Let’s See How This Goes: Returning to School

This August I officially reentered the life of a college student. I’m currently enrolled in San Jose State University’s iSchool’s Post-Master’s Certificate program. It’s a 16 credit hour program aimed toward strengthening the leadership skills for librarians in or aiming toward leadership roles. Due to a recent move, some family medical drama, and the changing nature of my job I’m limiting myself to only the required one credit-hour class, this semester.

I’m Not a Good Student.

I don’t think I’ve ever been a good student. Throughout my public school experience I always got good grades and nearly always made the honor rolls. My grades fell some in later years, but that was largely due to my chronic and untreated anger and depression issues. Even then, though, my grades were better than average. The trouble is, though, when school comes so easy to you you never develop good study skills. You never have to.

After high school I went to Full Sail, a for-profit tech school aimed at the entertainment industry. My grades were good enough there, even though, as a for-profit institution no one actually cared about the scholarly value the students were getting. Which is just as well, as I was mostly concentrating on having a social life for the first time in my life.

I was twenty-three before I returned to a traditional college and learned right away that all of my natural intelligence wasn’t going to be enough to be successful in that environment. Over the next five years I worked so much harder than I ever had to before to learn and keep my grades up. By the end I was completely burned out. A few weeks into my last semester I got a call from campus saying that if I took one more eight-week English class that I’d earn an English minor. I laughed her ear off. I couldn’t even do recreational reading for at least six months after graduation, and I’d been damned if I was going to take any more classes for any reason. When I started college I thought I was going to go all the way through to a Ph.D. By that last semester I was telling the faculty, “I’m no scholar.”

I Don’t Even LIKE School

It was four years before I entered my Master’s degree program, which took me four years to complete at half-time. For the entire period I tortured my wife with complaints and anger toward what I always believed was a sub-par program with far too lax standards.* “Just quit, already!” She’d tell me in fatigue and frustration. I might have, except for two things. Because I was working for the same university system I was only paying 25% tuition (and I still think I got ripped off). This made the idea of transferring impossible because we couldn’t have afforded it without taking on a huge amount of debt. And, my qualms about librarian education aside I have never ever found a profession more suited to me than librarianship.

Overall quality of instruction aside, I found in my Master’s degree program that I fundamentally no longer enjoyed the work of schooling. In my undergrad I worked my butt off, but have generally positive feelings about the work I was doing. By the time I got to grad school in my early thirties the sheen had worn off and it was just drudgery. I wanted to read on topics that I found interesting at my own pace and to the depth of my curiosity, which frequently was much shallower than what I had in front of me in the available topics.

When I started working at my current institution, two years past my MLIS, I seriously considered taking advantage of my education benefits and getting some free classes, just for personal enrichment. I love reading popular science books, especially on space and physics topics, and in public school I was always good at math, but in the intervening 20+ years I’ve become unpracticed in it and lost many of the skills and concepts to atrophy. Since my university has a Physics program I thought I would refresh my skills and maybe work toward a Physics degree, possibly even parlaying that into a science librarian position in the future. I went to Khan academy and began going through the Algebra courses. Oh, my goodness, how far I have fallen. While I was able to get through the basics alright, it didn’t take long before I realized that I just wasn’t going to understand it enough to pursue it at a college level. If I couldn’t even pass Algebra, how the hell was I going to do Calculus? I’ll stick to reading about the accomplishments of greater men, thank you.

Here I Go Again

Having effectively reached my initial post-MLIS goal it’s time for me to pick a new one. I think I’d like to continue on this management track I’ve been walking and move up the administration ladder**. I think I’ve got real potential to be successful here. So, now, the time has come to return to school to start building my credentials again. Enter the San Jose State program.

I’m not off to the start I would have liked. It’s only a one credit-hour class and I’m already behind. However, I have to say that the content isn’t the most engaging, either. It’s a required class directed at people who have never taken an online class before. While the information is valuable for beginners, it’s tedious for someone who’s Master’s program was 80% online.

I’m keeping the whining to a minimum, though, and have no intention of torturing my wife the way I did the last time. In part, because I expect the quality of instruction to be much greater. Also, because in spite of my habitual cynicism I’m actually getting interested in leadership as a topic and genuinely want to improve myself in this area. Making the lifestyle change back to being a part-time student isn’t going to be easy, but there are lots of lifestyle changes I’ve been meaning to make, lately, and drastically cutting back on my TV time was absolutely one of them. What better incentive could I have than, “Sorry, I have homework.”

Let’s see how this goes…


So far, not as well as I’d hoped. The first class was so Mickey Mouse that it was discouraging. I spent hours of my time and hundreds of my dollars proving that could be a successful online student, even though my Master’s degree was 80% online. I had to prove that I know how to use a library and not plagiarize, even though I’ve been working contiguously in libraries since 2005 and am more than four years past my MLIS. I had to sit though a web-conference tutorial that was almost identical to every web-conference product ever created. Furthermore, after serious discussion, my wife and I have decided that we can’t afford for me to continue taking classes until we sell our house. Yes, we literally have to sell our home to pay for college.***

*Because my city was 100 miles from the home campus I was subjected to only a few local instructors for our in-person classes. The most frequent one would give assignments with instructions like “Don’t write more than 1500 words,” with no minimum requirement. She also, once — in one of the few tests I ever had to take — wrote an essay question in a Yes/No format with no stated expectation to explain our answer and no minimum word requirement. I damn near gave my one-word answer and moved on.

**Was that a mixed metaphor?

***We don’t actually live there, anymore.

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