Reflection: My first semester in grad school.

When I finally decided to apply to grad school in September of last year, I did so for several reasons. One, I was tired of working three jobs part-time all over Sacramento. Two, I desperately wanted to keep the job I already had when (if) it was finally made full time. Three, I saw myself one day wanting to teach and I needed to have my degree if/when I ever decided to pursue that avenue. Grad school was a way for me to justify not working two extra jobs, be competitive in the current job market, and to pursue my dream of one day being a teacher.

I had all these ideas about grad school. I knew it was going to be challenging. The program I applied for is entirely online and I knew that was going to be a challenge all its own. I also knew that I have no classroom experience, which was going to make things even harder. I was excited about all these challenges and expected to take them all on.

I was not expecting to work full time. I got my acceptance letter to grad school the same day I was offered full time hours temporarily for one semester only. I did not dare to turn them down. I have been waiting for three years to pick up enough hours at this campus to not have to work other jobs and had basically given up hope that it would. Now, more hours.

While more hours was nice on the pocketbook, these hours were also me filling in temporarily for a position that was intended to be filled by the summer. I realized very late in the semester that, come the fall, there was a chance I would be unemployed, again. I was terrified of this prospect but, with all the other stress in my life, I had not even considered this until April. Once it hit me, I had trouble sleeping for several weeks and started work on my resume, intending to find something over the summer. Thankfully, I was reclassified into the position, permanently. It’s a strange feeling to be employed full-time, permanently. It’s still sinking in, to some extent.

I also had a great deal of personal challenges I had to face this semester. While I won’t go into details here, suffice it to say that I have been struggling to stay positive and forward-looking this semester. There have been many times I’ve found myself wondering if I should have waiting another year to go back to school. “No,” I would tell myself, “you’ve waited long enough already.”

I have discovered a great deal about myself this semester:
First, I have a confidence in my writing that I never experienced in my undergraduate work, despite the fact that I studied English. I have never considered myself a good writer. While I always did well in writing classes, I never “saw” myself as a writer and it has always been hard for me to allow others to read my writing. I agonize over every word I write and I have learned that I need to start writing papers early so I can feel good about my draft before I turn it in. The anxiety I get from turning in a last-minute draft is near-paralyzing. This semester, however, I’m far more confident. I think part if it is working in a writing center, reading draft after draft of student work that is borderline garbage. Having to find errors, point them out, then articulate why they are errors to a student who generally does not care and/or understand anyway has really helped me face some of my fears about my own writing head-on.

Second, that I am a far more collected person now than in my youth. While this might seem like an obvious thing, I think this is the first time in my adult life that I have truly tested the boundaries of my capabilities. I’m in my mid-thirties now and had resigned that the “best” years of my life were over: from now on it’s creaky, tired me, growing slower with each day. In fact, I feel that I’ve somehow settled into my own mind more and things that I remember being challenging–like making decisions, or forging an opinion–have become easier. It’s also easier for me to speak up when I know things are not right, and I am not as self-conscious as I used to be.

I also had to deal with a large amount of stress this semester and, though I did have my fair share of irrational bouts of crying in random places (which may or may not include under my desk at work on several occasions), I did not have the typical depressive episode that I almost always experienced in my twenties. As someone who has fought depression most of her life, I’m so proud that I’ve managed to not sink back into that hole. I think part of  overcoming depression for me is really learning how to say “no,” and learning that rejection is okay. Both of those have been so hard for me but, again, as I get older knowing my limits, saying no, and being ok with not having things happen the way I like has really helped me to move beyond my depressive nature.

Last, and this is probably the most important to me, that I feel like I’m good at what I do. I feel I have finally settled into my role as an educator, and am beginning to see myself as one. I have worked so hard for so long at reaching this goal and I’ll admit that there were times when I doubted myself. It is wonderful and refreshing to finally have reached this point in my life and to do so with a confidence that I was certain would not be here for me.

My goals for next semester are:

  • Better time management – this really was not my strong suit this semester. I need to consider what kind of planner to get because, so far, every method I’ve used has fallen short. I also want to make more use of my Google calendar, but that will be easier since I plan to get a laptop this summer.
  • Finish papers sooner – especially at the end, I put off my finals papers far too long. I still got both my final papers in early (one a week early) but I also feel I could have more time into both of them.
  • Reach out to my peers more – these are people who are going to be my colleagues in the future in the world of academic reading; I need to make friends now so I can reach out later if I need to.

2 thoughts on “Reflection: My first semester in grad school.

  1. You did great my dear. Really. I have every confidence in you that this is 1) a great move for you and 2) that you will succeed, meeting even your own expectations.

    I had a rough time in grad school, rarely bc of school. I was having major health problems and I had a toddler I was dragging around on the bus to school, so stress. My friend Ryan used to always joke each new semester that the semester wasn’t officially on unless Cherri cried during class. I was often in severe pain during my night classes, after having been racing around all day, and I stood in the back of the room to alleviate some of it or simply sat in my chair and cried.

    Good times.

    But I also learned the fuck out of shit and studied hella hard and gained confidence in my knowledge.


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