My MA seems to be finishing not with a bang, but a whimper.
I have been a student for many years now, and I always envisaged the final day; a moment where all exams would be passed, all grades would be given, and I’d leave campus for the last time marching onwards to begin my brilliant career. Instead, as my final months, weeks, and days of being a student draw to a close, I am beginning to realise how for many graduate students the delineation of work and school is far from clear. Instead of one following the other, they blend into each other making it hard to distinguish what we do for money, for the love of it, for knowledge, for interest or for simply attaining a qualification.
On the one hand, financial necessity requires most of us to continue to work (anywhere from a few hours a week, up to a full time load in addition to studying) throughout our degrees. As an international student, I was ineligible for most funding opportunities. Occasionally I found an award that I could apply for but the application inevitably resulted in a chicken and egg situation: previous funding being listed as an important criterion. Much as presenting at conferences or getting published is more likely if you have done so before, success breeds success.
On the other (and much more unexpected) hand, I seem to have found myself in a situation where every time I think I am near the glorious Master’s finish line, it gets pushed a little further out of reach. At this point, I have renewed my library books countless times. The limbo of having a thesis read, reviewed, returned, revised, and reread is incredibly lengthy. While the process churns away in the background, I have started teaching full time far away from the university and world of “academia”. My thoughts drift further and further from theory as I become more embroiled in the minutiae of day-to-day practice, such as….
The cumulation of these circumstances has forced me to reconsider the traditional notion of teachers and students. I’m not particularly sure what camp I’m in anymore. I’m a “teacher” by day, but sometimes I feel only tenuously separated from the students I stand in front of. Almost two and a bit university degrees separate us, but I’m fast realising that as a teacher you never really ‘finish’ studying. As a kid, my teachers seemed all-knowing and wise; they were confident in their decisions, assured in their methods, and ready to answer any question that was flung at them. But I don’t feel any of those things! Undertaking graduate study has served mostly to make me more aware of how much I don’t know, impressing even more upon me the importance of continued study.
But soon my studies will indeed be over. My access to the McGill library will be gone, and I’ll see less and less of my academic colleagues. While so far I have bemoaned my unrelenting student status, I’m perhaps even more worried about what happens once it has gone. As education students we endlessly discuss the gap between theory and practice, and it is now my responsibility to make sure that I don’t allow that gap to widen. In fact, I don’t want to move towards the “teacher” end of the spectrum! So for now, I will relish the whimper instead of the bang and try to enjoy being on both sides of the divide for as long as they’ll let me.
And in the meantime, will someone please start explaining how to cultivate some teacherly gravitas?