Friday, September 20, 2013

What it's like being a retiree taking college classes with teenagers.

I'm into my second year of art classes (I take one class a semester; this is my third class) at the University of North Florida. The first two classes (Drawing I and Drawing II) were taken in the evenings, and I was not the only older person enrolled in them, so I didn't feel out of place. But this class (Two Dimensional Design) is a day class, and I'm the only older person in it. Even the instructor Laura Colomb is much younger than me. This is the first class in which I've felt out of place.

I'm pretty amazed by the young people around me. Some of them are clueless about their lives, like elementary school children. They are smart. The requirements for enrolling at UNF are stiff. Yet, some of them seem like they'd rather be doing something else, like texting on their i-phones. Some of them miss classes or don't do the required work. When the teacher says that, if you miss the class critique you're automatically dropped two letter grades on the assignment, and several of the students don't show up, I wonder why. They probably didn't do the assignments and stayed away. Some of these students just don't have their priorities in the proper order.

Some of these students are pretty darn good artists already. Seriously, they don't need this elementary art class, but it's a requirement (I think) for the program. It's a good class. It's foundational to the various art majors. Maybe some of the students are bored by it (but none of them seem bored). Some of the students seem to have trouble staying awake. I think back to my college years and wonder if I was so sleepy in my classes. Maybe they're overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do in all their classes. Or maybe they're tired from staying up late partying.

I had quite a bit of interaction with the students in the first two classes. In this class, I've tried to strike up conversation with one or two of them. It just doesn't go very far. They talk to each other okay. But I think they see me as an outsider. I don't think they object to me being there. They are friendly all the time. But what can we possibly have in common? Of course, we have the art class in common, and we do discuss our art work to some degree. But that's about it.

Here's the thing, though, because I'm so much older than them, I feel that I should be a model student. I want to mentor them in some way. I want to reach out to them and help them. Of course, most of them do not need my help. But maybe one or two I could help. But, we don't talk. So I pretty much stick to myself and my work. Maybe that's the way it should be.


Jon said...

I think you're handling the entire situation beautifully. The classes have only just begun. I'm sure that as time goes on the younger students will learn to understand more about you and feel more like communicating. Perhaps some of them just don't know what to say.
I really admire your efforts.

I do feel, however, that a lot of younger people nowadays aren't as serious about anything as they once were long ago. And there are far more frivolous things to distract them.

Julie Luek said...

I spent over 20 years working in higher education and have my MA in the field. It's a developmental stage-- and we all went through it. That age is very self-oriented, as is natural. They are focusing on their wants and freedoms and goals and life and friendships. It's just where they're at in the 19-21, traditional college age.

I'm not sure we were very different, even it if played out differently. Even our "causes" were a lot about our own identity-- exactly the same stuff they're working out too.

What I do love is their pure enthusiasm and idealism, much of which gets a bit jaded in the life process. :)

So impressed you are taking this step and investing in yourself. YAY!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Richard, I'm glad to see you are continuing your art lessons, since you seem to derive so much pleasure from your art. As for the younger students not interacting yet with you, I suspect they are a little shy about the age difference. They know what to say to each other. But they don't socialize that much with others their parents' ages. Don't be surprised if they start initiating conversations once they get used to your being in class.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

When I was younger I just didn't take college nearly as seriously. I ended up dropping out. After about 8 years working restaurant jobs I decided to go back. I took it MUCH more seriously the second time around. They're probably at that age that they're just not taking it seriously.

Julia Hones said...

By the look of things those students are shallow and immature. Sad.

Tanya Lynne Reimer said...

I never felt like age was the barrier between artists, but the stage they were at. Perhaps you are willing to share with other artists to grow and learn, and perhaps some of these students are still just learning their own limits and expectations.

Where I was as an artist yesterday, is not the same place I am today. If I could go back and tell myself some of the things I know now, well, that past me, she wouldn't care to listen anyway. Yet somehow this present me, needed to learn from her naive hope.

Deb Shucka said...

You're there. You're you. You're open. That's all you need to do. If there is someone there who needs you, they'll make themselves known soon enough. I think it's so cool that you're willing to experience this discomfort to get something you want.

Olia said...

This is really interesting, and I agree with the comment above- you're just being yourself, and if anyone wants to get to know you they will approach you- the same way you took the initiative to approach them and try to get to know them.

I think age is just a number, maturity is something else entirely. It's just that usually, we expect older people to be wiser because they lived their youth and had become more emotionally mature. It's also a beautiful thing when older people still accept their inner child and know how to have fun, despite any physical or emotional limitations that might come with age.

Emily R. King said...

Even if you aren't speaking to them, they will watch you and learn by your example, Richard. Just be aware that they will notice you, whether you notice or not. :) Enjoy your classes!