My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Sailing off the edge

Last Thursday I wrote my final exam as an undergraduate university student. This marks the end of my formal schooling (for now). I have this week off, which is a welcome break and short vacation, and then I begin my second five-week practicum. Come the last full week of April, I will be finished completely. No more assignments. No more tests. I’ll be a transcript and some bureaucratic processing away from being a certified teacher.

I have mixed feelings about being finished school. On one hand, it is a relief. This last term of classes went by slowly. Many of my friends remarked that they were not getting much from their classes this time, that they were anxious to get back out in the field or to be done … and I can see whence this line of reasoning comes, and I agree in part. We had an intense conversation about this in my Philosophy of Education class, about how we would redesign the teacher education program if we could. All of us spoke with the voices of very tired teacher candidates.

On the other hand, it is also terrifying. This is it. When I entered university, I entered as a concurrent education student. I knew I would be doing five years, four of them for my honours degree and one in the Faculty of Education. Now I’m finished. This is the culmination of my five-year plan, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment … and a corresponding sense of “nowwhatedness”. Now what do I do? (I need another five-year plan, of course!) The year before me is a year of transition, a year in which I will redefine myself. I will go from student to teacher in earnest, look for jobs, look for other ways to gain experience. Depending on where I end up—but that is another post—I will be making new friends (and maybe new enemies!) and learning how to live on my own, as an adult, something I have yet to experience. This is going to be a Year of New Things. It is bound to be both intimidating and exhilarating, probably all at the same time.

I get lots of queries about graduate school. I give off, I suppose, this latent sense of academe. I am the stereotypical ivory tower individual: white, male, book-smart, autodidactic, possessed of certain idiosyncrasies, and socially-awkward. (All I’m lacking is the strokable beard. I think I would look terrible with a beard, so I’ve never tried growing one.) Many people I know assume or have voiced an expectation that I will end up in grad school and, ultimately, a university professor. Well, I did my stint of research and know it’s not for me—that is, I don’t want to do it for the rest of my life. Plus, the life of a professor is not as flexible in terms of where I can work: I’d have to go where there are positions, and those would be in large cities, which I want to avoid. Finally, North American society is churning out too many postdocs as it is. Statistically, this is a poor time to to be pursuing a doctorate. That probably wouldn’t stop me if it was something I really wanted (or needed), but it does not sweeten the deal.

But what about a mere masters? After all, many high school teachers have those now; it is close to becoming an expectation. Indeed, this credential inflation is one reason I am avoiding grad school for now. It may be silly, but I’m being contrarian. Also, once I´ve found a stable teaching job, I can do my masters gradually on the side—this is probably more financially sensible than doing it now, when I have no strong source of income. I need to start saving, start putting money away for those rainy days and for retirement, and I need experience. This is the bottom line. In the end, it comes down to one thing: I have no real-world experience.

I went straight out of high school and into five years of university. I don’t think it’s my place to start doing research on how to teach or how students learn when I have no conception of what actually happens in a classroom. And I don’t want to be swallowed up by the (sometimes toxic) culture of academe and the ivory tower … university is a wonderful place of learning, but it is also problematic, and I would like to step outside it for a while and get a chance to learn in other ways. I have book-smarts, and I will continue to acquire book-smarts. But now I desperately need some street-smarts as well. I am very comfortable being an academic student, but I also recognize that this comfort is itself a siren song that could lure me to limit my development and keep my mind on a very narrow path. Now that I have the opportunity, it is time to shake things up—not too much, mind you, but enough to get some practice all up in my theory.

So this is it, the end of this road for now. I will probably return to school at some point, whether it is to get a graduate degree or simply to take more undergraduate courses that strike my fancy. (I will be doing Additional Qualification courses and other professional development workshops too, but I don’t count those as a “return” to university.) As a teacher I should be a lifelong learner, and learning has always been something I just do anyway, so I don’t think I will be able to stay away from university forever. For now, though … other things lie ahead. The world is not flat after all.