by Matthew
Originally posted February 12, 2010

Graduate coursework has a number of similarities but also key differences from what I experienced an undergraduate. One I’d like to focus on is the phenomena of 3-hour classes. On paper, this looks absolutely wonderful. Given the fact that most students at the GCSW are completing an internship and balancing family/social needs (or even a part-time job although that is a stretch if you are full time) 3-hour classes appear like an oasis in the desert. For those of you not familiar with that concept, realize that sometimes the oasis turns out to be a mirage!

The reality is that there are advantages and serious drawbacks to the 3-hour class. I can only speak from my own experience and my observation of other students in class. The pedagogy of your instructor has a lot to do with the experience of being in one place for three hours, but even the most spirited teacher has difficulty keeping everyone riveted for that long of a period. I taught high school for three years and remember how daunting it was to move to a block schedule with classes lasting well over an hour. I think most of the science is pretty clear that once instruction lasts for more than 45 minutes, people start dropping like flies . . . even graduate students. I’m not trying to scare anyone off here, but I do want to encourage people to prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually for long periods of instruction.

Due to some of the idiosyncrasies of my own schedule, I chose to take 3 classes in one day. Oddly enough, that day turned out to be Wednesday which is sometimes referred to as hump day if you are ensconced in the typical work week. Rest assured my week is atypical. I have my internship Sunday and Monday, Graduate Assistant work hours Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, take one class Tuesday afternoon and the rest on (yep, you guessed it!) Wednesday. It isn’t Wednesday’s fault of course.

I try to prepare myself for Wednesday in a variety of ways. First, I always get at least seven hours of sleep the night before. This can be difficult as I am usually doing last minute reading that evening as well, but signing on for nine hours of class with a lack of sleep is recipe for copious amounts of drool pooling on my desk, fitful snoring, or the dreaded head whiplash drowsiness that is sure to draw a Professor’s glance and giggles from anyone within 10 feet! I also make it a point to exercise in the morning before I come to class, walk with classmates after my first class, and walk at least five minutes during the break we have for each 3-hour class. A little exercise staves of lethargy and helps me process the information much better. The final part of successfully staying conscious during 3, 3 hour classes involves nutrition. Eat breakfast. By this I mean real breakfast not a cup of coffee or a donut. Something balanced and not carbohydrate heavy. I pack my lunch and dinner so I avoid the grease fest at the cafeteria. I also suggest fruits, veggies, and nuts (almonds and walnuts are high in protein and good fat) as snacks during class as they maintain your blood sugar. I also drink a glass of green tea after lunch and before my last class. This adds a little caffeine into the mix (which takes 30-45 minutes to affect wakefulness and lasts three to four hours) but not so much that I feel jittery or crash as its effects are wearing off.

I have no doubt that other people have successful strategies for getting through their day, but this works fairly well for me and it is a heck of a lot easier on my kidneys than drinking several pots of coffee. Stay tuned next time for when I share the 5 phrases you can use to respond to questions that: a) you don’t understand b) you didn’t hear because you were playing with your phone, doodling, or surfing the internet or c) make you seem smarter than you actually are.