The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 40

Although it is week 40, I definitely have not written 40 posts for the challenge. Somewhere along the way I got lazy and then super focused on my thesis. I haven’t been making much progress on that, so the last thing I’ve wanted to do was do any kind of writing, for work or otherwise. I’m currently feeling guilty about sitting on my couch eating bad Chinese food and watching TV, so I thought I would give this the attention that it deserves.

So back to the challenge, or at least a chance to write in a focused way with no right or wrong answer. I’m hoping that a little of free writing will get me back on my game and help me figure out what to do with my literature review and theory chapter.

The challenge for this week is as follows:

Express yourself
Tell us about a time you couldn’t quite get your words or images to express what you wanted to express. What do you think the barrier was? For bonus points, try again.

This is an easy one, and I am hoping that when I explain it here, I can work out some of the issues that I have trying to structure a really important chapter in my thesis. Explaining critical theory is the foundational basis for what I am trying to do with feedback and assessment at the university, and if I cannot explain it in a clear, but academic sounding manner, then I have no hope in moving forward with my PhD. If I cannot make connections between the previous research and what I hope to accomplish with my study, then I am not working hard enough, or smart enough for a PhD.

The problem is, I know where I went wrong. I spent the whole summer obsessed with word counts and the number of pages that I wanted to have written that I went for quantity over quality. My methodology chapter came together pretty nicely, and now it is in its third draft and gets a little better every time. That was a really easy chapter to write, the first draft came together in about three weeks. I thought that if I followed the structure and the guide I was using for that chapter while I was writing the theory chapter, I would be in good shape. I became focused on getting my 500 words a day in, and really did not stick to the outline I made at all. I was so disappointed that I did not make it to 30 thousand words by September 1st that I sent off a really crappy draft that was all fluff and no substance. The feedback I got from my supervisor sucked. It was hard to hear. I have to start over. The part that she did like was the part that was written by the group for the paper that is up for publication. I spent two years on that paper, and at this point, after 17 drafts, there is very little of it that is my words. So, the part that I wrote myself is shit, and the part that my supervisors wrote is great, but still doesn’t quite set out to do what I wanted to do. I have a lot to try to redo, and the outline of how to do it, but when I sit down at my laptop, or at a computer at the uni, I cannot seem to get anything written that ‘sounds like it belongs in a PhD’. I see that as having wasted three months. Three months that I needed.

This brings me to the second problem. My funding ends in July. There is no way I am going to get more from the programme, and when it runs out, if I am not done with my degree,, I am not sure that I will even be able to finish. I cannot take out any more loans, cannot afford to stay in Scotland, and will never be able to finish my PhD. I am so stressed about finding a job, trying to get something done in three years that usually takes people four years, and worried about the fact that I will probably have to leave Scotland in a few months. I am so worried about all the things going on in my life that aren’t related to my PhD that I am too stressed to be able to sit down and focus on the work in front of me.

I’d really like to be able to take my mom’s advice and just write out the chapter in my own words and then go back to make it sounds all fancy and pretentious, but I just don’t have the time to do that. I also hoped to work it out here and demonstrate that I actually understand critical theory, and that I can use it, critical pedagogy, and the Ideal Speech Situation to explain why the research on feedback, while it has done a lot to help students in terms of their learning, does not do enough to help create a dialogue between students and teachers and allow them to use feedback as a learning tool. I thought a lot about being able to just free write here and then hopefully get some feedback from my lovely readers. Then I realized that if I did, I’d probably get popped for plagiarism when I turned in the draft because it is published here before it gets published in my thesis.

Sometimes I really hate the fact that we have to be a slave to Turnitin since it not only claims the rights to your work once you submit something there,  but the people at the university who swear by it, swear that if too many words or phrases are strung together then you might be cheating, or if you do not cite your sources correctly then you are trying to maliciously dupe the university into thinking you are smarter than you are. But that is a rant for another day. I’m also a big believer in collaboration, and posting it here and then discussing it with others means that it would not be my own thoughts and ideas, and that is a big no no in the world of the tortured PhD student.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I started this post thinking that I could work through some writing issues, and ended up feeling grouchy and angry that I am having trouble getting the thoughts in my head onto paper, and that now I am falling further behind in my quest to become a doctor of philosophy. I’m taking yet another day off when I cannot afford to take another day off.

Jogging. I am going to go back to jogging. At least being really tired after a run is a better excuse then I am too afraid to sound stupid.


A Scamp Gets Ready for Summer

In the last 24 hours I have spent more time on campus then I have at home. I spent the day reviewing statistics and writing a paper that will hopefully change the lives of three hundred people.

I rewarded myself with an hour by the pool today. My first tan of the summer. Armed with a trashy romance novel, a hat, and sunscreen for the ink, I set out to unwind after a really really really long and emotional few days.

The trashy romance novel was bad (is bad), but there was a part of it that really stuck with me.

I used to believe that time was linear, that one event followed another. One action; one consequence. However, now, I sometimes have the sense that everything, all that I know, believe and experience happens in a great swoop of chaotic activity like the tumbling of dice in a cup.

This pretty much sums up my life right now….that great swoop of chaotic activity.

This pretty much sums up my life for the last year. I have been a swirl of work, school, homework, and a bad relationship. In 15 days I will celebrate one year of being back in the States. I say celebrate, but it is not really a celebration. I have been here for almost 365 days, but I have yet to really come home.

While I wish the tan and trashy romance novels were really how I was getting ready for summer, in truth, the way I am getting ready for summer has more to do with Excel spreadsheets, educational history, philosophies, and leadership frameworks. I will find time to feed my tanning addiction, but it will be with color coded flashcards, Paulo Freire, and Frederick Irving Herzberg. I have three classes and a qualifying exam this summer, so it will be a little more work and a little less fun. It is very reminiscent of the place I was in last year when I was writing my thesis…..well, ok, I wasn’t in class two days a week for 6 hours at a time, there was no need to learn about budget and finance, and there was no grueling (and somewhat pointless) test to take, but the feeling of a summer of discontent is pretty close to the same. I am not worried about passing the exam. I don’t want to take it, but I know that if I spend the summer properly preparing, I will have no trouble writing two very well thought out essays. 

…as long as I can fund the motivation to do what I know needs to get done.

I have to keep reminding myself that I chose this. I signed up to get the degree, and that means doing all of the ridiculous things that come with it. The good thing is, if I survive the summer then I will be that much closer to being able to do my own research. I am very much looking forward to that day.

I’m 33% done with the program.

That is 33% closer to being called Dr. Scamp and moving on to my next adventure.

The Scamp Gets Philosophical

This weekend I have the house to myself, and instead of having a raging party like most kids home alone for the weekend would do, I took the time to crack open my books and do my first homework assignment. Technically the book should have been read during the summer, and while I was writing my dissertation, the book sat on my dresser and collected dust.

I don’t want to read the book. In fact, I cleaned the house today just so I wouldn’t have to read it. The book is a freshman level philosophy book to get us to start thinking about the philosophical ideas that underpin our own teaching practices. I’ve known that answer since I started teaching, and while I am sure it will change over time,  right now I feel good about the old dead white guys whose theories have shaped my teaching. The one thing that worried me about the books and the presentation that we got in class on Tuesday, is that while my school of thought is part of the presentation, the theorists and scholars mentioned on the slides are not the big names in the field. In fact, the names that I expected are not even anywhere on the list. I recognize that I am partial to the theorists that I know, and I am looking forward to learning about the men listed on the slide, but I have to write a final about the theory of my choice and who is a part of it, and I am worried that all of the research I have collected for the last two years to use in my dissertation for CSUF may now have to be expanded to include theorists and ideas that I don’t necessarily like.

While trying to sort out how I felt about teaching, I thought about whether or not the same theories apply to the way I am outside of the classroom. I have recently had the chance to reconnect with two people who are very important to me. One of them lets me ramble and talk nonsense and then helps me sort through the issues and look at things logically. She is the one who best understands philosophy, and has lived a life full of adventure, so I feel that she understands most of the angles that I am coming from. The other one, well, that one asks me hard questions that force me to really think about myself and why I make the choices that I do.It is from conversations with him that I really think about myself….which makes me uncomfortable most of the time.  He has a strong scientific mind, and looks at the world in a way I can’t see. We live a strange existence together, but it works, and I get to exercise my mind in the process.

The thing is, my philosophy is pretty much the same. I’m a critical thinker through and through. I spend a lot of time questioning and analyzing everyone and everything around me, and I do it too so I can get the answers that I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Now if only I can use that as a justification for being difficult, or being a hermit….no one notices if you get stuck in your head or ask too many questions if you are a hermit.

Time to get past chapter 4 in the book. The house is clean, I have surfed the Chive and the Berry, and emptied my brain of all non school related thoughts, I will go back to trying to be a good student.