Learning High


March 19, 2016 by Jean

Senior College ImageFor as long as I can remember, I have loved going to school. Even before I was old enough to go to school, I loved going to school. When my older siblings sat down at the kitchen table to do homework after supper, I begged to do homework, too. So my mother sat me at the table with them and gave me my own homework, first learning to write my name (a prerequisite for getting a library card) and then happily filling up worksheets of simple addition as I learned basic arithmetic. I spent considerable time as a child in waiting rooms at Children’s Hospital in Boston, where my disabled older sister had monthly out-patient appointments. My favorite waiting room was the one with a blackboard and chalk, where I could pretend I was at school.

I was four when I actually got to go to school, and I loved it as much as I thought I would. I considered the first day of school one of the most exciting days of the year, surpassed only by Christmas morning. I used to tell my students, only half jokingly, that I’d become a college professor because I loved going to school more than anything else, so I decided to just stay in school forever.

Master GardenerNow that I have retired from college teaching, I’m discovering that I still love going to school. I love learning new things. Particularly when something challenging finally clicks, learning gives me a rush, a learning high. When I’m learning something new, I feel more alert and alive; life’s colors seem brighter and more intense. I can get that high from reading an intellectually challenging book or from attending one of the many stimulating programs sponsored by the Maine Humanities Council. But I get my highest learning highs from taking courses.

Like many women of my generation, I became convinced by gender stereotypes when I was an adolescent that I was not good at math or science. (This despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.) The result was that I avoided those subjects in high school and college, taking only the minimum requirements. I started to make up the math deficit when I went to graduate school in sociology and had to take, and later to teach, courses in statistics, research methods, and computer applications. In late middle age, I finally began to address my science deficit as my love of gardening led to an interest in botanical sciences and ecology. My first vehicle for science learning was writing some science-based posts about plants for my garden blog. My botanist friend, Sharon, encouraged me in this pursuit, loaning me a basic botany textbook and checking my explanations for inaccuracies before I published them. I have been especially proud of those posts, thrilled by the learning that they represent.

CMBG CertificateSo it’s probably not surprising that I’ve been drawn to science as I’ve taken courses in my retirement. The first course I signed up for at the local Senior College was a six-week course in plant ecology called “Fields and Forests of Maine.” This year, I’ve registered for a six-week course on trees taught by the same instructor. I’m learning more challenging science in my Master Gardener course, a 14-week college-level horticulture course, with a focus on growing edible plants. Four weeks in, I am loving this and getting that learning high.

One of the frustrations of the Master Gardener course is that it doesn’t address issues of ornamental gardening, although training in ornamental horticulture is available through the Master Gardener program to those who have completed the basic certification. Recently, I was perusing the spring newsletter from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and found myself drawn to the list of classes they are offering this year, many of which focus on just the kinds of issues that are not covered in my Master Gardener course. Then I noticed that many of these classes are part of the “Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture” program, with a focus on precisely the gardening issues I’m interested in learning more about. If I was thinking about signing up for several courses that count toward this certificate, why not enroll in the certificate program? After a phone conversation with Melissa Cullina, the Director of Education at CMBG, I did just that.

I will attend a two-hour registration and orientation session in mid-April and learn more then about what being a student in the program entails. I know that there are 11 required core courses, but I don’t know how many elective courses need to be added to that. I know that students can proceed through the program at their own pace and that a “highly motivated” student can complete the certificate in 19 months, but I don’t know if there is a maximum cut-off on how long students can take to complete the program. I think a good pace for me would be to complete it over a four- or five-year period, which would involve taking 3-5 courses per year. I have already signed up for two this year, one core course on basic botany and one elective course on “Gardening for Wildlife,” taught by Doug Tallamy, a gardening hero of mine. I plan to add another core course for this year, either “Soil Science for Gardeners,” “Introduction to Native Flora of Maine,” or “Horticultural Ecology.”

My plan to combine the Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture with Master Gardener training is not unusual; the certificate program is designed to complement the Master Gardener course. Where the Master Gardener training is a single course, spread out over fourteen weeks and primarily classroom-based, the CMBG certificate program is made up of many shorter, more intensive, and primarily field-based courses. A course will typically run all day for one, two or three (consecutive) days, and the core courses will give me a much deeper science foundation. For example, my Master Gardener course covers soil science and botany in three hours each. The soil science course for the certificate program is an intensive twelve hours (two consecutive six-hour days), and the botany course is fifteen hours (three consecutive five-hour days).

So while I’m enjoying the learning high of each class in my Master Gardener course, I am also eagerly anticipating the learning high of the certificate courses at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. I see only one drawback to indulging my love of learning by being back in school; I need to increase my budget for education expenses!

9 thoughts on “Learning High

  1. Diana Studer says:

    Oh wow – imagine being taught by Doug Tallamy!

  2. pagedogs says:

    The CMBG classes sound wonderful. What a fantastic resource to have nearby. I suspect that lovers of learning are those who enjoy retirement the most. Curiosity never grows old. I love learning so much that I attended college twice. The first time I was a horticulture major, with lots of biology and ecology (a new field then) thrown in. The second time I was a history major. Two lifelong interests that I still soak up. Enjoy your classes.

    • Sue Tibs says:

      I can definitely relate to Jean’s post and pagedog’s reply!! Life-long learners are rarely bored! Once the basics of health and finances are in-place, love of learning is the secret sauce!

      Thanks for your comments. It’s so refreshing to hear from people who have always loved school. Our retirement years come with a few big advantages — like getting to decide what, when, how or why we learn — and not having a number (grade or salary) attached to our learning. Love it.

      • Jean says:

        Brenda and Sue, I suspect love of learning may be the difference between those who get bored in retirement and those who never have enough time to pursue all their interests. I love the description of it as the “secret sauce.”

      • pagedogs says:

        Secret sauce–oh, yes. Learning in retirement is pure joy–no pressure, no competition, and time to explore the really interesting bits.

  3. Jean R. says:

    I know a couple of Certified Master Gardeners in my travels but I never realized how intense and thoroughly educated in the field you have to be to earn that title. You’ve given me hints on what to talk with them about next time I see these ladies.

    When you wrote about your early childhood and love of doing homework before and after starting school you so remind me of my oldest niece. She knew from the time she was four that she wanted to be a teacher and she never wavered on that. She used to line up her dolls and pretend to teach them. Born teachers are such a wonderful asset to any community. I’m glad you found a great niche in retirement for continued learning.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, Your Master Gardener friends would be delighted to have you ask them questions.

      Despite the fact that I loved school and loved to “play school” when it wasn’t in session, I came to teaching relatively late. I didn’t go to grad school intending to become a professor, but instead was interested in public policy. In my second year, they made me earn my grant and stipend by serving as a teaching assistant, and I got hooked.

  4. Lucky you to have the Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture program…I hope NY gets one soon. Now that I would go for….I may attempt the Master Gardener program in a year or 2…right now, I am staying away from school….but I know I will be back in school soon enough as I loved it so much I could not stay away for long.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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