Wednesday, September 21, 2011

C for Cohort

Hello, lovely reader! I’ve written before about the importance of a support system for adult students (and, really, any student for that matter). Much of what I wrote there still stands. In fact, the further I’ve gotten along in school, the more I realize just how necessary a good support system truly is. Sadly, I seem to have lost quite a bit of that support along the way as friends and family members seemingly all decided I’m entirely too busy to be bothered with (which is what they tell themselves, I’m sure, to feel better), but more accurately to bother with.

It seems everyone just thinks, “Elle’s too busy with school” without actually asking me if that’s the case. It’s frustrating. And while, yes, there have been quite a few times that I’ve said no to invitations, I don’t think it justifies writing me off forever. It’s frustrating, and frankly, hurts a little bit; especially when I consider how much support I’ve provided to individuals I suddenly find have abandoned me. I mean, really, how hard is it to send the occasional “How are you?” email or text?!

On the other hand, I truly don’t have a lot of free time. And while I feel badly about that, I also feel as though I’ve tried to prepare people’s expectations, and I’d hope that truly supportive friends and family members would understand that I’m never too busy for a quick chat here or there or a few emails or texts back and forth. I’m thankful for the few who do understand that.

I guess, despite my best attempts at explanations, a lot of people don’t understand just how much work it is to be an adult student who works full time and has a family of her own. I never thought it would be such a lonely and isolating experience. I am, fortunately, now involved with a group of people who do understand and can relate: My cohort—errrrm—learning community.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but the social work program I’m in is setup as a cohort model, which means we progress through the program together as a group. Unlike community college, where I had a new set of classmates for each class, I’ll be with the same group the whole way through social work school. I’ve only been in a school for a few weeks now, but I can already tell that the learning community concept can be both good and bad. I think it will be mostly good though.

I can definitely see the potential for lifelong friendships to form based on the fact that we’re all in the trenches together. Who better to provide support and lend an ear than those who are actually in the same position as you are? And, of course, it’s advantageous for a social worker to remain connected to other social workers for educational and networking purposes, and we all have that network built for us already. It’s just up to us to maintain it beyond school.

We’ve really lucked out, because there are three men in our learning community, which means both the female and male perspectives are represented. This is unusual, since it seems men don’t often choose social work as a profession. Our program coordinator told us it’s been a while since they’ve had a cohort, or learning community, that has included even one man. So, it’s pretty great that we get that male perspective. I, for one, am grateful for it.

So far I find my learning community, which is comprised of about sixteen students, to be a fascinating mix of individuals. Introductions have been interesting, and I’ve already learned a lot from, and shared a lot with, my classmates. We bring varied life experiences, ideals, and goals to the table, which provides for lively and interesting conversation and is a great opportunity to hear thoughts and perspectives different from my own. I already feel a sense of camaraderie with the group—there’s a good vibe—and I only hope that continues to grow.

Of course, the learning community model is not without its problems. You know how we all have those types we just don’t mesh with? (Be honest, lovely reader…if there’s anything I’ve learned from blogging and life in general it’s that none of us exists in a vacuum. Meaning, even when I think no one gets it or I’m the only one who feels something, I’m usually not.) Well, there’s a classmate or two I don’t see myself ever really meshing well with. That doesn’t mean there’s anything particularly wrong with these individuals, of course. It just means that, for one reason or another, they rub me the wrong way.

Now, combine the minor annoyance caused by those individuals you don’t really see eye to eye with, the fact that you’ve had a looooooooooong (and maybe wee bit stressful) day at work and want nothing more than to go home and curl up on the couch with a fun book or mindless movie, and you’re tired but facing four hours of class, and you’ve kinda got a recipe for disaster. Well, maybe not disaster per se. That might be a little dramatic. But, definitely, a bit of unpleasantness. But this is life. You take the bad with the good.

Right now, I’m choosing to see this one downfall as an opportunity to learn how to work with those people who just aren’t on the same page, or even in the same book, as me. I have to deal with it a little bit already in the working world, so it's really no different I suppose. Yay for learning character building opportunities!

Give me your thoughts, lovely reader. How do you deal with those you don't exactly see eye to eye with or whose personalities perhaps just rub you the wrong way?

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Friday, September 16, 2011

V for Verbose (B for Bad)

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you already know that I tend to err on the side of being verbose. I like words. A lot! And, I like using words to paint very detailed, very vivid pictures. I try to be concise and to contain my thoughts. But once I start writing, my mind speeds off into a thousand directions, and my fingers fly along the keyboard as I try to keep up with my thoughts. It has become apparent that this is a quality that will not exactly benefit me in social work school.

Of the two papers I’ve received back so far, the only “negative” feedback I’ve gotten is basically that my papers need to be shorter. The assignments have been to write three page papers (typed, double spaced, which really isn’t that much when you think about it), and the papers I’ve submitted have been 4-6 pages in length. I’ve officially been confronted with my first real challenge so far in social work school, and it is not at all what I expected it would be!

You see, when I wrote papers in community college, the instructors usually set the page limits as a minimum. It was implied that one should feel more than welcome to go beyond that, if need be, and I almost always did. Heck! For the sociology assignment I did this past summer, I was to write 10 two page papers, and even though I didn't want to write those papers, each of those turned out to be in the 3-6 page range. Clearly, I don’t have a problem expressing myself. However I apparently do have a problem doing it in a succinct manner. This is obviously something I’ll need to work on.

If I’m being honest, it hurts my soul just a little bit. I feel stifled and constricted, as though wrapped in a turtleneck three sizes too small but with an extra long neck that goes up over my head. I honestly nearly cried last night when I read the instructor’s note on the last page of my paper: “The only feedback I really have is pay attention to page length.” That paper was only four pages. I only went over by one, and really it wasn't even a whole page (more like a paragraph, really)!

I just can’t get this to make sense, especially considering that these papers are to be reflective in nature. Last week, I had to read three chapters for this particular class and then write a reflective paper on what I learned. So, what you’re telling me is, out of over 100 pages of reading, I’m supposed to grab on to just one idea (maybe two ideas) and write a very quick, only surface level reflection? Well, what’s the point of that?! If I’m reflecting, I’m baring my entire soul. I have nothing to hide. Also, some of the stuff we're reading is so interesting and inspiring that it's hard not to find half a dozen to a dozen passages that really resonate with you.

I guess I’ll have to learn to rein it in a bit and to reflect a little less. This week’s Learning Moment paper assignment clearly states at the top: “This should not be more than 2 pages long.” But…(lip quivering)…but…(small tear)…BUT there are three questions to answer! Annnnnnd the first one has three parts to it. I die!!

I suppose this isn’t all bad. (That’s called reframing.) My soul won’t be completely asphyxiated. I still have this blog, and I still have you, lovely reader. It has now become more a priority for me than ever to blog on a regular basis. I need this outlet. In fact, I already have two or three post ideas I've jotted down in the past week alone. I look forward to interacting with you more as I share with you on a more regular basis.

What say you, lovely reader? Do you have any advice on how I can be more concise?

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

S for School Daze

Well, lovely reader, social work school has started. The program coordinator and other school staff weren’t kidding when they said this was an accelerated program. I went to orientation a couple weeks before classes even started and came home with assignments that were due the first day of class! I had four chapters to read and two papers (thankfully smaller ones at three pages each) to write as well as a worksheet to complete.

This is a snapshot of my homework assignments that are due next week: (Thanks, google calendar, for the awesome ability to make many different color-coded calendars and to view them in an agenda view!)

I’ll translate it for you. That’s nine (9!) chapters of reading. Two papers—Learning Moment #2 and Reflection Paper 1—that are to be a minimum of three pages each (typed in 12 pt. font, double-spaced, with one inch margins) with two cited sources in APA format and an APA formatted reference page. And, finally, two smaller writing assignments: Policy Article involves searching for an article on social policy and writing up a paragraph that includes a summary of the article and my opinion on it, and TD 1 is a response to a discussion board question that needs to be a paragraph to a page in length. (The latter is practice for future weekly discussion board threads in which we’ll be expected to post a paragraph to a page of writing in response to a discussion question posted by the instructor as well as writing a few responses to classmate’s posts.)

I have to do the reading assignments for each class in order to be able to write the necessary papers, because the papers need to include material from the recent assigned readings and my reactions to it or my reflections on particular topics in the texts. I’ll need to complete readings related to TD (threaded discussions) within a day or two before class in order to have time to engage in the discussions, which are to be completed by 11 PM the evening of class.

I work 8-5 Monday through Friday and attend classes from 5:30-9:30 on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. This leaves lunch hours Monday-Friday, Monday and Wednesday evenings, and weekends for homework. I am fortunate to have the ability to read pretty quickly, but I’m still incredibly overwhelmed at the moment. My schedule for the upcoming weeks looks similar, and in some cases worse, because there are also larger projects due in each of the four classes sometime within the semester. Project work will have to be worked into the “regular” schedule somehow.

I’m trying to wrap my head around how I’m going to space out all of this work each week. I’m sure I’ll figure something out soon. * PITY PARTY STARTING NOW * But right now, I’m imaging my weekends being majorly sucky as I work to complete most, if not all, of my homework each weekend while Musicman and the dogs do fun things like go on walks outside and enjoy the beautiful autumn weather that is on its way to Minnesota. Though I will be home with Musicman and the dogs on Monday and Wednesday evenings and on the weekends, I don’t anticipate spending much quality time together. * END PITY PARTY *

Depending on whether or not I can find a way to juggle this workload*, I might just end up having to cut my hours at work down to part-time (if they’ll let me). I was just starting to get used to the idea that I’d have to do this in a couple semesters in order to accommodate my first field placement (internship), so I’m not quite ready to give up half of my paycheck (and paid time off) just yet. I’m hoping that I’ll still be able to work part time through my second field placement, but due to the amount of hours required, it looks doubtful. I’m not ready to quit my job. The prospect of not earning any income at all scares the crap out of me. I’ve worked since I was 16 years old. I’m also very independent and stubborn, which translates to: I like to be able to take care of myself financially. I am having reeeeeeeallly big issues with having to go part-time and/or quit my job.

Such is life, I guess. This is what I signed up for. And, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s all going to be worth it in the end. I’m also so incredibly fortunate to have such an amazingly supportive husband. Musciman assures me that we will be fine. He has no trouble covering a larger portion of the household expenses, and he reminds me that this is only a temporary situation because I will find a job once school is over.

I’m trying not to worry, because I have enough on my mind and my plate as it is. I need to learn to take things as they come and roll with the punches. I’ve never been good at facing the unknown, so this is way out of my comfort zone, but that’s a good thing. I need to learn how to adapt to the world that resides on the other sides of the borders to my comfort. I’m going to try to be more even keeled and trusting of what the universe has in store for me.

I have to admit, despite the workload, I am so freakin’ excited to be embarking on my journey to becoming a social worker. I will post as I can in the days, weeks, and months ahead, lovely reader. I’m really going to try to take a little time to catch up with you at least weekly.

* It reeeeeeeeeally doesn't help that I've recently discovered the amazing time suck that is Pinterest! LOVING IT! 

At the time of posting this (it was written a few days ago, but was waiting to be edited and posted), I have finished 2/3 of the reading. I plan to start the Learning Moment paper this afternoon and to finish up the three chapters of reading I have left. That will give me Monday through Thursday to complete the smaller writing assignments and the Reflection paper. I'm feeling really good about my progress!


P.S. I know that no body likes a braggart, but I feel the need to tell you that, despite all the stress, I've remained smoke free. I haven't had a cigarette--not even a puff--for a little over 8 months!!! I've also stayed committed to Weight Watchers Points Plus Plan, and my work is paying off. I've lost over 30 pounds!!! Now, if only I could find some time to work some activity--even just walking--into my day, I'd be all set.

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