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The Graduate

The Price of an Education

Katelyn Phelan
MSM Class of 2011

(5/2012) Lately, Iíve been thinking a lot about educationónot only because my job is to educate or because Iím taking an education class, but also because Iíve been reflecting over the last few yearsówhat exactly have I learned in school and in my life? And what has been the cost?

Certainly I learned in school; I memorized facts and dates, patterns and techniques. I mastered responding to vague prompts and developing clear and concise prose. I wrote papers; I painted paintings; I studied for exams; I read books, essays, articles, and ramblings; I sat through hours upon hours of class; and I loved all of it. I loved living in the slightly artificial world of academia, with my primary concerns being whether I would finish my paper on Edith Whartonís Ethan Frome on that night or the next. The cost of this education wasÖ.um, a lot. With scholarshipsÖit was still a lot, but I truly did learn so much.

Even so, the world of books and papers can only teach its students so much. And so I ventured to a different continent to interface with real people from a different background than my own. I spent three months in Florence, Italy talking with people from all over the world, seeing buildings constructed hundreds of years ago, and eating a lot of pasta. My immersion in this country was at once exhilarating and frustrating, but more importantly, it was intensely educational. I left Europe with a self assurance that previously I did not possess. The price for this education? Again, a lot of money, especially because the worth of the dollar compared to the Euro, but the things I learned and did in Italy will certainly stay with me throughout my entire life.

That book learning and self assurance would be soon tested though, with my arrival at my first real jobó Delone high school. This first year of teaching has taught me more in some ways than my own education or study abroad experience. Iíve had to rely on and develop skills and qualities which I previously possessed in varying amounts, some of which have been essential to my success thus far.

The first and perhaps most important one is patience. I have always considered myself a patient person, but let me tell you, patience is a necessary quality in education and it will be tried and tried again. When I explain an assignment once, twice, three times, and the kid who has been doodling on the cover of his ripping vocabulary book looks around bewildered and asks what heís supposed to do, it takes all of my self mastery to explain myself again. Of course patience is also needed when a student doesnít understand something and I have to explain it several times in different ways. This patience is much easier to have; Iíll happily explain myself all day to someone who is having trouble understanding, but to the kid who ignores me and then wants to know whatís going onóit takes a truck-load of patience to deal with that.

Flexibility is also essential. This is a skill Iím 50/50 on. I like to think Iím flexible, but planning is also very important to me. I always like to have an idea of whatís going on at any given time: what am I going to do that day, that weekend, next summer, the next five years...you get the picture. I like to have a vision of where Iím going and what Iím doing. Seemingly this is wonderful for teaching. You should always have a plan because itís not a good idea to walk into a room of teenagers without a single idea of what to do.

However, rigidity is a serious problem, because really, few things ever go according to plan. Maybe the periods are shortened and you suddenly canít fit everything into that day, or maybe when you present something the kids stare at you like youíve sprouted two green furry heads and you spend ten minutes explaining what optimism and pessimism are, complete with detailed examples, which takes away time from the activity you had planned. Or, maybe you anticipated that theyíre going to have trouble with the difference between objective and subjective descriptions, but they grasp it easily and youíre left with twenty extra minutes to fill. Flexibility with your school, your students, and yourself is essential to doing a good job and keeping your own sanity.

The things Iíve listed are some of the more frustrating aspects of teaching, which as May rolls in, seem to be coming about more often. Despite all of this, there are incredibly rewarding aspects of teaching, which Iím really enjoying. I love seeing students improve, whether itís in their study skills or in writing, any improvement is a huge reward to a teacher. This satisfaction that comes from doing my job well is what keeps me coming back each day and trying my hardest.

Based on the ways Iíve grown personally and the things Iíve learned this year as a teacher, itís almost hard to believe that one year ago, I was holed up in the Mountís library contemplating Dostoevsky to finish my honors project and spending hours on end covered in oil paint as I tried to finish my senior art project. There are times when I really miss my immersion in classes these humanities classes, but there are huge perks to what Iím doing now.

For one, Iím a "real" adult now. I have responsibilities, get a regular (small) paycheck, and wake up at 6 a.m. every day. Okay, so the last point doesnít make me an adult, but sleeping in is one of the things I long for from college. Though I still look like I could be in high school (as more people than I wish to count have told me or wrongfully assumed), I have entered the "real world." This real world, as youíve read, has been a thrill, an accomplishment, a challenge, at times unwelcome, but an important step in my life nonetheless.

For the three and a half years I have written regularly about my daily life. When at the Mount I wrote about everything from classes to anxieties about the future. And thought it may seem like college students have the easiest life of all, there is that worry that lies on the horizon for every student: what am I going to do with my life and how am I going to get there? Especially in todayís economy thatís not an easy question, and itís something that plagued me during my years at the Mount. Youíve seen my solution at least for the present to the question "whatís after graduation" and how itís turned out for me. Iíve taken you along some of the problems, anxieties, and joys of a first year teacher, and though Iíve learned that itís not possible to know what teaching is really like until you actually do it, I hope Iíve given you a taste.

This is my last article for the graduate column, and my last regular article, though Iíll still be here and there around the paper. If youíve been a faithful, sporadic, or even one-time reader, I thank you for listening to my thoughts and reflections. I also thank you for growing with me as I went from a junior year intern for the paper to a college graduate at her first job. Iíve loved writing for the paper and learning from it and you. In some ways, my education from the Emmitsburg News-Journal has been the best kind of allóit was free!

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan