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.