No Fancy Name
Friday, June 16, 2006
non-traditional students
[warning: there's no thesis in this post. I realized that at the end. It's just stream of consciousness with links in it.]

I've always been a non-traditional student. When I went to college the first time, it was as a non-traditional student in an extremely pretentious-named program. When I went to grad school the first time (and lasted all of half a semester) I was thus four years younger than everyone else, so while not officially designated "non-traditional," I was. (That wasn't why I left.) When I went back to school a few years ago, first to community college and then in the business department at SJSU, I was a good seven to ten years older than almost everyone. Now, when doing the MA in English I'd say I'm probably the average age, because we have a lot of people who took time off, or who are secondary school teachers and have been working for awhile, or they've come back to school because they like the intellectual environment (my friends Tim and Annie, for example, are a lovely married couple in their 50s, dutifully working their way through the program. Tim's the prez at a local Bryman College and Annie works at SJSU in the student services/financial aid/something like that office).

In other words, I've been or seen numerous types of students over the years (I hope this will help make me a good teacher, eventually). For instance, the three types of "A" students Dead Dad talks about. But in my little cosmos of education there's a significant portion of people who are "A" students inside, who want to be dutiful or can be brilliant and can't always maintain it because of external forces (family, job, etc) and then end up being maniacal at the end and it all blows up in their face and they don't end up being "A" students. In other words, people in the cracks between the three types he talks about.

I know the point of his post is this:
But I worry sometimes that academia is too geared towards the Dutiful, and too quick to punish or shame the Maniacal. The “overall” gpa as an indicator definitely favors the dutiful over the maniacal, even though the maniacs’ best work is almost always better. ‘Distribution requirements’ were written by and for the dutiful. The concept of ‘prerequisites’ has Dutiful written all over it.
As someone who has operated in all three camps (I know which one I fall in for real, feel free to guess although it shouldn't be that hard) my transcripts look like a train wreck. I do think there's a sort of black hole that can suck in students—good ones and bad ones—while they're attempting to fulfill distribution requirements before getting on to "the good stuff," students who might hit a really bad patch of taking courses they don't want to take, and do poorly for a number of reasons both internal and external, and end up just dropping out entirely. Then again, if the school has a wide range of courses to fulfill requirements, and the student has a decent advisor, that black hole can be avoided—but how many students really have a good advisor for these things?

My friend Kate is a non-traditional student. She flunked out of SJSU a lifetime ago, when she was eighteen or nineteen (I won't tell you how old she is now, but I will say she's old enough to have been my babysitter when I was a kid). She got the spark of going back to school a couple years ago, and did it. She took all her lower-division stuff at community college and this fall she's "moving up to big kid school" and will be a a Behavioral Sciences/Psychology double major at SJSU. Go congratulate her.

My friend DeeDee is also a non-traditional student. She's a bit older than me as well, and her original degree was at a christian school which ended up being non-accredited somewhere along the line. Basically, DeeDee has spent the last eighteen years teaching English and Spanish in junior high...religious schools which looked at her degree and where it was from and not the lack of her actual state teaching license. In short, DeeDee went back to school a few years ago to get a "real" BA and ended up with three. She triple majored in English, Spanish, and Linguistics and now she can get an emergency teaching credential in California and teach/sub—at the first-year teacher level of pay. She's also doing the credential program at SJSU so in a year or two she'll be exactly where she should have been twenty years ago. She's a great teacher, the kind every parent would want for their kid.

I have a great deal of respect for non-traditional students, and I truly hope there will always be a place for the people who fall through the cracks or take a really long detour to get where they're going or decide they want to go somewhere completely different. If there's not always a place for these folks, I'll start my own damn school!



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