On grades and the non-graded world outside the classroom

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Along with pretty much every student, everywhere, I recently found myself anxiously awaiting my grades for many of this semester’s assignments.The conversations amongst my classmates in our Facebook groups were wracked with anxiety and impatience as we immediately messaged each other as soon as a grade was posted.

betty-grading

Due to my own ridiculously perfectionistic tendencies and high-minded desire to beat my 3.96 cumulative GPA from my master’s degree, I was equally eager to see each grade released. No, actually…I was almost salivating. (Pavlov would be so proud!) I earned a 4.0 in fall semester and so far, so good this semester, though it’s a couple days before all grades are due.

Tuesday at noon eastern time, to be precise.

Not that I’m counting.

Anywho, my Rational Brain knows that my GPA won’t really matter once I’ve graduated, just as I have told my students throughout my career. While I do need to maintain 3.0 to graduate, grades are primarily a gauge on how well someone else believes I mastered the material. The feedback I receive on papers and assignments has far greater importance at this point as it helps me continue to improve my academic performance and prepare for writing my dissertation. And right now, pretty much all of that improvement is about the nuances of APA Style! (APA, you are my arch-nemesis! I will conquer you!! <shakes fist angrily>)

nshakefist

I told you to expect geeky references.

But my Lizard Brain will never ever deny how wildly rewarding it is to see an A in that final grade report! That rush from the dopamine is fantastic!

Here’s the catch though. We don’t earn grades outside the classroom. Hopefully our employers embrace an effective performance evaluation process and our supervisor is wise enough to provide ongoing feedback about our efforts. Yet this is never the same as that constant inflow of grades and feedback we receive inside the classroom.

And the stuff I deal with at work on a day to day basis – educating a campus full of students, striving to utilize the best prevention strategies for the environment we’re in, supervising my staff, managing budgets, wrestling with university politics, dealing with federal regulatory compliance issues like Title IX, even working with general counsel on the occasional lawsuit – these things are big, huge outside-the-classroom issues.

These things can, on occasion, quite literally be life or death matters.

Yes, it’s stressful. Sometimes, it’s all just huge and unmanageable. And the rest of the time, it’s just the normal pace of things in my chosen career field. And, in the grand scheme of things, it all makes any grade pale as a ghost in comparison.

Being in the classroom, for me, is not stressful or huge or unmanageable. No, not in the least. Many times, it feels like a learning-focused vacation with some really cool folks. Lack of beachwear and tropical beverages aside, it can even feel somewhat self-indulgent to pursue my dream of earning my PhD. But all in all, it’s pretty damn fun*!!

Do I still want to earn a cumulative 4.0? Sure, it would be lovely. And I’ll work my fannyfeathers off in an effort to beat my personal best.

But it’s not life or death.

UPDATE (5.17.2016): I earned my 4.0!

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*I reserve the right to revise my opinion of how fun it all is once I get to the point of completing comps and my dissertation.

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On being a student again

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When I started my doctoral program last fall, I was anxious about being a student again. Rightfully so! I had completed my master’s degree in 1995 and hadn’t taken any writing-intensive courses since a one-off class on addictions in 1997.

I actually took another class in 2005 but a studio course on artist’s books doesn’t quite count, since the purpose was to deconstruct the idea of what a book actually is and remake it as we saw fit. I have a glorious bookshelf full of my creations (below), but they required less writing and more envisioning and assembling relevant creative elements.

I probably should keep th2016-03-16 21.48.50at concept in mind when I start my dissertation, shouldn’t I?

Except the “less writing” part, of course.

Anywho, I was anxious. I simply wasn’t used to being a student anymore. I’ve worked in higher education/student affairs as a college health educator for 20 years and I consider myself a life-long learner, but it’s definitely not the same kind of learning which occurs in a formal credit-bearing course, let alone an entire degree program with the biggest writing project of my life on the back end of it!

Now with most of four classes under my belt, I can honestly say I do remember how to be a student. And damn, I’m good at it…4.0 GPA, so far!

Fortunately, the introductory courses in my program are structured in a way to keep
us in the feels. It helped ground me in my own emotional reactions to both the curriculum and to my adjustment to studenthood. (Is that a word? It is now!) My classmates contribute as much to the teaching as the professor does because we all bring so much into the classroom with us which informs the discussion. We are treated as experts on our own personal and professional experiences, which is so essential to the study of human sexuality.

The first time my professor gave me props for the contributions I had made to class that day felt like getting wrapped in a big love burrito of praise! I was a student! And I was an educator! I could be both! Maybe I could actually do this!!?!??

Mmmmm….burritos. burrito-drib

But I digress.

And sorting out that I actually know my stuff helped immensely, too. Good portions of what has been covered in my classes is familiar. Or, in the case of some activities we’ve done and articles we’ve read, very familiar because I’ve used them already in my own work. I got the refresher on familiar material, have had many new elements and experiences added, and feel supported by the structure of and the people in the program.

Makes me wonder why I didn’t do this sooner.

Oh, right, because I wasn’t ready. I was anxious. I wasn’t sure I could be a student again…while working full time and commuting from Chicago to Philadelphia for weekend classes, and attempting to have some sort of life outside of work and school. I’m still struggling with that last bit (and will probably rant about that constantly). Regardless, I am finding being a student again to be within my comfort zone, even if the curriculum pushes me right back out again at times.

And that has made all the difference.