education

Life update: post-teaching

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Around seven months ago I made a post regarding my reasons for leaving teaching (https://thebranchingmind.com/2016/12/20/the-truth-about-teaching/). After leaving the profession I decided to return to University to pursue a new career (https://thebranchingmind.com/2017/03/15/returning-to-university-at-age-25/). While I don’t necessarily want to use this blog to discuss my personal life, a few of you have asked me how I am getting on. Several people have messaged, confessing that they are miserable within the teaching profession, they feel stuck and do not know what the next step is. For these reasons, I thought it would be useful to provide a quick update on how my life has progressed since leaving the teaching profession.

  • No more depressed ruts. Working as a teacher for three years, at least once every couple of months I would slip into a depressed state because I was so unhappy and so unfulfilled within the job. I felt as though I had failed in my career, failed as a human being and ultimately, failed at life. I remember sitting at tables with the children, doing tedious activities, plastering a false smile on my face while telling them how lovely their paintings and drawings all were. Yet, in the back of my mind I would be thinking “what am I doing with my life? I feel no passion for this job and I don’t feel like I’m achieving anything. Is this really all I am going to do with my life? I could have accomplished so much, I could have had any career, yet I chose this…”. It has now been seven months since I left teaching and I have not experienced a single depressed rut. During my time as a teacher, I remember making calls to my Mum almost every week in tears, ranting about how much I despised the job and how I was not meant for the role. Since then I have cried once – when I got accepted into the dentistry course, and they were happy tears!
  • Feeling positive about the future. While working as a teacher, I felt stuck with no escape. I had made the detrimental decision to take the teaching course at University, these were the cards I had been dealt, therefore I had no other option but to remain in the profession. What else was I going to do, I couldn’t go back to University again? I felt no excitement or enthusiasm about coming into work each day, about life or my future. It was as though I was experiencing life as a robot – waking up solemn and miserable, spending eight exhausting and mentally mundane hours on the job, coming home shattered, getting takeout because I was too tired to cook, bed by eight, not falling asleep until midnight due to anxiety about the day ahead, and repeat. I spent a considerable amount of time each day and night contemplating what the actual purpose of my life was. If I wasn’t enjoying life then what was the point of my existence? However, post teaching, I feel so much more positive and content with my new course in dentistry. I find it comforting to know that I am now working towards a career that will better suit my interests and personality. I am incredibly excited about eventually earning a higher salary, to possibly set up my own practice, to be able to save money and to continue travelling abroad. I also find it encouraging to know that in this new job, the end of the working day will be the end of my working day. With teaching, the work never stopped, the end of your working day, was never really the end.
  • No more sickness. Working as a teacher, I would catch colds and become ill almost every single month. In the past seven months, I have caught a cold once! Not only that, but I no longer have to come home everyday with aching legs, back pain, and feeling utterly physically exhausted. Additionally, I now have the time and mental energy to pursue other interests and areas of my life.

Overall, I feel 100% confident in my decision of leaving teaching and returning to University. The more time that passes, the more I realise just how unfitting teaching was for my character. I am so relieved that I did not stick with the career solely due to fear of the unknown. However, it hasn’t all been entirely positive. While the majority of people have been supportive and understanding of my decision to go back to University. There were a couple of people who were unsupportive and critical of this choice – stating that I was going to be in my late twenties once graduated and that I would be behind in life. I found such criticisms slightly upsetting and I began second guessing myself “am I really making the right decision? Should I have stayed in a career I was miserable in?”. Excuse my unformal language, but in hindsight I should have thought, screw the critics! They have not walked in my shoes or experienced what I have experienced, so there is not point internalising the negative views of others. Not to mention, everyone’s life path is different. People have different life goals and aspirations, so who’s to say I will be behind?

In all honesty, going into teaching was one of the utmost worst decisions I have ever made in my life, while leaving teaching has undoubtedly been one of the best. Interestingly, one of the biggest fears I have developed over this past year, is the fear of ‘what if?’. What if I hadn’t come to the realisation that I needed to leave teaching? What if I really had wasted this one life that I have? If you are unhappy and feel stuck in your career, take a risk and change that. I can’t stress enough just how important it is to be in a career you are content with. What is the point in wasting your life, spending fifty odd years working in a job you despise? And if anyone questions or criticises your decision to take the plunge and start again, screw them! It’s your life and you need to trust your own instincts. Take control of the situation and do what’s best for you – you won’t regret it.

Returning to University at age 25

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For a variety of different reasons, people end up going back to University later in life. I did my first degree in Psychology which I thoroughly enjoyed, however, this degree is limited in career prospects. Because of this, I then completed a Graduate Diploma in Teaching. While this qualification guaranteed me to work as a teacher, I never enjoyed the University course or the line of work. Throughout my short-lived career as a teacher, I would often ponder over the thought of going back to University and starting again. Yet I would always think of reasons that opposed this, because I ideally, I didn’t want to start again. It wasn’t until my third year as a teacher that I realised I could no longer work in the profession; that I didn’t want to live my life unhappy in my career and finally felt the desire to go back and start again.

Once I had made the decision to go back to University, I decided to research what it would be like returning to University as a mature student (although I’m not sure 25 would qualify as being “mature”). I noticed this topic was a search trend on google. Therefore, I thought this post may be useful to any readers considering going back to University in their mid-twenties, and as with most of my blog posts, what the pros and cons of this may be.

Before I delve into the list of pros and cons, I think it’s firstly quite important to establish whether returning to University would be a viable option for you. I believe there are two main factors you need to consider before making the commitment of returning to University in your mid-twenties.

  • Your financial situation. University is very expensive. Many people are already in substantial debt due to previous studies. I think it’s very important to consider whether returning to University is worth the financial burden. Personally, I believe that if you are truly unhappy in your career, then you should change your situation, despite the financial liabilities. However, if you are seriously in debt, you may need to consider other options. It’s also important to find out whether you qualify for any allowances. In New Zealand, if you are 25 and over, you may qualify for a housing allowance, as well a supplementary allowance. While the allowances aren’t much, it is fantastic in the sense that it almost allows people to take a second shot at getting their careers right without having to reach too far into their pockets. Also, if your future career offers a decent salary, this should also be taken into consideration. As a teacher, the salary was relatively low, however, as a dental hygienist/therapist I will be earning almost double what I was a teacher, so this alleviates any stressors of having a small student debt once completing my new degree.
  • Putting your life on hold. When you decide to go back to University, you not only have to put your life on hold in a financial sense, but also personally. If you have a partner and are wanting to start a family, these plans may need to be delayed. Raising a child and attending University won’t be an easy option. However, if you are single, or have a partner, but no plans to settle down in the near future, then you are in a great position to return to University.

If you have made your decision to return to University, fantastic! I have been back at University about a month now, and below are what I have found to be the main pros and cons of returning to University at age 25.

Pros:

  • Increased work ethic. When you’re older, you tend to have less of a desire to socialise and “party”, compared to when you were in your early twenties. All of that is probably out of your system, and as a result you are able to become a lot more focused on your work and motivated to achieve high grades. I have found that I have a much greater work ethic than ever before. The course I am doing is highly competitive, only 33 people get into the course out of 700 applicants each year. Because it is such a competitive and intensive course, a lot of the other pupils on the course are also very studious. This motivates me further to work hard, and I feel quite eager to get better grades than my fellow classmates!
  • Increased confidence. The majority of people at University are around age 18-21. I find that with age, you become more confident in yourself and less concerned as to what people think of you. At age 25, I feel a lot more confident speaking up and do not feel intimated by people that I may have been when I was younger.
  • Feeling better suited to the career path and with your classmates. People tend to know themselves better as they get older and become more self aware. Once you have figured out a career path that is best suited to you, you may find that you fit in better with the ‘crowd’. As a student studying education, I felt no drive and no passion towards the profession and I did not fit in with the crowd. While I should not generalise, I will admit that the majority of people on my teaching course were very loud, extroverted and arty. I remember everyone being so enthusiastic when singing nursery rhymes and demonstrating lesson plans, while I felt completely awkward and uncomfortable.  I have always been introverted and quite a logical/structured person. I find that a lot of people on my current course also possess these personality traits and I see this as being a huge indicator that I am on a career path much better suited to my personality.

Cons:

  • As mentioned before, there are financial consequences of returning to University, as well as having to delay certain life plans.
  • Comparing yourself to others. All of my friends are now working full time, earning an annual salary, being able to save and travel abroad. I sometimes find it frustrating knowing that I will need to wait several years before doing these things again and sometimes feel as though I am slightly behind compared to my friends. Yet, when I hear someone speaking about being unhappy in their job, that tends to reassure me that while I may be behind, it is still worth starting again and getting my career right.

Overall, I definitely find that the pros of returning to University at age 25 outweigh the cons. If you are thinking of returning to University, just make sure you do your research in regards to the financial aspects and find out whether you qualify for any allowances. While returning to University and putting your life on hold may not sound ideal, it’s important to look at your life in the long run. Getting your career right while you are still young is easier than starting again much later in life.

Do High School’s really prepare students for University and the workforce?

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Choosing what to study at University and what career path to go down, is one of the biggest decisions a person can make during their lifetime. It is now expected that our generation will reach retirement around the age of sixty-seven, meaning that on average we will spend fifty odd years in the workforce. For that reason, it is so important to make the right decision when choosing a career. But at the tender age of eighteen, do we really know our selves well enough to make such a pivotal decision? And do our educational systems really support us in making these decisions?

During my final two years of High School there were two weeks, just two weeks, dedicated to learning about the workforce in a practical sense. My High school education did not prepare me any way, shape or form for the world of work or for University. In these career classes, we were never taught the necessary basics. I had no idea what a “bachelor’s degree” meant, or what a “major” or “minor” were. I didn’t know the meaning of a “graduate diploma”, “certificate, “thesis”, “masters”, or “PhD”. Without being taught the basic university terminology, how was I supposed to set out my degree.

Another problem with education today, is that students aren’t being told the truth. We live in a society that has a tendency to only consider one side of the coin. If the other side of the coin is a bit taboo or goes against social norms, ideals and expectations, then it is swept under the rug and kept under wraps. We can look at two examples of this:

  • being taught to “follow our passions”; to follow our dreams and we will succeed. This is a notion I find slightly problematic and misleading. We often read articles and hear motivational speeches of people who have set out to pursue their passions, how they have tried, tried and tried again. Failed and tried again. And eventually, they make it. Not only do they make it, but they make it big. Society uses these successful figures as prime examples; to reinforce to us that we should follow our passions and we will succeed. But is this realistic? Unfortunately not. Society doesn’t teach us about the other side of the coin. We don’t hear motivational speeches of people that have tried, tried and tried again, and failed. Speeches and articles about people who have lost everything, and are now spending the rest of their lives trying to rebuild a life. Schools won’t teach us this reality because it goes against the social ideal of following our passions. Yes, I do believe its important to work in a field you are interested in, but it is equally as important to be made aware of the pros and cons of following a “risky” passion.
  • Another reality school’s don’t teach pupil’s is that arts degrees will not guarantee you a job. Because schools teach us to follow our passions, they then can’t go and tell us that we should think twice about doing an arts degree, as it goes against what they teach us about following our dreams. Arts degrees are risky because they don’t necessarily lead to a specific job, and may not guarantee you with a work by the end of your studies. Arts degrees may equip you with a random set of skills in say history, or sociology, anthropology and so forth, but unfortunately, there aren’t many jobs out there that require such a skill set.

I studied psychology through a bachelor of arts for my first degree, and loved it. I had found my niche, and it was through this degree that my love for science developed. However, at the end this degree, I didn’t know what to do. My qualification hadn’t led me anywhere, and my future was uncertain. I then decided to undertake a graduate diploma in teaching, as I knew it would lead me down a route where I could actually receive work.

There are so many problems with the education system today and at all levels: preschool, primary, high school and university. I think high schools need to prepare students far more for the work force and in choosing a career. For instance, why not have five weeks a year (during the final two years of high school) dedicated to voluntary work in different fields. Students could be given a list of the different areas of work – education, banking and finance, IT, engineering, law etc. Then asked to pick five different fields of work and spend one week in each field, getting involved as ethically and legally possible. This way, students will be exposed to a whole range of different jobs and areas of work, which should ultimately provide them with more ‘real’ insight when making a decision. Rather than spending a week writing an essay on “why Sin City was filmed in black and white?”, or “why Kill a Mockingbird was a novelty of its time?”, wouldn’t it be far more useful for students to use this time and gain real life work experience?

Schools also don’t teach us about the alternatives i.e. a gap year. If you are eighteen, you don’t know yourself or what to do with your life. One of the best thing you could do in that situation is go on a gap year. Travelling alone is invaluable, it will help you to grow and discover yourself – your likes, dislikes, personality traits, interests and so forth. When I left High School, I didn’t fully understand what a gap year was and had no idea that it could even be an option. In hindsight, taking a gap year would have been beneficial to me and I wish that we had been taught more about this in school.

If you are a student reading this, about to go onto university, my advice would be to:

  • do research on the pros and cons of the career you are considering, see if it is a career that is realistic and achievable.
  • do research on the type of bachelors you are considering i.e. will doing a degree through the arts leave you with good job prospects, or would it be better to do your major through a bachelor of science or law, if possible.
  • if your school hasn’t provided you with enough practical experience in the workforce, then go out and do it yourself. Go and spend a week in a school, or a law firm and try and get as involved as you possibly can. Use these opportunities to gain as much insight as you can into the careers; what the pros and cons are, what personality traits you might need, what the salary is and so forth.
  • if you really don’t know yourself or what you want to do, consider taking a gap year, maybe even two years abroad. Take some time to travel and learn about yourself in the process.
  • do not rush. Don’t let anyone pressure you into picking up the pace. Take as much time as you need to research or travel. If you rush, you could end up going down the wrong career path and then find yourself at square one again. Major life-changing decisions should not be rushed.