I’m officially done with my first semester of graduate school today. I honestly can’t believe how quickly it passed by. Beginning this journey has been one of the most incredible blessings and immense challenges. It was harder than I expected, but not impossible. I can’t express how thankful I am to be in an intellectually stimulating atmosphere once again. Spending the majority of your time with 100 7th graders doesn’t really motivate you to think about issues such as racism and classism as propagated through institutions or ways to effectively use qualitative and quantitative research methods to show the ways in which interventions are improving (or not improving) educational practices. Critical conversations in which I’m forced to push and expand my thinking on important topics such as these make me so excited. These are the things that make me tick. I feel more alive. God created me to be a student, an intellectual. I understand more about Him and who I am as His creation when I study these things that seem as though they may not be related to my journey toward Him. After all, “there is nothing new under the sun.” God knew I would come to this point, and He is present as I think about the part I am supposed to play in the development of these theories and the change that is to occur because of them.
I also love that I am surrounded by people who have differing opinions and others who do not yet have solid opinions on these topics. The conversations and meaning making that occurs is just amazing. I am thinking about things I have never previously thought about on a deep level, and I’ve discovered interests in constructs I previously never really understood. My peers who have more experience with some of these topics have been so wonderful to engage in conversation with me to help me form new ideas and research interests. My research trajectory now includes elements I never would have previously considered, and my reading list includes books I never would have previously read.
Sometimes it’s still surreal that I’m not a classroom teacher and that I will likely never do that again. At the same time, when I talk with my friends who are teachers, I’m happy for them, but know that is no longer where I am supposed to be. I know that He would bring me joy in that job once again, and I have learned quite a bit that would change my teaching practices. However, I think if I went back to that now, I would be incredibly bored. Teaching just doesn’t challenge me in the ways that I am most interested. I am not one of those amazing teachers who loves building relationships with kids and who finds great joy in seeing them light up and finally “get” something. I left an amazing team of experts in this, and while I still love to hear about their successes and trials, I know they are better off without me in the classroom.
After six years, I would never call teaching easy, but it was familiar. The familiarity makes teaching “easier” than what I do now. The ability to make a to-do list and cross things off at regular intervals is also a privilege I no longer really have. A regular ebb and flow of somewhat repetitive tasks is also pretty much gone. While teaching, even though it was a lot, creating lessons and assessments on regular intervals was expected. Managing my time was pretty predictable. I knew how long things would take. The difficulty of teaching was fitting it all in and finding the time to design new and innovative lessons rather than repeating lessons from previous years. Graduate school is a whole different kind of beast. Here, there is no telling how long a task will take, and I am never really done. There is always more work that can be done. Now it’s a matter of deciding on a sane stopping point. Additionally, there is no longer a safety net. I am pushed out there to be the (beginning) expert. My advisor just keeps telling me to make my own decisions and be prepared to defend them. Critically thinking for yourself and forming opinions based on research is the gold standard here. There is no right answer. We are expected to be those on the cutting edge of research, thinking and pushing the envelope, and defending our thoughts.
I’m learning and growing in new ways that I never would have been able before. All in all it was great, and I love it. I couldn’t be happier and am so thankful for the blessing of this opportunity.