Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Back to School

On Monday, September 25, 2006, I returned to the classroom for the first time in nine years.

If you had told me back in May of 1997, right after I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in History from the academically-oriented private institution Georgetown College, that I would be returning to school at age 31 to get an Associate’s degree in Radiographic Technology, I would have said you were crazy. I always envisioned the possibility of returning to school, but I envisioned graduate school in either History or English, pursuing a Ph.D for the purpose of teaching at the collegiate level. Indeed, at this time last year, I was in the long and tedious process of applying for graduate schools in Creative Writing, hoping ultimately to be able to teach college while I continued to pursue my dream of writing full time.

Throughout my twenties, I had always said I would return to school at age thirty if nothing was going on with my writing career by that time. I wanted to focus, during my twenties, on strengthening my writing and learning my craft, and I knew that if I went to school, I would have to put writing on the back burner.

Despite always saying I would return to school at thirty, I never actually thought it would happen. I did not think I would be in a financial position to ever quit my job, or reduce my hours, to attend graduate school. I figured I would be “stuck” by being in a job where I made too much money to afford to quit.

Well, all that was taken care of for me in December of 2004 when I lost my job...two months to the day before my 30th birthday. It seemed rather Providential. After the normal period of panic that follows such an event, I very quickly began to see the situation as one that was freeing me from a sort of corporate prison. No longer did I have to be chained to a desk, doing a job I was overqualified for and which I hated, working for mean-spirited, domineering, and incompetent bosses. I was now free to pursue my dreams, to go back to school, and to get my life back on track. I swore to myself that I would never again sit at a desk for eight hours a day.

I took the GRE and scored very well, and afterward, I spent some time determining what I wanted to pursue in graduate school – History or Creative Writing. I ultimately settled on Creative Writing and set about applying to schools of my choice.

I went back to work in the late summer of 2005, waiting tables with the hopes of getting a bartending job in the future. No desk work for me. No sir.

But, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

By December of 2005, my ex-wife and I had reconciled and gotten back together, and she was pregnant again. I was not making enough money waiting tables and had been unable to secure any positions as a bartender. So I decided to compromise on my No Desk Job rule and took a job as a Legal Assistant with a small law firm. The pay was not excellent, but it was better than I had been making waiting tables, and it was enough to get us by. After all, it was only going to be a 6-month job...by the summer, I would be moving, heading off to graduate school.

Winter turned to spring and after what seemed like ages, the graduate school letters began filtering in.




One after another: Dear Byron, Thank you for applying, blah blah blah blah blah. We wish you luck in your pathetic, ill-conceived writing career. Have a nice life, loser.

Needless to say, I was quite upset for a while when none of the schools accepted me. Instead of selling the house and moving, we would be staying put, with me spinning my wheels for at least another year. We seriously considered moving anyway, finding new jobs and going to Houston to be near my parents. But ultimately we decided that such a decision was not in our best interests, so we decided to stay in Lexington, and I started looking for better paying jobs.

Four months passed and I was (as usual) unable to find better work. I applied for everything from other paralegal jobs to driving a Scotts Lawn Service truck. I could not seem to get attention from anyone. The one job I did interview for (and probably could have gotten) was a job with a contractor working inside Home Depot, doing point of sale merchandising and inventory. It would have fit with my No Desk Job rule and it would have been a nice, solitary, supervise-yourself kind of job. I also could have gone into work as early as four o’clock in the morning, leaving by noon. Perfect for me.

Unfortunately, it only paid $10 per hour, so I could not afford to take it.

I was finally faced with the necessity of getting a second job in order to pay daycare expenses for our new baby.

Around this same time, I began kicking around other options for my future. I basically had four choices: 1) Continue working as a paralegal, hoping to get some experience and move into a better paying law firm; 2) Keep searching for better paying jobs in different industries; 3) Apply again for graduate school and hope to start in 2007; or 4) Look into the option of attending a community college and getting certified to become a radiographer.

Several of my family members and friends had told me a number of times about Radiography. The job market is good, the pay is excellent, the health insurance is great, and there is no ball and chain connecting you to a cubicle desk for eight hours. It also offered a way to work with people in need and to help people – something that has become increasingly important to me in the last few years. It all sounded pretty good to me.

I was very hesitant, however, to make the step. For one thing, I needed to work a second job in order to pay my bills. Working a full-time job, a part-time job, and going to school three or four nights a week just was not possible. Furthermore, I felt nervous about the possibility of taking on an additional $40,000 in school loan debt, not to mention the “what if” scenarios surrounding whether or not I would ultimately like the job. I felt (and feel) certain that it is a job I would like, but you can never know for sure until you get into something. There was also still the question of whether or not I wanted to go to graduate school and teach college.

I finally decided that teaching college was not something I wanted to do. Students, papers, lectures, grading homework and tests, reading and evaluating student writing, tenure requirements...none of that sounded very appealing to me anymore. Where would I find time to do my own creative writing if I was busy teaching and guiding others all the time? It began to seem that Radiography would provide me the perfect situation – good pay, good insurance, strong job market, no desk or cubicle, and the free time outside of work to pursue my writing career.

So I finally set my fears and inhibitions aside and met with an admissions counselor at a local community college. My parents chipped in and agreed to help out with the daycare expenses. As such, I have enrolled in the Limited Medical Radiography program, which is a sort of precursor to the Radiologic Technology program. The LMR program takes five quarters and certifies you to be an X-ray technician in doctor’s offices and urgent treatment centers. If you choose to continue on into the Rad Tech program, you take an additional five or six quarters of classes and get an Associate’s degree, certifying you to administer digital scans such as MRI’s, CT Scans, and mammograms. The digital scans are where the money is.

I personally am hoping for a job working every day with Women’s Breasts.

I feel excited about having finally made the decision to do this, and I feel excited about being qualified to do a certain kind of job that most people cannot do. For so many years I have searched for jobs, feeling overqualified for everything, but not skilled at anything. It is a sad fact that one can have a college degree in this society but still have to go back to school to get an Associate’s degree just so they can find a job that pays well and does not make them miserable. I realize I made the conscious choice to major in a non-job-friendly field like History. But, at the time, I was assuming I would go to graduate school. I made the best choice I could make with the information I had at the time.

My first class experience in nine years was an interesting one. For starters, I was the only man in the classroom. The ages ranged from a group of young women in their early twenties to a couple of middle-aged women. The lecture consisted of a PowerPoint presentation where the instructor scrolled through various slides and read them more or less verbatim, offering a few comments here and there. We copied down what was on the screen.

If the presentation was less than stellar, the students (at least some of them) were even worse. One openly whined when she discovered we were expected to take notes (“You mean we gotta take notes??”), and several others seemed quite put out that we were having to write things down which may not “be on the test.” Another student (it might have been the same one who complained about having to take notes) asked whether the test consisted of only items in the notes, or if we would “have to read the book and stuff” too. Apparently, she did not want anything like reading to stand in the way of her education.

By the end of class, the instructor basically told us what the four “short answer” questions would be on the test, and told us the direct answers to those questions. She then quizzed us on a sampling of the “multiple choice” and “true and false” questions from the test. They consisted of questions like, “Normal temperature for an adult is a) 99.2, b) 96.4, c) 98.6, or d) 97.8.” Some were a bit more difficult than that, but all were taken directly from the notes we had just gone over in class.

The test is next Monday.


Julie said...

Best of luck with it, Schmoo!!!

Becca (Miriya) said...

Go get 'em, Tiger! (As MJ says to Petey/Spidey...)

I think you've made good, smart choices. Life is a journey--you've done & learned important things along the way, and changes in what you thought the path would be are not wrong turnings.

May you go from strength to strength!

Stephen said...

You'll rethink your breast comment when you're constantly checking those 'midfifty DeLites' you mentioned earlier. However, it is good to see that you are happy. Good luck and don't get bored.

Scott said...

Thanks, folks, for the kind words. I hope this turns out well for me.

As for the breast comment, of course that was just a joke. I actually doubt that men get hired very often for those positions, and I really don't think it's something I would want to do anyway (although I certainly would do it if that's the job I was offered).

Also, someone pointed out to me that my tone in places might have been condescending or insulting to people with Associate's degrees. That wasn't my intention at all. After all, I am going to be one of those people in a few years. My point in talking about Associate's degrees vs. Bachelor's degrees was simply to make a commentary on the decreasing value of a Bachelor's degree, not to insult those who have an Associate's degree.

For what it's worth, the class I had last night...Medical Law and Ethics...was much more challenging and academically-oriented than the Monday class.