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I was a crazy course shopper

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

After four years of Arena Scheduling at my high school, I had some serious experience designing my own schedule and customizing my education.

I’d taught myself French and trigonometric functions over the summer to skip ahead. I’d gotten high school credit for apprenticing with an orchestra and performing in a professional play. I’d created an independent study for Advanced Placement 12th grade English so I could get credit for being in the Folger Shakespeare seminar for high schoolers.

I was prepared to make my education my own.

So I was pretty disappointed my first semester of college when I ended up with an ineffective music theory teacher, an unhelpful French professor, and a modern dance instructor who didn’t seem to notice that no one could perform her combinations.

I was not going to let this happen again.

For the rest of my college career, I used my mad scheduling skills to spend the first two weeks of each semester (before the add/drop period closed) trying to ferret out hidden jewels and find people who could really help me learn. It was extremely instructive.

I’d thought it would be great to learn Hindi to help me with my Indian music studies, but the class I visited seemed completely ineffective. I thought Yoruba language skills would be useful for my project on Yoruba drumming, but the class did not seem to actually exist when I tried to track it down. I wanted to take a self-defense class for women, but the one offered consisted of running in laps around the gym, which was not going to give me the skills I was looking for.

Instead, I ended up working with an encouraging, helpful Francophone French teacher. I found good Spanish instructors who prepared me for my trip to Cuba. I got to work with an incredible professor of eastern religion who helped me contextualize my experiences with non-Western music.

My search for great classes even led me to shop at other schools in the Boston area for classes I wanted that weren’t offered at my own university. It’s true, I had an exceptionally flexible advisor!

The beginning of every semester was chaotic, but definitely better than wasting my precious college credit hours in situations that weren’t going to help me learn. Whenever I heard a fellow student complaining about a poorly designed curriculum, a disinterested instructor, or a negative classroom environment, I knew it had all been worth it.

Related posts:
I was a t(w)eenage (scheduling) gladiator
A cosmic imperative to customize
What a Balinese dancing queen taught me about praise and encouragement
When learning feels like a forced march

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