15 June 2010

Falling off the horse, and getting right back on

I have had to make some changes to my fall 2010 class schedule. Several of the upper level classes I was considering taking are gone, replaced by courses that will hopefully be easier to get good grades in-- I'm on academic probation. I have to kick ass and take names in fall. Period.

If you fall off of a horse, you have two choices-- lay in the dirt, or get back on the damn horse.  Laying in the dirt with a horse looking down at you never got anyone anywhere.

Back on the schedule is one of the classes I failed in spring 2010, with the same professor, meeting at the same time, and in the same lecture hall. While this isn't the class that produced the most anxiety for me, it certainly produced a lot.

This class was in a basement lecture hall with no windows and desks that clatter and make a lot of noise. It's generally full, especially at the start of the semester when everyone still shows up every day. There were other students in the class that were obviously there just for the credits-- they knew the answers before the professor wrote them on the chalkboard. Class wasn't a relaxed atmosphere for me. It wasn't war zone chaotic, but it wasn't relaxed.

I was also intimidated by the professor. I never went to his office for help or asked questions in class. The social anxiety, the unwillingness to trust people, the unwillingness to ask for help, all kicked in at once the first day. The professor and TA both had office hours that conflicted with my schedule, but that's no excuse. I didn't make appointments.

This was one of those classes where the combination of academic pressure, lots of noise and movement, and flashbacks to the past all came together. It's said that the brain's short term memory can only handle seven, plus or minus two, stimuli at once-- so if my brain is processing the noise, the people moving around, the closed environment, and image after image of the past, how many of those seven plus or minus two are left?

The class environment is going to be the same; there will be noise, there will be people moving around, there will be things that I see and hear that will produce connections to my past. I'll get distracted, I'll get anxious, and my mind will wander. I might not be able to completely prevent these things from happening, but I can do a few things to lessen their effect.

Moving closer to campus will help. I'll have a ~10 minute walk to class, rather than a frantic run for the bus, uncomfortable bus ride, and run from the bus stop to class-- so I'll arrive in a better (more relaxed) frame of mind.

My discussion section will be on Thursday afternoon, instead of Tuesday morning, so I'll have a weekend plus a few days to work on the material, instead of the other way around.

I'm applying for a grant from the campus disability resource center to buy a Livescribe smartpen, which records a lecture and links the audio to what you've written on a page.  (I've only tested it in a store, but it's amazing.)  I'll still need to spend additional time reviewing and working with the lectures, but at least I'll have everything to refer to.

I've been doing some research on learning math (more on that in a later post). I still have all of the homework assignments from spring available, so I can actually go back and review some of them before fall semester starts.

I'm going to try to track down the professor over the summer, or at least before the start of the semester, to actually introduce myself and get to know the guy a little so I'm not so anxious and intimidated when it comes time to ask for help. I also have to set up test taking in quiet rooms; the paperwork is done, but if I let the prof know early, I'll hopefully be able to take all of the exams in solitude instead of just the final (as happened in spring).  Most important, I'm going to make it my mission to get to class every day, and to get to my prof's office at least once for every assignment.

Side note: there's a lot said about veterans returning to college, and having to adapt to being comfortable with the rest of the student population-- don't ignore, as I did, the need to also find a way to be comfortable with your professors and TA's.  It may be harder to get used to dealing with faculty, especially when your background both before military service and your military training have an impact on how you view authority figures.  Education and learning, I've come to realize, is far more than taking good notes and memorizing stuff.  It's about communication across a two way channel.    

Would you imagine, sitting in the Desert, that someday you'd have to get to know a mathematics professor and twentysomething French hipster, and that doing so would determine your success or failure in a college math class?

But I wouldn't have imagined myself sitting in the Desert before I got there either, so maybe it all evens out in the end...


  1. I hope everything goes a lot better for you during the fall semester!

    I wish I would have gotten the Livescribe smartpen. Sometimes my professors talk so fast I can't keep up with note taking. Some of them are rude and won't slow down or repeat themselves so I just get frustrated and stop trying to take notes. Not a good thing at all!

    Good luck with your math class!! I have always struggled with math and if you aren't comfortable talking to the professor it just makes it that much more difficult.

    You will do great though. :)

  2. It does seem that you have a plans, which is great. I think all the things you are doing are excellent. The shorter commute should make a big difference, the smart pen does sound smart :-), a plan for handling social anxiety....Sometimes we have to falter a bit in order to learn what we have to do to really succeed...

    I also have PTSD, and I also returned to school as an adult, and it was very very tough. Mainly from a social perspective, but also getting assignments done, etc. I had no plan at all, and somehow made it through by the skin of my teeth!

    Good luck.

  3. I've made some further adjustments since writing this post- have had to bite the bullet and drop a couple of (potentially very interesting) classes from my schedule for fall, and add lower level classes.

    I feel like I'll do better in fall. If nothing else, being able to get from one place to another without needing to pull out the phone and check google maps will be helpful. I know where the good places are on campus to get coffee now.

    Thanks for your encouragement, as always. :)


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