The entry-level trades program I did over a year ago was self-paced. This second level course isn’t. I thought I’d hate it, having to attend classes and do all the same work at the same time as my classmates. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the first couple weeks, because I grasped a lot of the concepts fairly quickly and so had very little homework. Then we hit circuit analysis, and suddenly I became the one student holding everyone back with my questions and confusion.
Fuck, I hate that… I already stick out as the only woman in the room, and having to ask for clarification from the teacher makes me super self-conscious. And yeah, I know I have a right to be here, and to ask questions, and to get frustrated just like any other student… But these are the effects of being constantly reminded that I am fundamentally different from my peers: I am determined to succeed and excel, to prove not just that I can do it, but that women can do it. It’s fucked, but that’s how I feel… Like I have to “represent”. Classic symptoms of a model minority, hmmm?
It doesn’t help that I hear this message over and over from others in the trade. I’d thought it was just me, until another female apprentice at the hydr0 boot camp told me that she gets the same thing: Upon learning that we are electrical apprentices, the immediate reaction of lot of older, male journeymen is to start telling us about the one or two woman electricians they’ve known throughout their careers, and how PERFECTLY BRILLIANT they are/were. I gather these men say these things because they’re trying to show that they support women in the trades. However! The actual way it comes across is a reinforcement of the fact that there’s a higher standard for us: We can’t just be sorta okay at our jobs, like the majority of the schmoes we work with. Instead we have to prove ourselves over and over, by being THE BESTEST-24/7!!!
Which is exhausting, and unfair, cuz really, as much as I like to be good at things, I also have other priorities aside from the trade, and I’m not always going to rock out 100%. I would like to be okay with that, and I would like my coworkers, classmates, and teachers to be okay with that too: I’m human, dammit.
Having said that, I’m working very hard, and so far have achieved a 95% average after four exams. Only 8 more to go!
It’s mostly math, which I really like, when I understand it… It’s getting to that place of understanding that’s the trouble. Going through this schooling as an adult has been an amazing journey in understanding my own learning styles.
For instance, I know now that I need to have all information clearly laid out and labeled, and all equations in sequential order, in order to make sense of it. My current instructor writes partial formulas and calculations all over the whiteboard at the front of our classroom, haphazardly drawing diagrams and graphing results. It drives me completely nuts. In the past, I’d have simply given up, mired in frustration. Now I plow through, rewriting his equations on my own notepaper, taking extra time but arranging everything in a way that’s accessible to my own quirky brain.
I also know that I really benefit from spending loooooooong amounts of time on the same concept: Entire days of math immersion really does wonders to cement it in my understanding. In high school and university, everything was arranged in 1 or 2 hour blocks. I never questioned this, because it never occurred to me that it may be related to why I struggled so much. Concentrated bursts of difficult topics, I’ve learned, are exactly the sort of thing that send my mind into panic mode. I get worried that I won’t have enough time to comprehend the lesson, and I’m so distracted that I *really* don’t pick up anything the teacher is showing us! So when I’ve got full days on entire topics, I’m more relaxed, and then I can follow along. My current instructor is forever apologizing for the length of time we focus on topics, but it’s just about perfect for me.
I can’t help but think: If only high school had been 6 consecutive 8-week long courses instead of 6 simultaneous courses over 40 weeks, I might have ended up an engineer by now. Ah, well… If that’d been my path, I would have missed out on all the great scenery on this route, and what a shame that would have been.