Returning to School? by Guest Author Suzanne E. Snyder

Suzanne Synder


By Suzanne E. Snyder

When I first came to NVCC’s Loudoun Campus ten years ago, all I wanted was to take a psychology class. My oldest child was in high school and my youngest son had just started kindergarten. It had been more than twenty years since I’d graduated from high school, where my greatest accomplishment was never having to attend summer school. I was told back then that I was not college material, and twenty years later, I was still a little intimidated by that remark.

I told a friend of mine about my plan to take a psychology class at NOVA.   She suggested I take an English course first, since I might have to write a paper for psychology, and I’d need the English class to teach me how to do that. “English! I hate English,” I protested, “I don’t want to take English!”  I was sorry I’d mentioned my plan to her, but what she said made sense, so off I went to sign up for English.

I filled out an application for admission and was sent to see a counselor for program placement. The counselor asked if I’d chosen a major and I tried to explain that even though I was going to register for English, all I really wanted to do was take a psychology class. “Well, we don’t have a psychology degree,” he said, “but let’s put you down for General Studies, just in case you decide to continue.” He also recommended I take an orientation class.

When I tried to register, I was told I’d first have to take an English placement test. Not only was I signing up for two classes I didn’t want to take, I had to take a test to get into them! The last test I’d taken had been for a driver’s license and that was ages ago. I was beginning to wonder what I’d, gotten myself into.

The test went well; I qualified for “Honors” English. (I wasn’t sure what that meant but I thought it sounded harder than ”Regular” English.) I was assured it wasn’t “harder,” just more challenging. Personally, I felt challenged enough just being there!

My first day was a disaster. I must have looked lost as I wondered through the hallway, because a kind lady came up to me, smiled, and asked if she could help me find something. “English 111,” I replied. She pointed to a stairway and said, “Go right upstairs dear, they’re all up there.”  I went up the stairs and walked right into a meeting of English instructors, who, like the lady downstairs, assumed I was there to teach. I would have been flattered, if I hadn’t been so embarrassed.

I eventually found the correct room and thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the class. When we returned from a break, however, the instructor said she’d like each of us to write a little something about how we came to be in her class, and when we were finished, we could leave. Immediately, everyone in the class got out paper and~pen and began to write. I sat there thinking, and thinking, and thinking, and before I knew it, one student handed in his finished paper and left! It suddenly felt very warm in that classroom. Another student got up, handed in her paper and left. I looked around. Everyone was writing furiously. It seemed to be getting even warmer. I wrote a sentence. I crossed it out. I began a new page. More students were leaving. I was about to spontaneously combust, when a thought occurred to me: “If I could just get something down on this paper, I could leave and never come back! Why am I doing this anyway? I don’t have to do this. I don’t belong here. This was all a mistake!”

Once I’d made the decision to “never come back,” it was much easier to write. I wasn’t even the last one to leave; I was next to the last. On my way out, I told the instructor I felt very “out of it.” She told me it was difficult returning to school even after just a few years, but insisted I’d feel right at home in a couple of weeks.

The orientation class was easier to handle. There were tests, but only to determine personality type or what jobs we might be suited for. We also learned how to write a resume for whatever job we chose. I said I’d like to work at the college.

I decided to give English one more chance and discovered it wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, by the end of the year, with an enormous amount of encouragement (nagging) from my instructor, I entered the NVCC Literary Contest. I won first place in the essay category and tied for second place in the research category. I was invited to tutor in the Writing Center, and although I felt inadequate, I accepted.

Tutoring proved to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’d ever had. During the seven years I worked at the writing center, I found that each student was unique in his/her abilities and needs, and often I felt I was gaining more knowledge than I was able to give. I worked with, students of all ages from many different countries and backgrounds. One woman had grown up on a farm and had little formal education. She wTote beautiful stories about her life in such detail that when she described a sunny day, you could almost feel the warmth on your skin. One man came for help when he was told he needed to improve his writing if he wanted a Ph.D. She won a literary contest, he got his Ph.D., and both of them thanked me!

I often talked to my neighbor about how much I enjoyed working in the writing center. One day she asked to see some of my writing. She showed some of my essays to a friend of hers who worked for a local newspaper. Her friend showed them to her boss. Before I knew it, I was writing a bi-weekly column for the Lifestyle section of The Chantilly Times.

For the past two years I’ve worked at the counseling office. Among the people I work with is the counselor I met on my first day and the instructor of that orientation class I didn’t really want to take. My favorite students are women like myself who’ve decided to “just take a class.” I can see myself in each one of them as they explain that they’ve never taken any college classes, but now that their children are in college… They seem timid and a bit nervous and not really sure if they’re doing the right thing. Before I send them in to see a counselor, I like to tell them about the funny thing that happened to me on my way to a psychology class. They almost always leave the office with more confidence than when they came in.

By the way, I did eventually take that psychology class (four of them), as well as English classes.   I was recently inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and only need six more credits for a General Studies degree. Sure, it’s taken me ten years, but, hey, all I ever really wanted…

©Suzanne E. Snyder 1996

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