When making the decision to go back to school, the decision was made with much thought. I was just beginning my second year of teaching, when I discovered that standing in front of a classroom was just not enough. How could I possibly make a difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities, when the only decisions I could make were the decisions that only affected the individuals within the four walls of my classroom? How could I possibly make the magnitude of changes that need to be made within the programs that are offered for individuals with disabilities without more education and experience to guide me? That is where the journey began. I began intensely investigating graduate programs that would fulfill my need. At the time, I did not realize how much I would learn about myself on this journey and how much I would grow personally and professionally. I was in for a great shock.
As I began the Adult Learning Program, I was very surprised that I was the only student on the disabilities track. At first, I was a bit disappointed, but then quickly realized it was a great opportunity for the track to be tailored to my passion. I took the introduction classes to the program that focused on adult learning, adult development and research. The introduction classes really provided me with the opportunity to see how adults learn. I found this highly fascinating and beneficial since I spent a lot of time in my undergraduate classes studying how children learn. The core classes provided a base to build on in order to prepare me for what I called the “action classes”.
I thoroughly enjoyed the action classes; they were very much in and out of my comfort zone. Program planning, instructional strategies, and groups and teams, were classes that were very intense with a lot of “action”, hence the term “action classes”. These classes made me reach farther than any other classes to actually apply what I have learned and at times apply it as I was learning. Coming from an educational background, I always hope for the opportunity to apply something I am learning or have learned. What better way than to show you have learned it, than to implement?
Program planning is a perfect example of learning and applying. I was very challenged by the task of developing a program as I was learning how a program is developed. This is the first time in graduate school where my learning style did not match the professor’s teaching style. Traditionally, I would have preferred to learn the entire process of program development and then be given the opportunity to develop a program independently. The class was run differently and I had to adjust and follow the instructors lead. I found myself wondering, “Is this the way students felt when I leaned toward a specific learning style?” Due to teaching special education, I was always careful not to teach to one specific learning style and tried to incorporate various styles into a lesson and this experience has really made the importance of teaching to everyone’s style standout.
My experience in the groups and teams class and the instructional strategies class varied immensely. In both classes, I was required to work in a group and develop a project/paper. The two groups I was assigned to also varied. Although more was expected from my groups and teams group, I found it to be much more challenging working with the group in the instructional strategies class. Although I struggled the entire time, yes, I mean the entire time, I learned a lot about group dynamics through this experience and learned how vital it is to be authentic and that each group goes through stages and it is all about how you handle those stages.
The turning point for me within this program was when I began taking my track courses. This is the first time in my educational experience as an adult where I was asked what I wanted to learn. When that question was posed to me, I thought long and hard. What did I want to learn in the field that I had such passion? It did not take me long to develop a list of items that would fill two 15 week time spans. As I made my way through my track courses which were run as independent studies, I learned the true meaning of a self-directed learner.
As I completed the required reading, developed my own thoughts, and wrote on the topics presented I learned a lot from study the topics independently. Every other week, I was given the opportunity to speak with the professor about the topics I was learning about for several hours. I felt challenged, engaged, and privileged to have opportunity to speak to a renowned professor who genuinely shared the same passion for which I possessed. I could not believe I was able to debate, question, and defend some of topics that were discussed. All I can say about this experience is…WOW!
Now, as things are coming to an end, I am continuing to learn through the action learning project. Although this project has not gone the way I projected, I have learned a lot about management and how management can manage a problem into existence. Although I learned this concept through the consulting class, I was able to see this first hand. I was also lucky enough to experience resistance, the importance of being authentic, and the do’s and don’ts of client management. Good and bad, I have learned from both.
As I look back, I would not have done anything differently. I feel I selected the right program for me and my aspirations. My hope for future students on the disability track is that they too will be given the opportunity to select their passion and share it with a professor.