Yesterday marked the end of one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life so far. I have just completed a programme of post graduate study in the area of community and adult education. Feelings of trepidation and frustration that surfaced at times throughout the year are quickly forgotten as the realisation that this is indeed the very last time you will sit in a room with this particular group of people starts to be a reality. Yesterday was one of those days that I will remember with a smile and a genuine feeling of happiness.
In September I embarked on my post grad journey full of excitement and hope for the coming year. As an under grad student I had been one of hundreds. I loved the anonymity that a huge lecture hall gave and I allowed myself to become a number, a face in the crowd. I watched as many mature students made it their business to make themselves known to the lecturers. Chatting with them at the end of class and finding reasons to visit them during office hours. I never felt that I had a reason to bother lecturers and if I’m honest I felt shy and awkward approaching them. It soon became evident that networking could sometimes be advantageous yet I always felt that I could get through on my own merit. I didn’t want preferential treatment. My independence and self sufficiency was almost my down fall in my final year. I struggled with the research topic I had been given and I noticed that by coincidence those who had networked effectively had been lucky enough to receive the topic of their choice. My belief in a fair and just system was shaken to the core and I felt that my inability to schmooze was holding me back. I really felt like throwing in the towel and walking away. The support of my family and a very close friend got me through.
So, it was with great excitement and hope that I set off last September to start my journey as a post grad student. I suppose it would be true to say that I felt this year would be different. I believed it would be self directed and was expecting lots of discussion and exploration of ideas and opinions. I truly didn’t expect the level of support and scaffolding that was provided. Again, I saw it as a system that advantaged some, usually those who shout the loudest. Another thing that horrified me was the practise of sitting in a circle for the duration of classes. I felt completely exposed. Coming from an environment where there had been hundreds in a lecture hall to a room with twenty five people was terrifying. Every move, facial expression and change in tone of voice seemed to be noticed. And to add to my discomfort the amount of group work was much bigger than I had expected. I think I lasted two weeks before I decided that it wasn’t for me! I had to get out.
I approached tutors and explained what it was that was making me so uneasy and that I would have to leave. No one begged me to stay. No one told me that it was all part of the learning or that what I was feeling had probably been experienced by many past students. I was given the time and space to decide what course of action would be right for me. I stayed and I am extremely glad I did.
I have learned an enormous amount about myself this year. While I was always reflective I have learned that reflecting on how others act is a waste of time. Reflecting on me and my assumptions and preconceived notions is much more useful. So, this year I learned to listen, really listen. I learned that my assumptions are not set in stone, that I can change them or discard them if I wish. By being open to new ideas and opinions I’m open to new learning. While I always knew there was no universal truth I can accept it with ease now. Each of us is unique. Not everyone has the same outlook or holds the same values as me. In under grad the fact that students curried favour irked me. As this year progressed it mattered less and less. I embarked on this journey for me. There are more routes to the end than the one I took. Although my route was perfect for me it would not have been ideal for others. Education is not about one size fits all. I knew this before I entered college; I seemed to have lost sight of it for a while. This year has been a transformative learning experience for me and has reintroduced me to the reasons I became interested in education in the first place. Round pegs do not fit into square holes. Even though I fundamentally believe this I got dazzled by the system and almost bought into the one size fits all concepts.
So yesterday marked the end of my journey, today I start planning my next trip. I would really like to make a difference and help ensure that round pegs are not forced to adapt to square holes.