University and “Non-traditional Students”

My bilinear interpolation isn’t right. I’ve spent hours and hours on the project, sent emails to the teacher, but I still feel confused and like I lack the resources I need to do well.

I’m a non-traditional student, I guess. I would be a traditional grad student if I had started working on my masters right after my bachelors degree, but I was ready to get out of university. I worked in the industry, and then found I enjoy teaching computer science at the college level, and have returned to university at several places at several times pursuing several different types of degrees.

I will be 30 next month, I live 30 miles away from the university I’m currently attending, I’m teaching 17 credit hours this semester (and 20 last semester). I don’t spend time on campus for funsies; I park, attend my class, pay the $1.75 for an hour of parking, and head home. I have more focuses in my life than just my education – my husband, my day job, and my startup. I really only have the weekends to work on homework and studying.

I remember my pain-points while I was an undergrad, and that makes me the teacher that I am. I understand that my students have a life, I understand that students learn in different ways. Sure, access services will provide you a note taker, but I’ve always wondered how you can rely on the quality of a peer note-taker? When you’re new to a topic, how do you know what is important to highlight, and what’s ok to miss? How do you even take notes fast enough to keep up with a teacher lecturing? (That’s always something I’ve had trouble with.)

Honestly, I’m sitting in class right now and I cannot read all of the teacher’s hand-writing. There is glare on the board coming from the cracked windows, his scrawl is sometimes messy and hard to make out.

I’m frustrated, and I’m unengaged, and while a few days ago I was questioning my own intelligence and self-discipline and abilities, I’m now feeling that university just isn’t accessible to a student like me.

Part of it is the schedule – all of these classes, even grad classes, are mid-day. I’m not working a traditional 8-to-5 job, but if I were it would be impossible for me to attend this college.

Part of it is distance – all classes are in-person, and it’s a 40 minute drive each way. I’m not on campus enough to justify a parking permit, and by paying-per-hour, there is a financial penalty if I need to come on campus more often than I need, such as for office hours.

Another thing is the traditional teaching style – teacher lectures, scribbles on the board, and generally doesn’t refer back to the book or any external data. You’d better show up to class, and you’d better be good at taking notes because there sure as hell aren’t any recorded lectures to refer back to, no slides to look at (and if it is, it’s full of pictures and header text but none of the content.)

And it’s so striking how much different I try to make the experience in my classes, and how shitty I feel in other peoples’ classes.

And part of me wonders if this is part of the whole “toughen up” culture around college and tech – stop whining and “get gud”; if I can’t take it, then I’m just not good enough.

Or if the teachers don’t think about the inaccessible nature of their classes? Or think it isn’t their problem; “There’s an access services! Students can get a note taker and extra time on exams, what more is needed?”

Or maybe they’re more interested in their research than their teaching?

I remember the pain-points of when I was an undergrad, and the same pain-points crop up when I’m a grad. In my classes I make sure that anything I go over in class is also accessible outside of class: My slides or notes are very detailed with all the steps needed. I have video lectures for some of my classes (when I’ve had time). I write exercises that focus on building up the students’ understanding of new topics, starting easy and working their way up. In class we work on things together, because I know that something can seem understandable in lecture, but once you begin trying it yourself that’s where the confusion crops up. I want to make sure students recognize what they’re not understanding, so that we can get through it together and build their foundations and understandings.

And while some students have reviewed me as “worst teacher ever” (Maybe 4 in total have given me that distinction), I feel that so many more honestly find my classes engaging, fun, and instructive. And hopefully they feel secure – they know I’m not trying to write tricky reverse-psychology questions, or throw them in the deep end to sink or swim. They’re here to learn, I’m here to give them resources and help them explore and practice and learn.

And then it’s frustrating when I’ve had so many classes that are all the same “lecture-lecture-lecture, now 3 2 1 go do it hope you’re good at taking notes”. And for the most part, that’s how I’ve taught myself to teach myself. But now in gradschool I’m running into scenarios where there is less information out there, and sometimes (often) the teachers use only themselves as the only resource in the class, which leaves me feeling dumb – at first – and then frustrated because I know I could do better if things were just a little different.

2017

When 2017 began, I was very depressed.

My boyfriend, Rai, was rolled off his project at work and had to return to India a few months prior – shortly after we had began living together. I now had to return home from work to nobody. I cried after getting home from work until I managed to numb myself.

My hopes for the first woman president were dashed and anger and fear and dread were my feelings as the new year came around. If Clinton were president, I would at least have had some optimism about the future. The double whammy of losing my love and no longer having faith in anything as basic as are we going to fight climate change and have a future was hard.

But, one has to keep living. I threw myself into my work and attended protests and sent postcards to the president and called my representatives.

A big stress in 2017 was trying to think of some way that I, as an independent programmer, could make something to improve the world in some small way. I committed to letting my students know that my classroom is a safe place, and that I am there for them if they need an advocate, but I also wanted to know what more I could do.

While I don’t think I achieved anything big, programming-wise, in 2017, I at least have been experimenting and trying. I’ve also achieved things not programming related – because I’m not a robot.

So here is a reflection on things I’ve done in 2017, because it’s so easy to forget what we’ve achieved. It’s really easy for me to slip into a feeling of uselessness and start beating myself up for not meeting my own standards, and part of that is learning to accept myself for being myself (not just doing stuff), it’s also good to put things into perspective; not the warped, exaggerated perspective that anxiety and depression-glasses make you see through.

What I did

I got married

Rai and Rachel at the marriage ceremony

Rai finally arrived back in the K.C. on November 15th, after having been gone since November 1st of the previous year. We made it!

We had a small ceremony at the Olathe courthouse, and poof! Married! We did it in our own way – low stress, simple, etc. Though we still need to plan our reception party for 2018!

I went to India

Rachel and Rai in front of the Taj Mahal

We submitted our fiancé paperwork in April, but a 6-to-9 month wait would have been too much time to go without seeing each other. During the semester break (a couple weeks between Spring and Summer semesters), I flew to India and spent time with Rai, where we became “officially” engaged.

We spent time in New Delhi, where Rai was living, in Agra, and in his parents’ village in Uttarakhand.

Rai and I worked on the fiancé-visa paperwork

Rai was sent back to India in November 2016, and at that time neither of us were sure if we (as individuals) were ready for marriage. But after the time apart, and after eventually getting his father’s approval, we started on the fiancé visa paperwork.

I’ve spent time with my sister

After a couple of years in Seattle, my sister moved back to Kansas City and I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with her multiple times per week.

I completed an easy-reader comic

Rachel’s Reader preview

I finished the first in a series of comics I’d like to make – an easy-reader meant for language learners. It is available on Itch.io here, and as of writing has versions in English, Esperanto, Finnish, French, and Hindi.

I began taking Hindi classes

Me in Hindi class

It was serendipity that I learned about the Hindi class at our local temple – I had taken my friend Aishwarya to the temple and there was a board there with the information. I signed up and, even though I’m the only adult in the class, I’ve been learning a lot and really enjoying having a Sunday tradition! I love language learning and taking the class has really helped me build a good foundation.

I’ve aggregated the Hindi learning resources I’ve made here on GitHub.

I started gradschool

Although I only completed one semester and dropped out of the Fall semester due to work, I did effectively start gradschool. Even though I’m overall underwhelmed by my experience so far, at least the momentum is going. Even though being a teacher isn’t my be-all-end-all career goal, having a Master’s Degree will at least keep doors open to me no matter where I move to.

I also vlogged!

I taught a new class

After an emergency at work, one instructor’s classes were split up between the other teachers. I landed with Discrete Math II, which I had been wanting to teach for a while. Before, I had only taught Discrete Math I. While I got some really nasty (and some good) reviews on the end-of-semester anonymous surveys, I feel like I did an alright job… especially considering that I was teaching 6 classes… 20 credit hours. I survived.

I reclaimed my YouTube channel

My original, humble rise on YouTube (8000 subscribers) was due to my game programming and educational gamedev content. For the longest time I felt like I couldn’t post about other interests or parts of my life because of “my subscribers”. But the

controversy showed us that not all gamers are good people. So fuck ’em. I’ll post what I want, I don’t care about losing subscribers (and I did lose subscribers). It’s more important to visibly show your support for a cause than cater to assholes on the internet.

Some of the videos I posted that made people mad were:

I protested, called, and donated

I invested what I could of myself to trying to make political changes in the only way I know how. I protested, I contacted my representatives, and I donated to various causes and activists.

I did some coding

Random magical girl generator

Random comic generator

I did take time to explore code, even though it was small. Just little experiments here and there. I made the visualization of how many people could die if Obamacare is repealed, I worked on things to procedurally generate characters and dialog, I made a couple of Twitter bots, a painting app for toddlers, and so on.

I made some YouTube videos

I did manage to publish some YouTube videos this year. In addition to the ones posted above, I also did a Robot Let’s Play, a video about Cyrus the Dog, some of my lectures from my classes, vlogs about gradschool and going to India, and some videos for my Conlang-oriented channel.

I delegated

One of my goals in Moosader is to learn to delegate, and to offer opportunities for others to do some commission work that I pay them for. I did have a friend, Kuĉjo, work on conlang videos,

I freelanced

Did some freelancing, met a deadline, mentored Shawnee in working on the game as well.

I made a board game

The board game I worked on

As a joke Christmas gift, I made a board game for my cousin based around one of her biggest pet peeves – people not changing the toilet paper. It was a lot of fun to come up with pieces and the board, and test out the rules with my sister.

I explored business ideas

I like to make different types of things, and I’m trying to find a way to funnel my creativity into different business ideas. This has included making educational videos, language apps, punny Esperanto t-shirts, a web-portal for conlang games, and more.

I saw John Carmack give a talk at UMKC

John Carmack giving a talk

Ever since I read Masters of Doom as a tween, John Carmack had always been one of my biggest role models in the programming world. This year, he came to give a talk at UMKC – a university that he briefly attended, and where I got my B.S. from – and I went to see him. <3

I crafted

A purse I made for Rai’s mom prior to going to India

Cute nails that I painted

I’ve always been a crafty person but I made some cool crocheted things this year, as well as painted, drawing, and even doing nail art.

Other notes

I lost my dog

Rachel and Cyrus the dog

I’ve made a blog post about this already, but our childhood dog passed away this year, which was very hard. He’s been in my life for more than half of it, and now I still tear up to think about how I won’t get to hang out with him anymore.

Winter break goals

It is finals week. I’ve finished giving 2 finals, and there are 4 more to go. I’m teaching 20 credit hours this semester, and I’ve been much too busy to do other things like “pursue hobbies” and “cook food” and “socialize”. But, soon I’ll have a break, and next semester will be much more manageable. My anxiety is building, however, at being concerned about using my break time productively, for things that I’ve wanted to work on all semester but haven’t had the time to do so. What should I do? I need to write out a list.

Things I’d like to spend time on

Game development

I definitely want to work on a game over the break, but I have several ideas so it can be hard to figure out what to concentrate on. I want to continue working on language learning apps, and make new versions of the Language Fantasy games that I have out there. I’d also like to update some of the reference apps, such as for Toki Pona and Láadan.

I want to work on some Visual Novels, or at least games using the RenPy engine but in a unique way. I want to work on some microgames about silly things. One day I want to remake Rawr Rinth and Lenxion and improve them.

Book writing

I have started writing a book about PyGame and I was thinking of also writing a book about RenPy to help my Moosader team members ramp up on the engine so we can build more Visual Novels, without ME being the bottleneck.

I also want to spend time on making an easy-reader comic, which I can self-publish via itch.io.

Video making

I want to make some short films, as well as possibly just do other random YouTube stuff during the break. I like making language learning videos, cartoons, and so on.

Freelancing

I have one freelance project I’d like to get moving on again.

Celebrating

My husband and I had a small wedding and essentially no reception, so for January we need to plan some kind of party for our friends and family to celebrate with us. I’m just not sure what to plan!!

Not working

At the same time, I’d like to spend time away from a computer, too. Maybe traveling or other non-computer activities. Spending time with my husband and all that. 🙂

Cleaning

I want to make our apartment more organized and get rid of stuff we don’t use. Cut down on clutter!

Parties for Introverts

I want to plan an introvert-friendly wedding reception party (for sometime in January?)…

So for instance, somebody on Mastodon suggested “drinks and live music”. This is not a party I would enjoy, because I would just stand around not knowing what to do with myself – I’m awkward like that.

It is better when there’s something else to focus on, and interacting with people via that activity. For example: Watching a movie together, playing card / board games together, playing video games together, etc.

But, there should also be activities that everybody can enjoy – not everybody is a gamer.

I’d like to plan something where there’s a space, and people can arrive whenever they’d like, stay as long as they want, and leave when they want (rather than waiting for a specific thing to happen), and I’d like self-serve food to be available.

 

Why does it feel so hard to come up with activities? I can barely find anything online… It’s almost as if introverts rarely throw parties. T_T

Burnout

This semester, I’ve been teaching 20 credit hours – 6 classes. Two sections of Data Structures online, three sections of Discrete Math 1, and one section of Discrete Math 2, which is the first time I’ve taught Discrete Math 2. I’m getting it done.

I’m not putting as much effort into Data Structures as I had wanted this semester, but I am getting it done. Instead of lecture slides and videos, I just write detailed notes in the labs. I know my students aren’t reading the textbook, I really ought to do something to encourage that. They come to me with questions that would be covered by the textbook if they had read it. With a math textbook, it is easy to get them to use it – assign homework. With a textbook on data structures, it doesn’t so much have a repository of homework to do, but is more of a reference item. I need to figure out some homework to get them to go through it.

I’m pretty happy with Discrete Math 2 this semester. I haven’t had much trouble ramping up on each new section as I re-teach myself stuff I took in college maybe eight or so years ago. I’m happy with my LaTeX assignments that I’ve been writing up, and the class has gone smoothly. Discrete Math 1 has also been going alright, though my night class is mostly silent. It’s a Monday night class, my lectures are all up online in video form, and in class we work on the exercises I write. For my day classes, students pair up and discuss the work. For the night class, everyone works solo (even though I’ve tried grouping them up) and is quiet. Their lack of energy saps my energy, and my lack of energy saps their energy – at least, that’s how it feels. In my more “outgoing” classes, I find talking about the topics easier. The night class, nobody works together, nobody asks me questions, and they already have all the resources they need. It’s such a weird dynamic.

 

Beyond classes this semester, I find it really hard to operate outside of work-mode. I’m so over-worked that it can be hard to wind down or relax or focus on any other tasks I want to do. It’s hard to go to sleep at night after working all day, because I still want to do something fun. But with any spare time I find, I cannot think of what is fun to do; I haven’t spent much time on fun all semester so my brain isn’t configured to receive fun. Sometimes I can get lost in an evening of Overwatch, but otherwise I just feel tired and lethargic.

As the semester end slowly comes, I keep thinking about what Moosader thing to work on next. And my mind is fuzzy. It’s so hard to focus on anything outside of my day job. The big picture, the small picture, anything. It stresses me out.

And I know next semester I will be teaching 4 classes (two Discrete Math 2s, two Data Structures) and taking one grad class. I know I’ll continue being exhausted for the foreseeable future, and that to get anything done with my startup I’ll just have to adapt.

I’m hoping that I will go back to part-time Summer 2018, adjuncting at my school and maybe another, and hopefully that will free up my brain for working towards something that is really my career goal – my startup – and not just working towards my backup goal – teaching. I love teaching, and I’m fine doing it, but I’m not ready for this to be the “endgame” in the MMO of life and career. I figure, after my Master’s, I can work as a teacher anywhere as needed. To add in some extra income, to work on when I’m closer to a retirement age, do pursue if we move to India, etc.

I’ve always dreamt of running my own company, I’ve always loved making work for myself, but these things have always been shoved on the back burner due to school or work. I don’t have the luxury to just quit a job and focus on a startup full-time; I have bills to pay. I have student loans to pay off. But when I think of where I want to be in the future career-wise, what I’m doing now isn’t exactly what I envision.

Email to representatives after Las Vegas shooting

Lawrence, KS

Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Massachusetts_Street_in_downtown_Lawrence,_Kansas.jpg, taken by Voidxor, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

This past weekend, three people were killed in downtown Lawrence, KS. This morning I woke up to hear about the shooting in Las Vegas. Earlier this year, an employee of Garmin was killed in Olathe, KS.

I teach at Johnson County Community College, where concealed carry is now allowed. I am scared to death.

I am about to get married and start a family, and I am afraid. I’m afraid of having to protect my students at school, my husband (who is Indian) in the KC Metro, and my kids and self – while out at a restaurant, a bar, a movie theater, a school, anywhere.

I do not trust the people getting guns to have proper training, and our gun laws are too lax. We have no security in many places, such as the hotel where the Las Vegas gunman checked in. We can’t just “laissez faire” guns. We can’t just ask for vigilante justice by having all citizens carry firearms to protect themselves from OTHER citizens with firearms. This is unacceptable. We need some protection. We need to make sure that the people who buy guns have the proper training, don’t have a criminal background, and are emotionally stable.

We need some gun laws – locally, in Kansas, and federally. It is your responsibility to take care of us.

–Rachel Morris

Micro project ideas

When you’re too dang busy to do something that takes hours to set up, complete, and clean up…

  1. Write a one-page micro story based off a random idea you get from a Tweet, meme, or other post.
    (e.g., post-apocalypse where humans discuss how the Blue Bird caused civilization to destroy itself, by delivering messages from The Orange Man to antagonize The Great Leader, and TGL retaliated with fire.)
  2. Practice another language by writing short/micro-stories in that language.
  3. Crochet or weave a little bracelet.
  4. Draw a four-panel comic about a pet peeve.
    (e.g., people not refilling the ice cube tray when they pilfer a cube directly from the tray)
  5. Study a few vocabulary words from a language you’re learning.
  6. Post an educational how-to blog post about some random thing that you know how to do.
  7. Program a text-based game without any extra libraries or anything. (Keep it simple)
  8. Practice Morse Code.
  9. Take a walk – you’ve been sitting long enough.

I miss my dog

Cyrus on a swinging bench, 2013

July 31st, 2017, my parents had to put our 14-year-old childhood dog to sleep. He was very old, and this past month his health was declining faster than before. Before, he only had a little trouble getting around — no more running — but he seemed happy. But the week that they made the decision, he wasn’t able to get up and move around much at all.

Cyrus and I, 2012

I had went to do my laundry at their place a couple of weeks prior; they live an hour away so I don’t visit as much these days. I wish I had spent a little more time with him. Honestly, once mom called me to tell me about the vet appointment, I should have gone up there. But, I always tried to appreciate my time with Cyrus. He’s been an old dog for a while now, and I wanted to make sure I let him know I love him while he was still around.

I cried a lot the first two days. I didn’t cry at all the third (I took some extra Sertraline, maybe that helped? Or placebo effect?), and I didn’t cry today because I was pretty busy. I was laying down for bed, my cat was asleep on my chest with her arm around me, and I just started crying again.

Cyrus, 2011

I remember the day we got Cyrus. I don’t have a ton of memories from my teen years anymore, but I always remember opening the door to our Raytown house and seeing a white fluff-ball in the grass. Mom and Rose had gotten Cyrus together, after they both did a lot of research on what kind of dog would be a good size and a good temperament for her to handle. My little sister was probably 11 and pretty small, so they didn’t want a dog that would be able to pull and push her around. Rose was definitely bigger than Cyrus.

Christmas, 2014

We named him “Cyrus” because this was before the Harry Potter movies, and my sister and I thought that the name “Sirius” was pronounced “Cyrus”. We went with the spelling that mom chose. His full name is Cyrus Diego Santana Morris. This was also before Dora and Diego as well, and back when mom still liked Santana. Mom liked Santana our entire childhoods, but apparently he did something she didn’t like and she doesn’t like Santana anymore.

We used Cyrus as an actor in our home movies. During the summers, our two cousins would spend the days with us while their parents worked, and I had a video camera. We were always making movies – Lego movies, live-action movies, Play-Doh movies, etc. Sometimes, Cyrus was a Pokémon, sometimes he was an attack dog.

I moved out of my parents house when I was 21. I’m 29 now, so 8 years ago, I suppose that Cyrus was about 6 years old. Rose stayed around until a couple of years ago when she moved to Seattle. We grew up with Cyrus, but as we moved out of the house, he really became my mom’s dog. A month or two before Cyrus died, mom bought a dog-stroller and took Cyrus on a trip to Springfield, MO. They went on a cave tour and to a botanical garden. I’m really glad that Cyrus got a cool vacation in his last year.

When our relative got married in some random place in Missouri, we brought Cyrus along then, too.

Cyrus always loved company, especially visits from our family back when everyone seemed livelier… There were more family gatherings and, I think, more joy. But our family has had several tragedies, and we haven’t been the same since. I miss Norma, and I miss Noah.

Christmas 2014

As Cyrus got older, mom began putting sweaters on him to keep him warm in the snow. He actually really liked the sweaters and was always resistant to having someone take it off. It was pretty damn cute.

Cyrus was always a constant in our lives, for fourteen years. Rose went from a tween to an adult, I went from a teen to an older-adult. Every Christmas, every laundry day, every random visit, Cyrus was around.

Towards the end he was pretty deaf, so you would have to go to him because he wouldn’t hear you calling. He was mostly lazy, laying around in the same room as us, or waddling around outside, or on a rare occasion where another family dog was around, he would get excited.

I don’t know what happened with his paws, but somewhere along the line he began walking on his front “wrists”, giving him a weird floppy walk. He seemed to get around OK, mom said he never seemed in pain, and he continued like that for… well, this picture was from 2013, so four years I guess. No more running, but plenty of walks around the lake and exploring with mom.

Mom said that taking Cyrus to the vet was one of the hardest things she’s ever had to do. I had always assumed he would just go naturally, and I think that would have been easier? Nothing you can do about an old dog passing away in his sleep. But making that decision, and calling Rose and I to let us know, it was hard for all of us.

Mom said he passed away quickly, and that she had brought a blanket with her that was the one she always put him on while cutting his hair. She said that she swaddled his body afterward and they brought him home, and that he felt like a baby.

They buried him in a shady spot in the yard and put some logs over the area to deter other animals, and dad is working on a gravestone.

I went to their place the day after, and it was hard. I thought maybe mom needed me there for comfort, but I feel like I’m the one who has been crying like a baby all week. Maybe I’m just a lot more sensitive; I get distressed if anyone even harms a stuffed doll (I got really mad at my fiancé for jokingly saying he didn’t like my stuffed bear that I sleep with.)

The absence of our dog just feels like another door shut on our past. When we first came to Missouri, uncle Dan and aunt Norma are the first relatives I remember meeting, and I remember playing Twisted Metal on their son’s PS1. Our extended family changed over time; deaths, divorces, new marriages, new goals. My sister moved away, my cousin got married, I started a business. But the loss of Cyrus just feels like the end of the end of the past, if that makes sense; the past is completely over now. We can never have another childhood dog, and we will never see Cyrus again. We will think about him for the rest of our lives, but we can’t go back and spend one more day with him, or one more day as children.

Cyrus’ final resting place