What's It Like Going Back to School After 20 Years?Sep 24, 2009
by Gina Plaitakis
photo by Antenna
It's been three weeks since I started school and my master's in fine-art education. My Foundation of Graduate Study in Art Education class has met three times so far and I have already had to hand in two papers. I have a third paper due next week. It is definitely writing and reading intensive, so I'm glad that I only took four credits this semester. At this rate, I'll probably be on the five-year program! Just kidding. The program normally takes two to three years. I'm planning to take two courses next semester so that will be seven credits and then I can take one or two courses during the summer. I would rather take my time and do really well than get overwhelmed. Plus, I'm not used to doing homework: I'm out of practice! Hopefully, it'll get easier with time and then I'll be able to handle a larger course load.
What's it like going back to school after 20 years?
I was worried that I would be the oldest person on campus other than the professors. Luckily, that's not the case. There are seven students in my master's program, and we meet one night a week for a five-hour class. We are all around the same age, ranging somewhere in the 30s or 40s with one student in her 20s. Most of us have had previous careers and are going to school for a career change. Our professor assures us that he is much older than us (although he keeps in good shape so it's hard to tell his age). So far, it's been a really good experience. We are learning a tremendous amount about art education and the psychology of why children create art. For me personally, it's very interesting because my daughter is in the age group that we are studying now; I'm learning what to do and not to do regarding her natural artistic development and how to observe her progression. I'm fortunate that other than occasionally filling in as a substitute teacher, I do not have a full-time job. It's taking me a long time to write my papers and do the reading assignments. We have had homework every week. This was the part that I was most worried about, so I'm making sure to give it my best effort. I have spent days writing and rewriting my papers, and then having friends read them to make sure they are clearly written. So far my efforts have paid off. I got my first graded paper back last night and I got an A on it. Thank goodness because the class is very demanding, the workload is intense and the professor is very serious. He asked anyone who got less then an A- to stay after class to discuss improving their writing skills. I would have been happy with a B but apparently that's not good enough. Even one student who had a B+ was asked to stay after class! My professor said that there are far too many bad teachers out there and he will not be responsible for adding to that pool. I can see his point.
What I enjoy about school is that it's the first time I have ever had a professor who has a Ph.D. and whose expertise is in education. He knows how to teach, he knows how to engage his students, he knows how to keep it interesting, he's like a performer on stage and his timing with jokes is impeccable. It's completely different then what I was accustomed to when I went to college. I went to Cooper Union, a fine art college and all my professors were artists, not teachers per se. Many of them were great artists but lousy teachers to be quite honest. I slept in art history class every week and that was only a two-hour class. This guy can make a five-hour class fly by. I find myself laughing out loud in his class often.
Our first assignment was to summarize a 15-page article in one page. It was something he had published in an education journal and it was also taken from his dissertation, which is what our entire program is based on. I had to use a dictionary just to read the article but slowly my vocabulary is improving and expanding to include the education vernacular—words such as epistemology and pedagogical. More on school next time... I've got to get back to my homework!