December 1

It’s already December. It doesn’t seem possible. On one hand, I’m not at all ready for what December brings: the holidays, the traveling, the end of the year. On the other hand, I’m ready for the end of this semester both at work and in my own classes. I’m tired. Just tired. It’s been an interesting semester getting back into classes myself. It took me a little longer than I expected to find a routine of reading and studying that works for me. I imagine each semester will require tweaking since I won’t know what I’m getting into with my online classes and teachers I’ve never met before. I know that I’ll probably need to work a little harder than I have been as my classes progress. There have been times like the last week or so where I’ve let things slide a little longer than I should have. I now have some making up to do with the end of the semester…a few assignments are due about the same time and I’ve not invested the time I should have on them. But I know that and I’ll bust my hump to get things done and if I don’t, I know it will be my own fault. Unlike some of the students I see daily where I work. What is with the trend of students feeling that they can negotiate class work and grades with instructors? I’m constantly amazed at students who cry to their teachers that tests are unfair or that they’re getting too much homework and can they please get extensions or extra credit or make ups. Or the students who come for tutoring two weeks before the end of the semester and have no idea what the name of the class or instructor is and wonder why they aren’t passing. Regularly I hear students whine about the amount of work or the difficulty of the material but when help is offered, they don’t have time for it because it will interfere with a personal activity. It would never have occurred to me as an undergraduate student to email my professor and tell him that the test he just gave was too hard and that I deserved extra credit work. Or admit that I had forgotten about it and request a retake. And I surely wouldn’t do it now as a grad student, regardless of working a full-time job and being a single parent with a house and other responsibilities. But I don’t think I was unusual even as an undergraduate in believing that my education was mine, personally. Something I was responsible for, not my teachers. If I didn’t study, or forgot an assignment, or even just plain found something difficult, it was my problem. And I took the poor grade and figured out how to do even better next time so my final grade didn’t suffer. Or looked for help if things didn’t make sense. And then felt a bit guilty when I walked into class knowing that I hadn’t been taking things seriously. When did the change occur? When did learning become a passive activity? It’s both frustrating and frightening to see that students today (generally–there are still some dedicated students out there) feel no sense of ownership in their education. Feel that small effort should pay big rewards. How did that happen? And where else does that actually work? Last time I checked, most work environments don’t offer re-dos and most bosses don’t give extra credit because you keep screwing up. Education is supposed to help prepare students for being productive members of the real world. The real world is mostly give and take. If you can’t give something, you’re not going to get something. It seems like an easy concept and one of the basics of being a student. Do your best to get the best grade. Do hardly anything, your grade will reflect that. No negotiating. Whine and complain to the mirror because chances are, that person is responsible. I’m tired myself. I have a lot left to do in my own semester, but I’m grateful to own my education as my responsibility. It means when I do well, I have myself to thank.

March 28

Well, my month of studying math is over. I put on my Dr. Who Dalek/Cyberman fighting t-shirt (for the battle) and took the GRE today. I think I’ll need at least three days for my brain to recover. The entire test took four hours. Of constant testing. I took one three minute break to use the bathroom, but that was it. The testing center wasn’t messing around either. I had to empty all my pockets, remove my watch, sign a waiver which included rewriting a passage saying I understood the penalties of cheating, and lock up all belongings before I could even enter the holding room prior to the testing room. In the holding room, I got my picture taken, signed another form, turned my pockets inside out to show they were empty, pulled up my pant legs to prove I had nothing hidden in my socks, and stood subject to a metal detector sweep of my clothing. Then I was given scratch paper, which I had to count out loud to verify how many pieces were there, and two pencils. I asked for a tissue, just in case I needed to cry during the exam. (Actually, I was chewing gum and suspected I’d need to put it somewhere later when it lost its flavor.) When I took my bathroom break later, I had to sign myself out and back in and then repeat the procedure of pocket turning, pant leg lifting, and metal detecting. I felt like I should be boarding a flight somewhere.

The test itself was comprised of essay writing and alternating sections of math and verbal reasoning. I didn’t pace myself well and ran out of time during both math sections. That’s not a good thing since blank answers automatically count against you. However, for each of the verbal sections, I ended up with enough extra time to go back through and check my answers. I had read prior to today that the final section could be math or verbal and was chosen at random. I was really hoping for verbal, but of course, it was math. It seemed a little easier, but honestly, at that point, I was losing interest. I just wanted to be done.

The good thing is that the scores are shown immediately upon completion. Well, on the math and verbal part. The score for the essay is separate and comes later. I’m not even sure when. I’m happy to report that my scores weren’t horrible. I was on the low end for math but the high end for verbal, so I did fine overall. Not as great as I’d have liked, but I wasn’t shocked at the outcome. And with the test completed, I’m done with my graduate school application! Now comes the wait for acceptance into the program. While I’m thankful today that the test is over, I’m actually more thankful for the support I got from my family and friends. So many people wished me good luck, either stopping by yesterday at work to see me or sending me texts today. I even got a goodie bag from one friend with last minute study/reward treats, which was extremely thoughtful. It was touching to know I have so many people behind me, regardless of the outcome. That means more to me than my score.

March 25

I spent a lot of my free time today reviewing math problems for the GRE test I’m taking on Friday. While I feel like I am figuring out what I don’t know, I still can’t see how that knowledge is making a difference with my sample tests. I’m still not scoring very well. By the end of the day my eyes actually hurt. And my brain was mush. I’ve definitely been straining it by trying to learn all math from whole number basics to statistics in the last month. It’s starting to fight back.

I do think this math review has been interesting in a couple of ways. While I’m actually a logical thinker for the most part, I am not naturally gifted in “math” logic. I don’t automatically understand how to set up equations. I don’t automatically see how many cubes with sides of 2 can come from a larger cube with sides of 6. And yet, I’m confident that I can figure out a real-life problem by breaking it down and working through it systematically or logically. And I can visualize my space at home and know how furniture can fit. And I am a savvy shopper who understands how to compare sales and the return on investments. Therefore, I honestly think I understand the conceptual thinking that it takes to do math. That must mean I simply don’t always understand the language, so with enough time and practice, that’s learnable. And I do like language. That I enjoy. However, I have to admit that all this math review has confirmed how much I enjoy working with words instead of numbers.The competitive side of me says that maybe I should work on this even after the test and prove that I can do it. While I believe in being well-rounded and strive to have a better grasp of math, it’s not where my heart lies. I don’t need to become a mathematician. I think that’s important to embrace. And if words and writing is where my joy comes from, then it’s also something I need to cultivate. I’ve been blogging, but I haven’t been doing much other writing. I need to find the time for that. I’m glad today for that reminder.

March 12

I’m planning to go to graduate school to get a degree in Speech Communications. Going back to school is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now and I debated on what field to pursue. Speech is actually what I intended to major in the first time around in college, but as fate would have it, it didn’t work that way. I majored in English instead. However, I’ve always enjoyed communications in both writing and public speaking. Ultimately it seemed a natural fit to pursue an advanced degree in that field now.  My goal is to one day teach classes in speech.

So I found a program that met my criteria of excellence, affordability, and accessibility and submitted all the necessary paperwork a couple of months ago. Everything that is, except a GRE test score. The GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is the standardized test necessary for most graduate schools programs. It’s like high school seniors taking the SATs or ACTs. There’s a writing portion, a vocabulary/reading comprehension portion, and a math portion. I’m not too worried about the writing and vocabulary sections. The math portion has been freaking me out a little. I hang around a lot of math folks. I don’t always follow the conversation when it turns to numbers. I know that my fear is based mostly on the fact that I have forgotten so much of the terminology associated with math. Prime numbers and exponents and factorization are not part of my daily vocabulary. So I’ve been doing some studying. And complaining. And fretting all over again. The strange part is that I was actually fairly competent in math all through school. I always got As or Bs. But I didn’t need to go any further than trigonometry in college. And I didn’t like geometry. I’m finding now that I’ve been reviewing, that those are the areas still causing me the most grief. I definitely need to study a little longer with those sections.

Today, however, I had a little victory.  I went back through a series of problems I had worked on and gotten wrong the first time. And I figured them out. So I continued into a new section of problems, and I figured them out too! I think my dormant math brain is starting to revive, and it’s encouraging. I’m actually looking forward to working on more problems tomorrow.  I’m sure I won’t relearn enough in the next couple of weeks to ace the GRE math portion, but I’m on my way to feeling more confident. That feels good, and that I’m thankful for.