It’s 5am and I’m awake. Had a few late nights recently and it’s starting to catch up with me. My eyes are puffy, my hair is in need of a cut and I could do with a manicure too. I have a non-existent social life and my dog either hides away under the bed as I sit at a desk muttering in frustration and despair; or with her head on my knee, her big eyes looking at me as if to say ‘do yourself a favour’ – take a break!
Yes, I am doing a master’s full-time.
Now, I can’t claim that everyone will experience the same feelings as me. But, the fact that I am in my mid-fifties, don’t have an undergraduate degree, and have never really been interested in writing makes it all the more challenging. Perhaps there are those out there who studied for a master’s and found it a doddle. I’d love to hear from you if you did (actually, don’t bother, keep that fact to yourself because I’ll only find myself disliking you).
So, why am I reviving my blog after a couple of years? Well, it’s finally dawned on me that, after almost ten years of teaching, with a Trinity Diploma and academic management experience under my belt, plus a myriad of teaching jobs in several countries, I am quite good at my job and yes, I do know what I am doing (and have the good sense to admit when I don’t!). Where has this sudden realisation come from you may ask? Well, it’s quite simply from starting the master’s. So, for this reason, I’ve decided to write this blog post; and to start sharing my reflections with you. Maybe you might be interested in going down the postgraduate path and, like me, you aren’t a bright young thing with supreme confidence and the courage to march forward into the unknown without gnawing feelings of inadequacy.
Firstly, let me explain why I felt the need to do a master’s at 56. I didn’t enter into teaching until my mid-forties, and I was looking for something different to do. I suspect like many others of that age, I was looking for a change, a new adventure and the idea of TEFL teaching sounded to me…well, simple. Of course, anyone who does the CELTA or Trinity TESOL knows full well that the course is full-on and it is far from easy. But, I just fell in love with it! I felt such a sense of achievement when I finally got my hands on the Trinity Cert TESOL, I almost wept with joy (how sad is that hey?). But, when you consider that I didn’t achieve a single O’level (I was rather naughty at school, to say the least) you might understand my sense of achievement. I was gripped with a newly discovered disposition – a will to learn! (Barnett, 2007). Yes, reader – I am studying at level 7 now so have to start referencing my sources.
Anyway, to continue; working as a TEFL teacher I soon realised that most of my peers had an undergraduate degree. Now in the classroom, I fancy myself as a good teacher. I believe that if you love doing something as much as I do, then your positivity is infectious and I’ve always had great feedback from my lovely students. Add to that a knowledge of a bit of grammar, how to set up a topic, do the PPP bit and Bob’s your uncle – got it sorted right? Well, that’s not exactly the case. After a while, I realised that there was a big-boy qualification out there called the Trinity Diploma and apparently it was quite tough to do. So, I had to have a bit of that didn’t I? Where did the sudden desire to put myself through the wringer of hours of stressful learning come from? To be honest, I just felt inadequate around my peers – I didn’t have a degree, so I wasn’t as good as everyone else. Now, I know in my heart that’s not the case – but, at the time, the feelings of inadequacy I felt in the staffroom, were only cancelled out when I walked into the classroom to my adoring students.
So, with just under two years teaching experience, most of it on a part-time basis, I studied for the Trinity Diploma. Now, let me tell you, that felt hard and if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy that particular journey. At the time, it just felt like something I had to do to prove myself to my peers (or myself). Also, if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t really know what I was doing and how I passed, heaven only knows. I remember long evenings studying in Prague for the teaching section of the course, chain-smoking and lamenting to my patient roommate that the last time I felt such pain was when I was in labour. Slightly exaggerated, yes…but you get the idea. Surprisingly, I discovered that I received a distinction in the phonology part of the exam – go figure! I never did find out what my exact grade was, but I’m certain I only scraped by with a low pass. How do I know that? Because, I’m doing the master’s of course, and part of the reflective process is looking back over my past work with a more critical eye.
Ok, in my experience so far, the diploma and the master’s are quite different. The Trinity diploma had a very practical feel to it. Creating lesson plans, observed teaching practice, an emphasis on knowledge of grammar and phonology and yes, I’m so glad I did it. Actually, I’d consider it one of my greatest achievements (don’t laugh) and will flash my certificate at any given opportunity. Remember, there were no O’levels for me! But 13 weeks into the master’s and I’m realising that it is a very different experience.
I’m doing a Master’s of Education with TESOL Pathway, so there are a diverse group of students that make up my fellow cohort. Some are recent graduates, bright young things that can knock off an essay in a blink of an eye (so it appears to me), and then there are older professionals with several years experience in their teaching discipline, which varies from special needs, primary education, and we even have a reporter on board. And then there is me…I’m the imposter don’t you know? At least that’s how I felt when I started the course. Another reference coming up – Young, 2011. She wrote a book called The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. Go read that book and feel reassured! Apparently, some of the most successful women suffer from the imposter syndrome. So, with that in mind, I tread boldly forward, determined to overcome my feelings of inadequacy (how tiresome she is I hear you say). But dear reader, this is where studying at master’s level is both illuminating and empowering. I get to argue with the experts (it’s called being critical) and I’m expected to do it. To be honest, after only 13 weeks, I’m not really into that yet, but I will get there! I still bow down unquestioningly to the experts like Krashen and Vygotsky in second language acquisition and to Gibbs and Schon in reflective practice. Hey, who am I to be critical of such greats, but you know what, I’ll give it a go because doing the master’s requires that you do that. To write in the first person, to go out there and explore, reflect, critique…just grow a pair, have faith in your experience and……..go wild.
On a personal note, I’ve also moved back in with my parents for a year. This is another experience that is proving challenging and enlightening at the same time. To be honest, it’s great to reconnect with my Mum and Dad after spending most of my adult life living overseas. I’m not sure that they understand what I am doing but they very sweetly indulge me by listening to my reflections of the day, spouting off strange sounding terms such as ethnography, epistemology and any number of ‘isms’ that I didn’t know only a few weeks ago. They cheerfully listen, but draw the line when I chatter on over Coronation Street or Emmerdale. A few weeks ago our tutor asked us to undertake a micro-study of the behaviour of a specific group of people over 24 hours. I decided that I would focus on the amount of times my parents used an imperative preceded by ‘don’t’ in 24 hours. I can tell you, it was quite a few…don’t forget to shut/lock the door/ wash your cup/put your towel away/let us know when you’ll be home/tell us what you want for dinner. But hey, it makes me feel young again and I can only be grateful that they have agreed to put up with me for a year until as my Dad says ‘I finally decide what I want to do with my life’.
So, as I continue with this journey, I’ll check in from time to time and perhaps, writing from the heart, might help someone else out there decide whether doing a master’s at a certain age is a good idea. Will it be worthwhile for me? I don’t know, but to be honest, despite the lack of sleep, the pressure to finish my first three assignments and sitting for hours in front of a blank screen – I’m enjoying it, for so many reasons that I wasn’t aware of before I started.
Barnett, R. (2007) A Will to Learn. Maidenhead: Open University Press
Young, V. (20110 The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. New York: Crown Publishing.