On Returning to School

Last January, I went back to college to work towards my K-12 teaching certification in the visual and digital arts. After ten years of being a graphic designer, three of those years enjoying modest success as a freelancer, why the change now?

Last year I started to feel the grind of working on my own. Great months working on interesting, up-all-night projects bookended by soul-crushing, self-defeating bone dry months. This yin-yang can be extremely invigorating most of the time, but I began to feel the need to have an alternate route to take in case the lifestyle became unsustainable, or worse, unfulfilling.

The Technology

The last time I graduated, back in 2003, I was still handing in hard copies of final essays. I saved my work on ZIP disks. Google was just getting its big-boy pants on, and Facebook had acne. Away messages were your online presence. My dorm had Ethernet installed my sophomore year. Prior to that my roommate and I took turns using the phone cord for dial-up.

Now, all my class material and assignments are online. Registering for classes is as easy as browsing Amazon. I email my papers to my professors. I created a slide presentation on teaching autistic children and presented an hour later using Google Drive, negating the need for both a flash drive and PowerPoint.  My 66-year old printmaking professor is a Facebook friend.

The Experience Once I got over the self-consciousness of being an older student, I felt a bit more youthful being around and working alongside and exchanging ideas with late teens/early 20-somethings. They helped refresh my view of art and ways of creating. During critiques, I felt I was able to bridge the gap with my experience, and their youthful exuberance helped forget our age difference. Their observations were pretty honest and humbling many times, and I found that if they weren’t understanding something I was doing, chances were not many others would, either.

Being on time for attendance again was once again a major thought upon waking. Aside from my graduate classes, my program required me to take a number of studio classes, an experience which I eagerly welcomed back. My car was full of art supplies – printmaking tools, ceramics clay, fabric dyes, bronze ingots, numerous sketchpads. I came home with dirty hands and pants covered in all sorts of marks – paint, clay, glazes, ink, rust… a girl scout sash of different skills I’ve acquired over the past year.

Project management is much easier this time around. I no longer wait until the last minute to complete projects. My writing process is substantially improved, my concepts are sound. My writing is fluid and to the point.  Reading is now a pleasure rather than an inconvenience. My citations are impeccable, and I now know the difference between MLA and APA format. Bullshitting is no longer a major writing tool.

Why Go Back?

My past year has been light on both free time and sleep, and scheduling my time well is paramount. I didn’t know if I would be able to handle the workload along with a job, but here I am a year later still doing it and enjoying it.

What I wanted to share is that if there is something that you want to do, like going to school, even just for the sake of learning something new completely unrelated to your current career, you will find a way and you will make it work. I recommend to anyone that if you have it in mind to return to school, do it now. There are plenty of options to help you financially that work with your schedule, and like any other endeavor in life, there will be no perfect time to go until it is too late.

So here’s to being the old guy.

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