Midterms – already?!

As unbelievable as it may seem, my first set of midterms is already upon me and I’m studying hard for them. As to be expected, I’ve had a huge amount of reading and a tremendous amount of other work. With the exception that my personal life is so chaotic (will someone please wave a magic wand and make it go away), I am really enjoying the experience. Just the same, I’ll be glad to make it to the end of this week – when my first two midterms will have been completed.

Again, this past week was extremely busy and I had far too much to do (besides UCR). I would greatly like to devote 100% of my time to UCR but, alas, that is not currently possible. As I’ve previously reported, all of my classes are fascinating and, fortunately, they take turns frying my brain each week (I wonder if they’re planned this way).

While I’ve got to get back to other matters, I did want to mention that one of the most fascinating things I’ve noted about my personal experiences at UCR (besides meeting a lot of extremely fascinating and  intelligent people) is that my perspective of the way in which I look at my studies is very different from when I was younger. Sure, I’m a lot older and wiser (hopefully) but that has also given me a very different view of the material discussed in most of my classes – I have far more biases and experiences to draw upon which makes everything so much more relevant. As an undergrad, as well as a grad student (twenty years ago), many things which seemed entirely theoretical are now much more than that.

Taking a break from my reading

. . . to update this blog. Last week was one of the most hectic and excruciatingly stressful weeks I’ve had an in a very long time but not due to my studies at UCR. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to write much (at least not here) so I’m going to catch up today. The personal matters I’m dealing with have been simply overwhelming and I’m fighting to keep my head in my books. My classes at UCR; however, remain extraordinarily enlightening and I’m absolutely thrilled with the quality of instruction.

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken so many classes where the instructors (in this case, real professors) can not only chew gum and walk at the same time but are; indeed, brilliant individuals who have no need to pontificate on their own virtues. Each course is very dynamic and I walk away from each with a few million more questions than I had when I entered the classroom (which, is actually a good thing). One of the  things that strikes me as being very different than when I earned my Masters Degree is that the matter of “statistics” is now dealt with in a completely different manner. I can remember sitting in previous classes working over piles of statistical problems in order to understand the concepts (surprisingly, I haven’t forgotten everything I learned 20 years ago) while now, much of the work is now left to (or blamed on – ha, ha!) computers.

Mentioning computers – wow! How things have CHANGED over the past twenty years! I completed my Masters on a Commodore 64 using a word processor that I manually entered into the machine from magazine (and, for my BA, I had to use a typewriter <GASP!>). Now, I bring my laptop to class, do all of my work on a computer, e-mail my professors, even register for parking on the Internet. The young “whippersnappers” (a term that I’ve been using with increasing frequency) have no IDEA as to how much technology has enhanced formal academic pursuits. This does not mean that things are now “easy” (they’re not) but that much more attention can be provided on meaningful things – such as learning.

To emphasis this point, some of my fellow-students were “whining” that they had to manually enter data sets into a computer program for analysis (gosh, imagine that) and our instructor has now sent us files with contain the raw data so we don’t have to worry about such things. Okay, I admit, I’m getting spoiled too – I like it when those materials are provide to us. Just the same, entering data into a computer program and letting that construct pretty charts and graphs (not to mention, do all of the number crunching too) feels like a luxury compared to doing everything by hand. Ah, life is good!

Well, almost good. Aside from the ongoing personal trauma (again, unrelated to UCR), I’ve also come to temporarily HATE my computer. Actually, I don’t really hate it, I just hate Microsoft and friends. When school began, in addition to buying a few million books and other supplies, I had to get another computer. I’ve had my home PC for a very long time and it’s been trying to give up the ghost for at least a year – something that absolutely can’t happen during the middle of a quarter. As a geek, I knew that now was the time to get a new computer (if I want to survive) and got a great deal on a new system. While the machine is fabulous, setting it up and transferring data is an entirely different matter. To compound the situation, I’ve learned that it is now essential to keep everything backed up on redundant hard drives (through a system of networked RAID 1 drives) to prevent total meltdown. Case in point – I nearly killed my Commodore 64 (twenty years ago) when I stayed up all night (not an uncommon occurrence) finishing up a paper only to have the blankety-blank thing lock up on me when I hit “save” in order to preserve my document on a cassette tape. (Remember those? That was in the days when the pterodactyls still ruled the skies and even floppy drives hadn’t been invented yet.) I ended up having to re-write the ENTIRE paper which was not a pleasant experience. Not wanting to ever deal with that type of situation again and due to the fact that it is now relatively easy (did I say that?) to use networked drives in order to save my precious data from a computer meltdown. Getting back to “easy” – well, let’s say that it took me nearly an entire week and a half in order to get the blankety-blank thing working. Not only did I have to completely restore my new computer to its original state (I really did) but also spent endless hours on the phone to various tech support people in India who also couldn’t get things to work. Did I mention that this was a genuine nightmare?! I really don’t understand how anyone could deal with these issues if they weren’t fully computer literate.

Okay, I’m beginning to break out in hives from all of the stress just thinking about the computer mess – most things are working splendidly now so I can get on with my studies. Back to the books. . .

Happy as a clam

Well, I’ve got to admit, I’m extremely impressed with all of my courses at UCR, as well as with all of the professors. It’s a wonderful environment to be in and certainly one that lives up to the fact that it is a 1st tier research institution. I’m pleased with the professionalism of all of my instructors and am also awed by their humility. At some institutions, the professors tell you how wonderful they are and expound upon their reputation as “scholars” – at UCR, not one of my professors has done that; rather, they speak very humbly while, at the same time, their expertise shines through via their lectures, presentations, class notes, and openness to questions. Granted, I’ve only been in school for a week but it doesn’t take long to realize that academic quality and the continual search for whatever that really means is at the core of what is expected of all.

On a more personal note, I’m experiencing “flashbacks” to my years of experience as a teacher and am excited to read about all of the research that has occurred over the past twenty years which, for the most part, substantiates quality pedagogical practices that good teachers had previously used based upon their intuition. Of course, a huge amount of research remains to be done but it is still quite exciting to observe how things have progressed over a relatively short period of time. Other matters within the field of education, of course, still need to be addressed but I’ll save those things for later.

I’m also very pleased with the essential role that preparation for the future (i.e., what to do after being piled higher and deeper) is being given at this early stage of the game. One seminar is being devoted specifically to this topic and we’re exploring various possibilities that may be available to us after graduation. Clearly, UCR is a school that is not only concerned with bringing students into their programs but is concerned with the future of their graduates. Very exciting. Very professional.

My first classes!

I’ve got a bit to catch up on but this will bring my blog current. As noted previously, I’ve been very, very busy getting settled into school. On top of that, my “old life” continues to swarm around me and I’m, quite frankly, very tired of it. All I can do is hope and pray that it will all be behind me in the near future and that my schedule will settle down as I want to focus 100% of my attention on my studies.

Last Thursday, I attended my first two classes and WHAT A JOY they both were! I felt like I had finally arrived home after a very long (and much unwanted) journey. It was exciting to immersed back into a field which I know so well only to discover that my previous training and experiences remain relevant today. While techniques may change and research is certainly beginning to reveal why certain exemplary (but previously unstudied) pedagogical practices work, much remains to be done. After attending these courses, my mind was left with countless possibilities for potential research topics that beg to be explored. Of course, my overactive mind merely went into overload as I thought about many of these but that’s alright! It’s better to have too many ideas than not enough.

I just returned, a moment ago from my third (of four) classes and, again, I was absolutely thrilled with the calibre of instruction, the professionalism and expertise of the professor, and enthralled with the topics discussed. Without question, the academic environment at UCR is VASTLY SUPERIOR, in every way, nearly all others I have experienced over the past twenty years (since I earned my MA).

One thing that I really noticed – something that hasn’t ever happened before – is that unlike my previous educational experiences, my age seemed to actually be a benefit. Specifically, my life experiences made once theoretical topics jump out at me with relevancy – simply because I have gone through so much. This was vastly different from both my undergrad and grad experiences because, at that time, I simply did not know what I do today. Interestingly, it also causes me to have many, many more questions  – too many to ask (otherwise, the professor wouldn’t accomplish anything else) – so I asked only the most relevant ones. My only concern is that, at this point in time, I’m free associating so many ideas that I might overload my professors. 🙂

I’m going to have to call it quits tonight as I’m just too tired. But it’s a “good tired” – not the stressed out “tired” that I’ve come to know and hate. 🙂 Tomorrow, I’ll be attending my fourth (and final) class for this semester and I’ll write more then.

Welcome to my blog!

While I first established this blog just one week ago, I’ve been too busy to really get everything up and running – I believe that it is now functional and will begin documenting my wonderful journey through a Ph.D. program at the University of California, Riverside. This blog will contain my personal feelings about my experiences while my  companion web site, Jeff’s Growls, will emphasize the more formal aspects of my academic pursuits.

For now, I would like to provide a very brief outline of the past couple of weeks – events that will forever change my life and; indeed, are the beginning of what I will consider “my second life.” Ironically, I hit the magic age of “fifty” (can you imagine?) in July – my own mother had been eagerly anticipating this birthday for many, many years – just so she could buy me a membership in AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). Well, she had her wish granted and purchased a membership for me on my birthday (gosh, isn’t that special?)!

While I’ve never been one to care much about how old I am (it really doesn’t bother me), I certainly never experienced a mid-life crisis (at least not one that I’m aware of), although my life has been quite miserable for a very long time (think YEARS). Fortunately, I tend to be very persistent – a trait some may not appreciate 🙂 – one of my long term dreams has been to eventually pursue a Ph.D. so that I may conduct research into matters that may serve to not only utilize the skills I’ve acquired over the years but will, hopefully, serve to benefit others. At the time I completed my Master’s Degree 20 (ahem) years ago, my statistics instructor pleaded with me to become a school administrator (I can’t imagine ANYTHING I would hate more than that) because he believed that my thoughts were exactly those that good administrators (an oxymoron) should have.  Not only would I HATE being an administrator (what a waste) but I am interested in research (something that a Ph.D. focuses on). Interestingly, my Master’s Degree Advisor also counseled me to continue my education. Stupidly, I did not do so (had I had a crystal ball, I would have done so). Needless to say, I’ve been swept away by life for the past two decades and what I’ve learned and experienced have certainly clarified what I should do when (or if) I grow up. 🙂

Getting back to this welcome message, I received an e-mail notification that I had been accepted into UCR’s Ph.D. program in Education with an emphasis is Special Education on September 12, 2008 at approximately 4 PM (I immediately affirmed my acceptance) and subsequently learned that I had been invited to a GSOE (Graduate School of Education) meeting on Monday, September 15th. What made this answer to my prayers even more exciting is that, for the first time in years, many other wonderful things were also happening; some, but certainly not all of these included:

  • September 11, 2008 – The United States Senate unanimously approved the American’s with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (previously entitled the “ADA Restoration Act of 2007”) which rightfully overturned numerous Supreme Court rulings that had essentially destroyed most of the protections afforded by the ADA since it’s original passage by Congress in 1990. My favorite quote from the Congressional Record from the Senate’s passage of the ADA Amendments Act (September 11, 2008, page S.8349, bottom right corner) was made by one of the bill’s original sponsors, Senator Tom Harkin:

    the Supreme Court decisions have led to a supreme absurdity, a Catch-22 situation that so many people with disabilities find themselves in today. For example, the more successful a person is at coping with a disability, the more likely it is the Court will find that they are no longer disabled and therefore no longer covered under the ADA. If they are not covered under ADA, then any request that they might make for a reasonable accommodation can be denied. If they do not get the reasonable accommodation, they cannot do their job; and they can get fired and they will not be covered by the ADA and they will not have any recourse” (emphasis added).

  • September 12, 2008 – Around 4:00 P.M., I received an e-mail stating that I had been accepted into a Ph.D. Program at UCR. (Okay, I was so happy that I blubbered!) I immediately accepted and then received an e-mail inviting me to a Graduate School of Education orientation meeting on Monday (Sept. 15),
  • September 17, 2008 – The United States House of Representatives unanimously approved the Senate’s slight change to the ADA Amendments Acts (the House had overwhelmingly approved the ADA Restoration Act and forwarded the original bill to the Senate in June 2008) and held a ceremony to send the bill onto the President for his signature (as of the date of this entry, Bush has not yet done so but the White House did issue a press release, on Sept. 17th, stating that he will sign it into law).
  • September 18, 2008 – I enrolled in my first classes at UCR for the doctoral program. Ironically, this day was also the first National Attention Deficit Disorder Awareness Day as per a formal resolution made by the United States Senate. On a more personal note, when I arrived home later that evening, I received an e-mail from a text book publisher asking if I would be willing to permit one of my photographs (I’m not a photographer, although my father was) that I had taken last year as part of one of my many hobbies, Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) of the Dana Point Harbor: that photograph may be found on my Flickr site.
  • September 25, 2008 – The day started of with a bang – President George W. Bush signed the American’s with Disabilities Act Amendments Act into law (thereby helping millions of special needs Americans) and I attended my first classes at UCR (both of which I enjoyed immensely). Then, when I arrived home, I checked my e-mail only to learn that my photograph (mentioned above) had been accepted for publication!

Clearly, these are fabulous events, all of which I am personally very proud to have watched transpire. The future, for all Americans, including those with special needs, is now brighter and, for me – my own future hasn’t look this wonderful in many, many years.