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A Ph.D. is not the Average Extracurricular

As+the+math+of+physics+perplexes+students%2C+Shawn+Cole+expressively+reviews+the+material+in+order+to+breakdown+educational+barriers.+
As the math of physics perplexes students, Shawn Cole expressively reviews the material in order to breakdown educational barriers.

As the math of physics perplexes students, Shawn Cole expressively reviews the material in order to breakdown educational barriers.

As the math of physics perplexes students, Shawn Cole expressively reviews the material in order to breakdown educational barriers.

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It is well known that academics are only one aspect of a Marin Academy student’s day. MA students are also actors, musicians, artists, political activists, athletes, club participants, and the list goes on. But with an average of 38 hours in class per week combined with the seemingly endless hours of homework, many students feel frustrated when they lose time to address their extracurriculars.  When students continually attempt to achieve too much in multiple facets of life, it is not only reasonable but also probable that a student will feel stretched thin or burnt out.

The newest addition to the MA science department demonstrates that this challenge is not limited to current students. Shawn Cole is no stranger to the struggle of managing different parts of one’s life, as well as the difficulty one faces when adjusting to increased workloads.

Cole reveals that his aggressive schedule started in Jackson, Mississippi where he was raised and went to high school:  “I was in band and a lot of other academic clubs, so National Junior Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta math society, anything really.” Cole continued to explain how, like many MA students, he pushed himself academically, “I switched from regular and accelerated courses into the advanced placement or AP course.” Just like MA students, this caused him stress: “I burnt myself out, I will say that. I revved up I guess going into college, but after the first semester of college it was just like I’m tired because I put so much extra work in high school.” Despite the continuation of an intense workload at Tougaloo College (where he matriculated to after high school), Cole persevered and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Molecular Sciences and Nanotechnology from Louisiana Tech University.

As Cole transitions into his position as an MA teacher, some things do not change, such as his love for Pokémon and his jam-packed agenda complete with the looming risk of burning out. Cole reveals that being an MA teacher is very difficult: “Switching from college education to high school education, the scheduling is the first thing that is the adjustment, and then also the amount of hats a high school teacher wears versus when I am at the college level I am an advisor and a teacher. That’s it.”  To many students, a teacher is a teacher and nothing else, but clearly, MA teachers must be multi-talented like their pupils.

Cole humorously agrees that MA is “Meeting Academy”, a title some faculty at MA have created because of each teacher’s responsibility to be open to their students as well as faculty development meetings and chambers. Cole sometimes has to question himself on whether he is free or not: “Do I have this free time after school or do I have to attend meetings? My phone’s calendar, my computer’s calendar, and my iPad’s calendar really keep me sane.”

With minimal free time, it is essential that Cole finds a balance of work to assign his students: “I knew that I was going to have to adjust to the amount of time that it was going to take me to grade assessments, so that fed into how I was assessing the students, just to make sure I am not overworking myself and burning myself out, but still making sure that my students are being effectively assessed and taught in their learning.” Cole’s kindness and strategy of maximizing learning while minimizing stress quickly shatter the misconception that teachers have nothing better to do than pile homework onto students.

Similar to how a student might forfeit their extracurricular time during a busy week, Cole has realized that he has to slow down his pace on his Ph.D. work while he is still adjusting. When asked about his progress on his Ph.D. while at MA, Cole paused, laughed, and then confessed: “I have not done much work.” After a day of multiple physics classes, meetings, and a tutorial full of anxious students, Cole experiences something all too familiar to an MA student after a day of school, homework, and possibly an athletic practice or rehearsal.

“On most days by the time I leave, I am just physically tired and I can’t get my laptop to start typing. My advisor knows and I have kept contact with her, and I have let her know [that] I am still adjusting. I am letting her know that I am still getting stuff organized and I am still getting data. I am still hammering out data, but it is just actually putting it into those word forms,” Cole explains.

While some students blame school for their lack of time, Cole does not view work in that way. He enjoys seeing the students “breaking down barriers they put between themselves and the material” so much that he takes his lack of free time “with a grain of salt.” In fact, Cole has not let the immense amount of work required to obtain a Ph.D. slow down his life outside of academia. He says that the Ph.D. “was going straight through [his] life happening, having good jobs, moving, getting engaged.”

His enthusiastic and uplifting outlook on responsibility and work is certainly impressive and inspiring to students. It is most likely one of the reasons students feel so comfortable and excited to see Shawn Cole at tutorial.

 

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