why people gave the oldest the hairy eyeball while he was smacking cans, there were spare machines and when there were more people than machines he gave up his machine without protest. We felt bad for the Pharm Tech in Training, that is what her name tag said. Of course we turn out to be the more difficult order of her morning. She powered through and we headed to the bank, where we entertained the teller talking about the value of a dollar verse the value of a penny when I was a child.

Arriving home time to cook bento stuff and dinner. Pickled daikon, curry cauliflower, chicken nuggets to go with the remaining sweet and sour sauce, and finally I was able to start the Shrimp in Lobster sauce. Or I thought I was, but doing everything before that put me behind schedule and I had to detour to pack bentos for tomorrow. And then the children came home from school. Homework time. Today was money. Ironic given that I could have taken them shopping with me and given them a real life money experience. Once homework and “how was your days” were taken care of then it was time for dinner…except that not everyone is home to eat…ugh.

500 Words At A Time: Obligation

Do I (or other adult students) have an obligation to teach, by example, how adults behave (to students) in a classroom environment?

Why would I think such a thing?

  • Because over the past five years I have had to teach students a lot of things from how to tip to how and why taking notes is more important than staring at their crotch for fifty minutes.
  • Because I am a parent and spend a lot of time teaching my children how to become better people or at least more informed people or something along those lines…
  • Because I have spent a lot of time in classrooms and if there is one thing I see, is a need for is adults who are not professors to teach these kids how to behave. Yes, I said that.

And because five years ago, a professor and good friend expressed to me that regardless of whether I wanted to or not, I was an example in the classroom. I’m paraphrasing, but ever since that conversation I have wondered, experimented, and keep notes.

Here is what I am not qualified to be an example of…

natureswayofsayingdonottouchHow to dress. Most of the students dress much better than me. They seem to care about their appearance, presumably because they are attempting to mate and get a job. Its not that I don’t care…actually it is I don’t care. I have worn my outfit my entire life, it is comfortable, makes a statement (see cartoon), and allows me to carry lots of stuff. Plus, I have mated and had a job.

That’s it, everything else is a gray area; in that there are things students could learn from me and there are things best left alone.

Responding in Class. If even 1 out every 10 students in any given class would learn from me that it is okay to give an answer, right or wrong, classes would be a lot more interesting and engaging.

Just blurting out answers, keeping silent, and responding out of frustration are grey areas. In some classes blurting out answers works due to the dynamic. In other classes not so much. Keeping silent is something I do because I have this insane theory that people other than me should do the talking and because I do not want to dominate the conversation. Stupid me. If you can contribute, contribute! Responding out of frustration is directly connected to keeping silent. I get so frustrated when the answer is obvious and nobody says anything or it is obvious that nobody did the work. After a few moments of silence, I respond, but not in my “happy to be here” voice, but in my “I am so fucking disappointed, tired, and frustrated to be here” voice.

Learning. For the most part I think the majority of students do an adequate job of learning material. What many do not do well is applying the material to themselves, life, or the classroom. Years of spoon feeding information to students has left a great many of them with a critical thinking deficit. Unfortunately, teaching critical thinking skills takes more exposure than a few weeks of a semester and does require someone, such as myself, to demonstrate the skill…however, as noted above there are times where I remain purposefully quiet…

Preparation. Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance! Learn that shit right now! Do not be one of the disorganized students who couldn’t find a pencil on the table and who does not do the homework or reading. Even if, you choose to remain quiet, at least do the damn work in advance. And I am a great example for that, except that most of the students never see me reading, taking notes, or doing the homework. They only see the results, so this one is a hard one to lead by doing, especially when there seems to be a culture that downplays educational achievements and activity. Such as the students who openly discuss how they are NOT doing any of the work and passing the class. Or those who are habitually late with assignments or those who do not read and other than suffering on an exam see no other harm in not doing the work. Yeah, this may be a point of contention with me…

Attention. I would feel more confident about being an example on paying attention in class, except that when I look around the classroom students are either crotch texting, falling asleep, looking at the clock, talking, or “busy.” Most students, and I do mean most, do not exhibit signs that they are paying attention. I have been told that looks can be deceiving, but I doubt that based on the test scores that I see. So while I demonstrate how to pay attention, nobody is watching. 😦

Respect. Here is a grey area because I admit that I am not the most respectful person in the world. Shocking! There have been a few times where my temper, sarcasm, and frustration have gotten the best of me (this implies that I am not responsible, but trust me, I knew what I was doing before I did it. Thus I am responsible for me actions, but I like the “gotten the best of me” phrase). I have called out students-a whole classroom*-I have called out professors-four notable times*-and there have been times where I have been less than stellar as a person or student in a classroom environment.

That being said, I believe in respect and do my best to show my respect to the individual and institution of learning where I can. I just don’t think I am the best adult to be demonstrating respect to others.

To wrap this up…for now, do adults have an obligation to lead by example in the classroom? Yes, but no more than they would be doing anyways. I hate to say it, but people look for examples all around them and the less experienced look a lot more than the experienced. If you, the adult going back to college, have the experience put it to use and be a public example. Help shape the students into the people you want to work and be around years from now.

* Another 500 Words or two



500 Words At A Time: Juggling Act

Ten years ago I became a father and I became a stay-at-home dad. Not going to paint a rosy picture of those first few months, but I slowly grew into being a good stay-at-home dad. Both kids received a lot of attention and help with their school work, except for kindergarten, kindergarten is fun, not work. Over the past five years, my feeling is that the children have received less and less attention and assistance from me as my school load went up.

Going back to college and having kids is a difficult juggling act. In my head, my family came before classes. If there was a conflict, such as illness or snow day I would, where possible, attempt to combine them. Such as one of the numerous snow days here take the kids with me to class. When there wasn’t a conflict, my school work became my priority while the kids were at school and eventually when the came home.

With all of us in school, a routine set in where we, the adults, would do our homework before and after the kids got home from school. After a snack and the typical “how was your day at school” the kids did their homework. I learned not to bother doing my homework while they did theirs. Partly because they would interrupt my homework with their requests for help and partly because I wanted to be available in a non-distracted way to assist them with their homework. Sounds great, except that our homework was time consuming, thus the primary free time with the kids was during their homework time.

Before the kids came home from school, our time was mostly spent in classes leaving little time to do homework. After the kids came home, there was little time to do homework while the kids were up. The kids either needed and wanted, or we needed and wanted to do things with them. See where this is going?

Eventually our homework occupied more and more time meaning that a lot of formerly free time spent with the kids became, “Can you wait until I am done with this homework?” Its one thing to prioritize going to a class because of a sick child or child related event. It is another thing altogether to not do homework, fail the class, and waste a lot of money and time. Thus, homework, which often seemed quick or doable, quickly evolved into a time suck.

The juggling act became, how much time do I need, how much time do the children need, and how much time do I want to give them. Need versus want. I wanted to spend as much time and attention as I used to give to my kids. However, I needed to get homework done, otherwise the whole college experience was a waste of time and that was not going to happen. The children needed and wanted our attention. Tack on the day-to-day responsibilities and obligations of most every adult and time becomes a factor. Being me, I worried about what the lack of attention (from my perspective) was doing to my children; was our boy not bringing home his work or our girl not doing well at this assignment because I wasn’t there for them as much as I used to be?

This juggling act is nothing new. Every working parent goes through this and I am not attempting to make a case that I had it worse. I am saying that you may not think about this BEFORE you go back to college, but it WILL crop up once you are in college. I don’t have any advice for you. As a parent and adult you will work through the issue on your own. However, keep in mind that even when you are working on your homework you are having an effect on your children, they see you putting in the work and they will do the same. Also, bare in mind the end goal, a degree for you which should translate into a better life for them and isn’t that the goal of being a parent, a better life for your children?


500 Words At A Time: Intrusive

Other than major surgery and having kids, college has been the most intrusive thing in my life. The difference between a job and college is that at the end of the work day I get to get away from the job. I may choose to work at home or extra hours, but that is my choice and I get compensated. College there is no getting away. After a class period ends there is always something that you could or should be doing regarding one class or another.

  • Reading
  • Notes
  • Review
  • Homework
  • Papers
  • Research
  • Class discussion
  • Emails

Professors hand out work based on their needs and wants for their class. Rare is the professor that publically acknowledges that you have other classes and a life (or want of a life) outside of class. I am sure that they all know that there are other classes and having a life, but most treat the class you are in as THE class. What this means is that you will frequently find yourself juggling multiple assignments, with different requirements, due dates with an expectation (or is it hope) that you will be doing your best on the work they assign. This is where prioritizing homework (all classwork) comes in handy (see 500 Words: Prioritizing Burnout).

There will be a lot of busy work. What is busy work, assignments that should take five or ten minutes to do, but because of the bizarre, labyrinth, confusing, or silly instructions/requirements takes a half-hour or more. Busy work is the bane of any class. I know that it is busy work, thus I know based on my priorities that it is getting minimal effort. Yet, the damn assignment takes an hour or more to finish because I have to do six different very small tasks in a very specific way. Ugh!

It feels like it never ends and you feel like there is always something you “should” be doing. There is a calculation based on the number of credit hours a class is rated as to how many hours outside the class you should be working, something along the line of  a 3 hours of homework to 1 credit hour ratio. Meaning a three credit class (typical class) should have nine hours a week of outside the classroom experience. Name a job with that kind of ratio, “Say Bob, you work 40 hours last week, did you work 120 hours at home?” And make no mistake, there are professors who try to hit that 9-hour mark each week.

I remember my first go around in college, I had free time because I did not have a family and my obligations to myself and the world were few. This time, I have a family. I have obligations to mself and the world, and because of these things my free time is limited. I am or was willing to give up some of my free time to college, but…lets just say, that after five years there isn’t a moment, even during the summer when I am not thinking, “is there something I should be doing for X class?” That is a level of intrusion that really gets on your nerves. Is it really as bad as the mental process sounds? Yes and no.

Breaking down 9 semesters: 1 semester was so lite on homework I wondered if I was in college at all (30 minutes of homework per credit hour); 3 semesters had me on the verge of wanting to burn my books and walk away (4 to 5 hours of homework per credit hour); 5 semesters kept me busy, not overly busy, where I had free time and I had moments of a lot of work to do at one time (1 to 2 hours of homework per credit hour).


500 Words At A Time: Prioritizing Burnout

I came close to walking away. Truth be told, I came close to walking away several times over the past five years. This time was due to me. My first year, I put my all into each assignment. The size and value of the assignment did not matter to me, I put my all into each assignment. And the burden of doing so pushed me close to burnout.

Homework: I cannot help doing the homework. You should do homework, but you should learn to prioritize homework early on. I have gotten a lot better about prioritizing what is important and what isn’t homework wise. Learning how to prioritize homework is an important skill. You could be like me in my first year-put your all into everything, quickly get overwhelmed, and on the road to burnout. OR you can figure out what is important to you. What does that mean?

  • If an assignment was related to something I was interested in, maximum effort
  • If an assignment was not related to something I was interested in, minimal effort
  • If an assignment had a lot of weight in the class, i.e. worth a sizeable percentage of the grade, start at maximum effort and scale down as necessary
  • If an assignment was obviously busy work, just enough effort to finish

The end result, I turned in 99% of all homework, which I feel is valuable to the classroom experience and learning. Did I put my all into everything, nope, and by doing so I had energy left to be a husband, father, friend, and student. Having energy to do things outside of the class is important to being a successful student and keeping your family life sane.

Reading: I enjoy reading, thus it should come as no surprise that I read most of what is assigned. By read, I mean read all of the words from start to finish. I may take notes, most of the time no, but that is because I have an excellent memory for written material. You may want to take notes. Another valuable skill to learn, is efficient skimming. When I do not read assigned material, I efficiently skim the material: bolded, italicized, or underlined words find them and learn what they mean; chapter headings and sub-headings-get the gist of what it is about; and when something pops up as interesting read that. Efficient skimming saves time.

Note Taking: I am a huge fan of taking notes. I cannot remember everything said during a lecture, nor do I want to. Notes are a pleasant reminder. My notes also include my thoughts on the notes themselves, put critical thinking into your notes. I also like to write down insightful or funny things I hear in class, if you ever wondered where some blog titles come from, it was from a class.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I was the perfect adult student. I was not. I have gotten “yelled” at for talking too much to someone sitting near me. I have a habit of uttering the sarcastic thoughts in my head and on occasion letting the angry dad out because of behavior in the classroom (another 500 Words for sure). There is plenty of room to be a good student, perform well in classes, and be yourself.

500 Words At A Time: Sitting and Talking in Class

Classrooms are interesting places for me. I can sit there and take notes. I can engage in conversation with the professors or students. Less so the students. I can have fun. Suffice to say, my behavior in a classroom has shaped my college experience.

Okay, lets be honest, classrooms are a place of social experimentation to me. I will not lie and say that I was the best or perfect student. Far from it. Even though I am “old” and there was an expectation that I would “act my age,” I enjoy making fun for myself…well, by being me and fucking with humanity.

Seating: When given the choice, I sit in the back of the classroom. I sit in the back of the classroom where I can observe the rest of the class. I enjoy watching the students. I make notes of who talks to whom, who is texting who, general behaviors, social groups, and other personal details that catch my attention.

A formerly favorite past time of mine was to wait a couple of weeks and change seats. People get attached to their chairs and seating arrangement. Someone, me, changing one seat really throws the classroom dynamic off. If that someone, me again, has a small pile of notes about the people in the class, a simple change of seats can reset a classroom dynamics. Such as, the group of dickheads who talk during lecture find me sitting among them, they stop talking. If I sit among them long enough, they change their behavior. Or, by changing seats and responding to the professor, other people who may not have responded will start to…most of the time. Sometimes though, I changed seats because I am bored and want to see what happens. 🙂

I also sit in back because it limits the number of students who can sit around me. In general, I don’t like having students around me unless they are around my age. People around my age, tend to do the work and can carry on a conversation. Nothing annoys me more than sitting next to a student who has not done something as simple as read the chapter. Thus, to limit my annoyance level I try to avoid obvious sources of potential annoyance, students.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, in that I like to talk to the people near me…

Talking: There is talking and there is responding. Talking is carrying on a conversation with whomever. Responding is responding to a question or query from a professor. I talk a lot and I am weird about responding.

Professors routinely ask questions during lecture. The obvious action would be for someone who knows the answer to respond. Unfortunately, either I am surrounded by a bunch of mutes, something I know not to be true, or the grade-middle-highschool behavior of not speaking in class for fear of ridicule is strong. Thus, silence reigns the day.

I know the answer. Rare is the time I don’t. Why don’t I respond? I should respond, that would end the awkward silence, the students staring at the wall, the paper, the phone, the clock, or the table, and my responding would resume the lecture. But, often I don’t. It’s not that I enjoy the silence. I hate the silence. However, one of my first classes showed me something that I have been playing around with ever since.

If I respond too much (a variable amount to be sure), other students will not respond at all and in fact, expect me to take care of responding for them.  If I am only responding to end the silence, are they getting anything out of the exchange? Some professors have said yes, others no, and most have said that they are happy that someone is responding at all. I made a decision to wait before responding. I want to see if another student responds before I do. Often this leads to me responding anyways, but at least I am giving them a chance. Probably a me thing.

Now talking, that I do too much. I have been scolded for talking too much in class. As much as I don’t like to have students sit next to me, they are a source of conversation and fun. I am also overly prone to letting my inner sarcastic dialog become external sarcastic dialog, especially when students are doing something…well stupid comes to mind.

I try not to talk during lecture or something important. Notice I said try. I am a flawed vessel. A flawed vessel that likes talking and has not mastered his in-door voice yet.