Archive for ‘Grad School’

August 30, 2015

First Day of School, Ready or Not

by Tabitha Kidwell

Tomorrow, I begin my second year of doctoral studies. As usually is the case on the last official day of summer vacation, I have a mix of emotions.

For one, I’m nervous – I’ll be teaching an undergrad class for the first time at UMD. I taught undergraduate English education majors in Indonesia, but I was able to capitalize on the fact that I was the foreign teacher, which meant that people were more likely to trust me (thanks to my status as a representative of the U.S. education system) and also forgive any mistakes I made (thanks to my status as a sometimes-clueless outsider). Now, I’m teaching undergraduates who are paying a lot of tuition for a good education. During most of the time I spent planning last week, I felt like I was about to puke. That is okay, though, because that’s is how I usually feel when preparing for a year of teaching. Most years, I can’t sleep the night before the first day of school, and that will probably be the case again tonight.

I’m also really excited – I haven’t actually taught for the past two years. 2013 was the first year that I hadn’t gone back to school – as either a teacher or a student – since I was 4 years old, and it was so hard to watch everyone else go back while I had nothing to do but shop for ugly Chirstmas sweaters. In 2014 I did go back to school, as a student, but I was so overwhelmed by the start of graduate school that I didn’t have a moment to lament the fact that I wasn’t teaching. This year, I am so glad to be back in the classroom, planning instruction, building relationships with students, and generally being of use to society. I’m teaching a class called “Teaching English Language Learners Reading and Writing in the Secondary Content Areas,” a course name I pretty much have to look up every time because the powers-that-be at UMD are trying to fit so many buzzwords into one course title. The course’s goal is to help future teachers teach reading and writing more effectively to their English language learning students, but it’s an elective class. Some students are secondary education majors (math ed, science ed, etc.) who know they will have students learning English in their future classrooms, and some are TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) minors who will go on to get an M.Ed. in our program and teach at local schools. But a lot are just taking it as an elective to fulfill their diversity requirement. My guess is that some of those students think they might go abroad and teach English for a year or two after graduation, but most of them just think a class in the college of education will be easy. Which is probably true.

Overall, though, my main emotion is relief. I am so glad that the first year of grad school is over and I have a freaking clue what is going on this year. Last year was really hard, but I grew a lot as a scholar and as a person. It is so great to look at the syllabi for the two classes I am taking and have a basic background and understanding of what we’ll be studying. For my third class, I’m doing an independent study with my advisor, working on developing a literature review I wrote last year into a publishable paper; part of my graduate assistantship is also being her research assistant on some other projects. It’s wonderful to have that good relationship and to be working together on topics I really care about. I also have a healthy amount of extra-curricular involvement, thanks to my ongoing inability to say no: I’m the student rep on the faculty department assembly (which is basically like getting invited into the teacher’s lounge – exciting in principle, but ultimately really mundane), I’m the co-chair of the department graduate student association (which mostly involves planning happy hours), and I’m the graduate student interest section co-chair for Maryland TESOL (which is really exciting because we are hosting the international conference in Baltimore this year). Also, personally, I am so grateful to feel at ease in the city, to have a good network of friends, and to know where I can buy good donuts.

Overall, I think this year will be easier than last, or at least I’m better equipped to deal with the challenges that come up (e.g., impossible reading load, compulsive need to nap). I only have to go out to campus for class Mondays and Wednesdays, and I have a better idea of how to manage my time and workload on the other days. Teaching will be a lot of work, but I think I’ll really enjoy it. It’s amazing what a big difference a few months can make – by the end of spring semester, I felt like I couldn’t do even one more thing for school. Now, I feel ready for a whole new year – or at least I will if I can get through teaching my first class without puking!

May 21, 2015

Recap: First year of grad school

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I last wrote, 7 months ago, I talked about how difficult it was to transition to living in DC and being a full-time grad student. It may come as no surprise, given my long delay in writing, that it continued to be really hard. When I went home at Christmas, after five months in DC, I was frustrated to still not have a strong community or feel at home in DC, even though I had been meeting people and trying to make connections all fall. I was so depressed that I was convinced I would finish out the year at Maryland, then try to transfer to OSU or get a K-12 teaching job back home. It was so tempting to slip back to comfortable, familiar Columbus, Ohio.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that five months is not all that long, and all the efforts I had made to make friends and connections hadn’t yet come to fruition. Friendship isn’t instant, and the acquaintances I had met for drinks in October and November gradually became the friends I called to commiserate after a bad date, or to help me clean up after a crazy party. The classmates I exchanged pleasantries with grew to become the people I asked to edit my papers, then went to celebrate with after those papers got turned in. The roommates who had started out as strangers came to be the friends I walked to church with on Sunday mornings. This spring, I have come to really value my community – I even sometimes wished I didn’t have so many happy hours, barbecues, and bocce ball tournaments filling my schedule.

School got easier, too. Well, actually, school got harder, but I got better at dealing with it. I got into a good daily routine, and found a little bit more balance between life and schoolwork. Sometimes I even stopped working at 6 or 7 PM! I had enough base knowledge that not everything I read was brand new, all the time. I supervised and mentored four great student teachers in Prince George’s County schools. I organized the Maryland TESOL grad student conference in February, presented at the TESOL international convention in Toronto in March, and attended the American Educational Research Association annual meeting in April. I started to build a network and feel like a professional (if junior) member of the teacher education community. And I started to have ideas about what my future might look like with a PhD. (Spoiler alert: It looks good.)

Most importantly, I came to love living in DC. I learned the city well enough to be able to walk, bike, and drive without always using google maps. I settled into familiar running and biking routes. I found a hairdresser, yoga studio, and a bar with a $6 beer/shot/hot dog happy hour special. At some point over the winter it stopped being the place I had moved to, and it became the place I lived. It became home. When I had been thinking about different grad schools, I went to San Francisco to visit Stanford and Berkeley, but felt out of place in California. People were too laid back and the food was too vegan. DC, however, feels like the perfect city for me – perfectionist, competitive, and driven, but also friendly, welcoming, and open. My family lived in the district in the 80s, and I am one of the rare DC residents to actually have been born here, at Providence Hospital in northeast. Like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn, I have returned to my birthplace. I wonder how much the influence of those early years has to do with my integration now. My mom and step-dad came to visit in early May, and we went on a driving tour of all the places I lived when I was young. I was surprised to see that the apartment I lived at when I was an infant is right off of New Hampshire Ave – within 100 yards of the route I take when I drive to campus! I think it’s interesting that, of all the universities I could have gotten my PhD, I chose the place that was within a mile of the first place I ever lived.

I’m not going to say it wasn’t a hard year. It was, and I’m glad it’s over. But I’m also glad it happened, and I’m happy to be right where I am now. As long as year two of grad school doesn’t come too soon.

December 30, 2013

Where are you going?

by Tabitha Kidwell

The last three posts answered the common Indonesian question Dari mana? (Where have you been?). Now, I should probably answer the equally common question: Mau ke mana? (Where are you going?). These questions seemed odd to me when I first arrived Indonesia – why did people care so much about my comings and goings? But I eventually realized these are basically just small talk, and weren’t inherently odder than asking How are you? when you don’t actually care. These questions, being fairly straightforward, are actually also much simpler to answer.

Usually, that is. My future has been up in the air for the past few months until plans all finally fell into place a few weeks ago. I’ll be going to Indonesia for the month of January, helping to lead Access micro scholarship camps like I did last year. I’ll do the national camp in Jakarta, then head all the way to Manokwari(Papua), Ambon, and Kendari in Eastern Indonesia for three regional camps.

Then, I’ll head to Pune, India to volunteer with Deep Griha, which has had a long partnership with my church in Ohio. I’ll work with the teachers at their English medium school to improve their English teaching. How exactly I will do that is unclear as of yet, but I’ll figure it out when I get there. What I am imagining is leading sessions where teachers workshop their language lesson plans, with me helping by providing resources, activity ideas, and English correction as needed. If I find when I arrive that that would not be helpful whatsoever, I will make a new plan.

I’ll be in Pune for 10 weeks, then I’ll go to Kuala Lumpur to spectate for some friends doing a 70.3 triathlon. My friend Jessica and I will travel somewhere around that area, then I will fly home at the End of April. And then I will know where I am going to grad school, and I will move to wherever that is. I got accepted at Maryland, so the decision is between there and University of Michigan. The future is much more clear now, and I’m very excited for it to become the present!

September 30, 2013

Grad School Tour

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’ve just gotten back from an 11-day, 1,500 mile road trip that took me to visit 4 PhD programs, my dad, 2 cousins, my step-brother, 3 former college roommates, 2 friends from Indonesia, and 2 babies. Doesn’t sound like I had time for all that, does it? Now that I think about it, I do feel pretty ambitious. In fact, this blog post is also fairly ambitious, so I won’t judge you if you just skip to the end right now.

Oh, still here? Great! So, the main purpose of the trip was to visit grad schools. I tried to start the grad school search last year from Indonesia, and got totally overwhelmed – every website looked the same and I felt like I couldn’t even begin to sort out which would actually be best for me. Plus, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in an education program, or applied linguistics, or second language studies, or TESOL, or one of the other variations on the theme of language teaching. I’m so glad that I decided to wait a year, even if I feel like my life is on hold right now. If I had applied to the schools I was thinking about a year ago, I would have ended up in a program that was totally wrong for me! Better to take a year now and end up in the right program rather than rush into somewhere where I would be miserable for 5 years… or 6, or 7, or more! Actually visiting programs made it all so much clearer.

I started out at Indiana University, which was great. At Indiana, they actually have two doctoral programs that touch on foreign language education: Second Language Studies, in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Literacy, Culture, and Language Education, in the School of Education. I talked to faculty from both, and learned that the SLS program focused more on non-traditional language learning and adult learning. Given that my interests are traditional language learning in a school environment, it was clear I belonged in the School of Ed. This is too bad, because the most promising source of funding is associated with the other program. Still, they were great hosts and planned a busy visit for me – I even got to visit a class on foreign language teacher professional development, which pretty much exactly matches my interests. The department had a great vibe and it was clear that there was a supportive community. But it’s in Bloomington, Indiana. I met up with my cousin Brendan, who is a senior there and president of his fraternity. “What do you think about living in Bloomington?” I asked. “It’s sweet!” he said “The bars are always packed, there are always huge parties!” “Ok, but you do realize I’m 31, right?” “Oh, yeah, right… yeah, that would suck.” So that’s a drawback. The jury’s still out on IU.

Then I continued on to Madison, Wisconsin, which definitely would not suck. It is such a fun town, surrounded by lakes, with lots of fun neighborhoods to poke around, and no shortage of good cheese and beer. I stayed with Autumn and Esteban, two fellow fellows from Indonesia, and it was a treat to see them on American soil! The University of Wisconsin had the same situation as IU, with a Second Language Acquisition and a World Language/ESL Education program, and it was again clear that I belonged in the latter, though it seemed easier to take classes from both programs. The education program seemed good, and I think I will probably apply to UW!

After that, I swung through Milwaukee and had dinner with my college roommate Sebass and her two little girls, then drove to Chicago to stay with my cousin Kelly and her boyfriend. We ate pancakes, went to the OSU bar, we went to another bar, I told fortunes, we got pita pit, we went running. It was a bit of a blur. We also met up with my step-brother and step-sister-in-law (is that a thing?) for the Bears game, which I gather is an important thing in Chicago.

Then I continued on to East Lansing, Michigan, where I stayed with my dad. I wasn’t thinking too seriously about Michigan State, but thought I would go talk to the program director since my dad works with her and had already talked to her about me and, hey, you can’t hurt anything by making another contact, right? At Michigan State, the only program that was quite right for me was the Second Language Studies program, but it seemed like a great program with a strong chance of getting funding! It was clear that there was a lot of support for graduate students and a good community. But it is located in East Lansing, which, after years of visiting my dad, basically seems like Bloomington with a mall. So we’ll see about MSU.

So then (almost finished here) I went to Detroit, where I stayed with Gibbons, my college roommate (I will insist on calling her by her maiden name until… oh, forever) and her husband, Mr. Gibbons (not his name). We had a blast going on a couple of long runs, hanging out in Royal Oak, and going to Beerfest at the Detroit Zoo (tigers love beer). I also made it to that school up north. As a born and bred Ohio State fan, it is difficult for me to say this, but… I LOVED MICHIGAN. Shh, don’t tell Brutus. I kinda just visited U of M because it was on the way – they don’t actually have any program specifically focused on language learning. I would be in a “Teacher Education” program there. But I realized I already have a B.S. and an M.A. in foreign language education, and I want to be a teacher educator, so a Teacher Ed PhD might not be a bad idea. Also, they said the words “guaranteed tuition, stipend, and healthcare for 4 years for all PhD students.” And they clearly had a strong and supportive community. And Ann Arbor would be a really fun place to spend the next 5 years! So, with apologies to Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer, Michigan might just be my first choice at the moment.

After a little jaunt through Cleveland to see my friend Michelle and her newborn son Henry, I was back in Columbus. Now it’s time to start applications – definitely to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Maryland, and maybe a couple others. It’s funny, before I came home this summer, I pictured myself going to grad school somewhere exciting and urban. When people asked what PhD programs I was interested in, I rattled off a list including Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Columbia, NYU, UPenn, BU, Harvard, Georgetown, etc. Now that I am home, I picture myself somewhere calm and midwestern. Part of that is related to the type of program I want – big state universities are where you can find big schools of education with a variety of doctoral programs and – very important – funding. But it also is related to the fact that I’ve been far away from home for the last two years and now I don’t want to go so far away. I’ve gravitated to schools and places that are comfortable and familiar to me. I was born in DC, within metro distance of UMD; my dad lived in Wisconsin when I was in high school and college; and you cannot be grow up a Buckeye fan without being acutely aware of the existence of Michigan. My life has been, and will be an adventure, but there is nothing wrong with having adventure somewhere familiar. Say, somewhere with beer, cheese, and Big Ten football.