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Getting On : Education

Using your story in school

from BCB2005 - Friday, November 16, 2007
accessed 570 times

Using your story in school. Does that work for you or against you?

So, I've just started classes at a jr college and am having a bit of trouble with some of them (subjects never studied). And just curious, in my essays, applications, explanations to professors etc does it work for me or against me to tell my background story?

What do you think?

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from Christy
Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - 14:25


I chose not to use my story in college. I started college within days of leaving, and it took awhile before I was ready to really deal with my past. Plus I really didn't want to let on that I didn't know what the heck I was doing, and I tried not to stand out for being too different. I really wasn't ready to stand up to scrutiny or to answer questions about my past. I occasionally blamed my ignorance of cultural references on the fact that I spent most of my childhood overseas. I blamed my insecurity about spelling on the fact that I had studied in several different languages.

I did sort of use my story when I applied to the teaching program, but I put it into relatable terms. I talked about working in daycare centers, teaching English in a language institute and in orphanages, etc. Because I planned my departure from TF for about two years before leaving, I got the orphanage and language institute to write personalized recommendations and letters of reference. I then submitted these to establish previous experience with teaching.

I'm considering using my story when I apply to grad school. The fact that I had a strong foundation in reading helped me to excel in college with only an elementary education. While this is the motivation behind my passion for literacy education, I don't know if admitting my lack of pre-college education will scare people. Besides, it could give away the fact that in my undergrad applications, I sort of lied about graduation from high school when I only had my GED.

Using your story could be a powerful tool, if it's used to show how you've succeeded in the face of adversity. However, if it's used to garner sympathy, it may work in the short term but could have negative repercussions.
(reply to this comment)

from sar
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - 04:41

When it comes to grading your essays it shouldn't make a difference. Essays are generally judged on the quality of the essay, rather than on any mitigating circumstances you might have. I've been studying for 5 years now and I haven't yet had to reference my upbringing in a paper. I don't see how talking about yourself in an essay would be a good way to go. If you do have to write about yourself - I know one person that has had to do so and got a very good grade when she wrote about her upbringing. In my application to uni I mentioned it, you have to explain your lack of education in one way or another. I don't think the fact itself either helped or hurt. Though appearing evasive and being unprepared to answer questions straight out would probably have hindered. Never really will know.
(reply to this comment)
From Samuel
Tuesday, November 20, 2007, 04:54

Average visitor agreement is 1 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Right. Just make sure you use Microsoft Word or Grammar because here in the US, most professors will grade your paper simply by taking one point off (or two) for each mistake (poor grammar, misspelled words).(reply to this comment
From vacuous
Thursday, November 22, 2007, 09:14


While grammar and spelling errors might be an indicative of a deeper academic malaise (of which communication and literacy are the most obvious symptoms), their weight in the overall marking scheme is usually limited proportionately to other assessment criteria such as evidence of preparation and research (breadth and depth of content), subject knowledge and understanding, analysis and organisation (to name a few). Because of this it is doubtful that a point will strictly be struck off merely by discovering a spelling error or misplaced comma (e.g. if you have 100 spelling mistakes then where will the other assessment criteria have bite?).

Many times (depending on the institution you study in or the subject you study) essays are not only assessed on whether answers are right or wrong but also by the form with which opinions and arguments are constructed, articulated and substantiated. Points should be displayed in their correct context and lead to logical and summative conclusions.

Good essay writing skills is a learned art that takes time, practice and intelligent use of constructive criticism.(reply to this comment

From Samuel
Thursday, November 22, 2007, 12:20

Average visitor agreement is 1 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)
Well, that makes me feel very smart then, because I always got A's in English. :)(reply to this comment
From figaro
Thursday, November 22, 2007, 23:09

In what school? In most American public schools you don't have to be a genius to get A's. (but then again, Sammys online IQ test says he IS a genius! [gasp]) When I went to a community college I got the highest possible score on my essay test and I didn't even try very hard, and honestly, I don't think I did all that good of a job either. (reply to this comment
from ESJ
Monday, November 19, 2007 - 04:17

Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5Average visitor agreement is 5 out of 5(Agree/Disagree?)

As I'm not a 2nd generationer, others here, I'm sure, will be able to share more from their first hand experience. But from knowing my own kid's experience in school, if you're pretty new out of TF (or aren't fully out yet) and are just starting out, I would say it may be better to keep things fairly 'general' and not be too specific about your background. Otherwise, you may get a bunch of curious - or prying - questions you may not be ready to answer or deal with. And you may not feel comfortable having your teachers or other students know your whole story when you're still just trying to find your own footing. Its a big enough challenge just trying to get your head around all the new subjects and demands of a new life in jr high.

It also depends on whether your parents and siblings are in or out of TF and how much emotional support you have at present. If they're still in (or if they've recently left and are still pretty lost or loopy themselves) - meaning you're not getting a lot of personal emotional 'back up', I would say maybe just talk generally about your travels and mention your parents work caused you to move around a lot so you were home schooled. - (Maybe you could talk about the pros and cons of home schooling, what it was like, etc, from your personal experience.) If you have to say more, just use the old Family ruse and say they were 'missionaries' or work/ed for an 'aid organization'.

If you're having trouble keeping up with the demands due to lack of previous schooling, it would be a good idea to go to the school counselor and let him/her know in confidence that you need some personal tutoring (and why) to help you get caught up to speed. Its really important to make sure you reach out and utilize any and all help that's available to you. You need to build up your own personal 'support circle' of helpful friends and professionals. Don't try to go it completely on your own, get all the help you can, look around for it, and don't be afraid to ask. - Best of luck!
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From BCB2005
Monday, November 19, 2007, 09:20


Thank you for your well rounded view on this subject.

It's really helpful and I appreciate the time you took to write it.


(reply to this comment

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