By: T.J. Rutherford
The home stretch. The final stage. The last semester.
In many ways, graduate school has passed very quickly. At other times, especially when we’re in the thick of it, it has felt as if it would never end. During the fall, when we were working on our research assignment, a single subject design project that involved choosing a client from our internship agency, creating a measurement tool, administering the tool for a semester, and then collecting and analyzing the data, it felt like the latter. Our final presentations, which were open to the public as well as undergraduate students, were accompanied by a poster, a brief, and a research paper.
Recently, while clearing my desk, I found remnants of that assignment: sticky notes and drafts of my poster, along with scribbled instructions for the SINGWIN evaluation program. It caused me to reflect upon that process. It seemed impossible at times. I wondered if I could pull it off. There were other moments, though, when it started to make sense and I felt empowered by the teaching and the learning. Then I would lapse back into confusion, only to be buoyed by clarity once again.
During that research project, my classmates and I called, texted, e-mailed, and used Facebook to discuss, commiserate, rant, laugh, cajole, support, and, in the end, congratulate and praise one another on our presentations. I have to say that this class, though loaded with stress, was a turning point for me. One of my classmates felt that finishing that class meant finishing the MSW program. This student felt it was the culmination of everything and that, once it was over, it would feel as if the degree had been earned. At first I thought this thinking was a bit dramatic, or even foolish, because we aren’t finished. We have three, four, or five more classes (depending on when students blended into the cohort). But after we walked out of our presentations on the last weekend of classes, I have to admit, I caught my classmate’s drift. It's not that our final semester’s classes will be easy; on the contrary. But this project tested us. And, I am proud to say, each of us passed the test.
So, what classes are left for me? I’ll have four: Clinical II, Integrative Seminar, Working with Difficult Children, and Field Education III. The Integrative Seminar class promises to encourage us to hone in on our voices as professionals as we “weave together” what we have learned, and begin speaking and writing about our social work practice philosophy. This class will help us to more clearly define our roles and the steps we need to take after graduation. We’ll be building upon the knowledge that we have learned during both our generalist and concentration years, and integrating the teachings from classes, as well as our experiences from field education.
Sounds scary. And exciting. Why scary? Because I will be expected to articulate my social work voice in speech and words. It’s not the writing or the speaking that scares me. It just seems subjective and non-linear. It’s like spirituality, I think, in a way. I feel it, but I don’t necessarily know how to explain it. My social work values and skills are ever-changing, and they continue to grow and morph with each client I meet and each “teacher” who is placed in my path (often these are the same people). It sounds exciting because I am quite certain that this class will force me to stretch and speak my truth. What I know is that I will dive in with both hands, a big heart, and an open mind. I’m sure I’ll be surprised and enlightened at different points in the process.
I will return to the child welfare agency to complete the second half of my internship in January. I look forward to experiencing the day-to-day responsibilities in different areas, including foster care and adoption. The majority of my first semester was spent in investigation, and although I am very interested in this area, I want to experience more of what the agency’s mission encompasses. As a Title IV-E grant recipient, I will be working for the agency upon my graduation, so it is important to experience all the offerings before that day gets here. I was privileged to work with some amazing men and women over the past 15 weeks, and I look forward to working with other social workers during the final four months of graduate school.
What I hope for this final semester (it feels wonderful to write that) is that I will stay present in the experience. I hope I can see and feel the joys as well as the challenges (sometimes these are one and the same). I am grateful for my classmates, who have often been my best teachers. I am indebted to my professors for their time, patience, and support. As a non-traditional student, I ask questions, send e-mails, and call on profs when I am confused or anxious. I take advantage of open-door policies, and I am willing to ask for help.
I plan to breathe deeply, let things go that don’t matter (isn’t that most everything?), and enjoy this gift of education that I have been given.
T. J. Rutherford is in her final year of graduate school, where she is earning a master’s degree in social work. She shares her life with her husband and an eleven-year-old rescue dog. Read more about her day-to-day grad school experiences at THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER’s blog at http://blog.socialworker.com.