Saturday, 9 August 2014

My Thoughts on University Part 2

Disclaimer: Read Part 1!

Yesterday I discussed the journey I took towards the degree I have just completed. After I realised that a career in retail was not for me, I was lost. Just before applying to university to study Business, I very nearly changed my mind and chose teaching. Now that I had realised that I wanted to do something that made a difference, I turned my attention to teaching degrees.

Because I was out of the education loop and didn't have a college tutor nagging me to get an application in, I didn't realise that the deadline for applying was really soon and I needed to complete two weeks work experience in a school to be able to apply. Luckily I managed it and got my application in, only to realise that I needed to re-do my Science GCSE to be in with a chance of being accepted. (I was pretty good at Science, so I was put in for triple science but I was a lazy teenager and didn't care so I only got a 'D'). I had to learn the science syllabus in a few weeks to take the exam after three years of no science...ahh! Spoiler alert: I got a B.

Starting University Again

One of the reasons I felt detached at my first university was that I didn't live on campus. So this time I  decided to live in halls. Just to put things in perspective: I was never huge on clubbing. That's not to say I didn't go clubbing or enjoy clubbing, just not every night. So I hoped, I'd meet a few like-minded people who liked going out but also liked other things too. Unfortunately that was not the case, and I was put with the rowdiest crowd of people possible. My freshers week was 9am to 5pm in university and my roommates would go out every night and be insistent on waking me up and banging on my door. The final straw was when I got up one night and they had brought a load of people back accompanied by a load of drugs. 

I know what you must be thinking - it's freshers week! Lighten up! What did you expect? I'm not a spoil sport or anything like that, I'm all up for a good time but I could just tell these weren't people I was going to gel with. There are three types of people who go to university: People who come to learn; people who come to learn and have fun and people who just go to doss around and have fun. They were the latter and considering I was paying a lot of money to live there when I could easily commute it was just really pointless and I moved home. 

Luckily I met some of the best people you could ever hope to meet on my university course and they are the same people that have turned into family over the course of the four years. We've stuck together through thick and thin and if I'm grateful to this degree for anything - it's having met them. 

The Course

When I say the name of my degree to people - it takes a bit of explaining. I did a BA degree in Key Stage 2 and 3 Education, specialising in Computer Science with Qualified Teacher Status. What this basically means is the course enables you to specialise in teaching pupils from ages 7 to 14 and have experience in both primary and secondary schools. As well as undertaking a normal teaching degree you also complete modules in degree level Computer Science enabling you to have the option of being a Computer Science high school teacher or a primary school teacher.

The course itself was partly modules and, of course, being a teaching degree heavily placement based. I think what surprises most people when they start university is the lack of time you actually spend in lectures - on average to begin with around 10 hours over the week. This is perfect for people who are self motivated to go away, as you're expected to, and do independent work. For me, however, this is an excuse to do no work until the very last minute in a panic. 

This particular degree was completely opposite to the first degree in that there were only 40 or so people in the class and we were split into two groups of 20ish. This meant everyone really quickly became friends and the atmosphere was really supportive, with a lot of sharing of knowledge on Facebook and real genuine friendship and camaraderie. 

The Modules

I undertook a lot of modules. From computer science modules to subject modules in all the core subjects (English, Maths, Science etc) and more theory based modules in education. It seems in university, more so than high school or college, you either have really amazing lecturers or really poor ones. Some of the modules left me inspired and more importantly, educated! Whereas others were so rubbish it was quite amazing that these people were teaching us how to teach. I think the most important thing to factor in, is that you are trying to complete the degree and so as long as you get enough information to be able to pass there really isn't much you can do about the fact that your lecturer or module is poor. 

Many modules in the first year are 'pass/fail' and don't actually count towards your degree classification (although on some degrees they do) and often give you a chance to refine your academic writing or approach - as most modules were assessed by essays and essay writing at university is very different and much harder than you realise (queue never having any original ideas again!). 


Placements made up a huge part of my course and I'd assume any course where you are working towards a certain profession (medicine, nursing etc) would be the same. Of course before I embarked on the wonderful world of teaching I thought teachers worked from 8.30 to 4 and had wonderful holidays. HA HA. How wonderfully naive. 

I undertook an 8 week placement in a primary school in the first year with 50% timetable. An 8 week placement in the second year in a high school (eek! It wasn't as bad as you might imagine) and a 16 week placement in my final year where you take over the role as the class teacher. 

I did this placement when I was sick with ME and believe me - it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I arrived at school at 7.30am every morning for an hour of marking/printing/lesson planning/crying. Taught lessons from 8.30am to 3pm with a quick stop for lunch (sometimes). Then on to meetings three nights out of five until at least 5/6pm. Then marking for hours, assessments, planning, making resources. It was enough to kill the average person, besides someone with ME. I spent lots of sleepless evenings/nights feeling terrible, having panic attacks and crying. Mainly because I was so scared of coping and worried about being ill.

I just about coped but boy, did my body punish me for it after my placement. Although I had many happy times on my placement and astoundingly came out with an 'Outstanding', if it showed me anything it was that I cannot cope with that job at the moment in my condition. No way on earth. 

In Conclusion...

I suppose, what I'm getting at, is that there are highs and lows of university but it's important to be realistic about it. I think a lot of people, including myself before I went, put university on a pedestal and think of it as the only option, it's not. My first recommendation would be to think carefully about what it is you want to do with your life. If you don't, that's fine, but maybe hold off from university a bit until you do. Or, like me, you will realise you made the wrong decision. 

Secondly, there are a lot of things you can achieve without going to university. I have friends or people I keep in contact with from school who didn't go to university and are doing really well for themselves and are very happy. Instead of four years studying, they had four years to move up the ranks and start doing something they're really happy with. 

As long as you are happy in what you are doing - that's all that matters : )

University Through the Years...

Friday, 8 August 2014

My Thoughts on University Part 1

When I graduated from university, and put a few pictures up, a few younger spoonies expressed how it was their desire or goal to be well enough to go to university. This is not solely a spoonie concern and it seems to be the 'natural' progression of young people to go from GCSE to A Level to Degree. Like so many others I simply didn't question this direction when I finished my A Levels. 

I think I can offer a relatively knowledgable perspective to this as I have actually been to two universities and undertaken work-place training - which is why I'm graduating at the ripe old age of 23 and not far from 24. So here, if you're bored enough, is my little story of university.

Finishing my A Levels

As I was finishing college and thinking about university I had no idea what direction I wanted to go in whatsoever. I booked a session with a sort of guidance counsellor I suppose and they offered no help or no unique perspective. Boo. For A Level I studied English Language, Business Studies and Media Studies. I had always been good at Business achieving A* at GCSE and an A at A Level so I just went with what I was good at and chose to apply for Business degrees at all large local universities.
College was made better by a few parties.

Starting University

When results day came around I was pleased as punch to have been accepted to my first choice, Sussex University as it is quite a well regarded university and pretty hard to get into. Then September rolled around. The set up at Sussex was quite different to my second university and there were around 170 people on the course and most of the lectures were in large lecture theatres. As I was commuting and didn't meet anyone in halls, this made it quite hard to meet people. I did make friends, of course, but eventually the talk became more and more about last nights halls party and although was I in no way 'left out', I didn't really feel a sense of belonging. 

Secondly, I didn't really feel like I was learning anything. Most lectures I would parallel with GCSE Business Studies and my interest really waned. Coupled with the fact I'd have to catch the train at 7am, I would skip lectures more and more.

Another aspect of my life at this time was my job. I'd progressed from checkout girl to human resources assistant to human resources supervisor in a short time and I was doing really well and really enjoying it. One Saturday my manager sat me down and asked me if I would like to be put on their training program to train me to be a store Human Resources Manager. This was a job that was well paid, company car etc and I thought "If this is the job I'm aiming for when I finish my degree anyway - what's the point in carrying on?" So I withdrew from University at Christmas.

'Carnage' is a University right of passage...right?

Work Based Training

After this I upped my hours at work and attended more training sessions. These were 'in house' and after so many business lessons nothing I didn't already know. What people don't tell you about retail is it wants to steal your soul. I won't mention the name of the supermarket I worked for but 100% isn't good enough. You work all the hours in the day, miss breaks, get no thanks and go home worrying. And I had a pretty nice position.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not work shy, I actually like a busy environment (or I did), but retail is not a job that's worth running yourself into the ground for. You're not helping people, you're not really achieving anything. I knew it wasn't for me, not forever. I was quite lost.

Tomorrow I'll post about my Four Year Degree!