Well, the past year has been slightly more intense than I anticipated. Ignorantly, when I signed up to study the Trinity Diploma in Teaching English as a Second Language (DipTESOL), I believed it would be a breeze, however, it has been one seriously long, hard slog. If the one month CertTESOL course is a sprint, the DipTESOL is an ultramarathon - and I've never been a keen runner. However, I've survived (just), my marriage is still in tact (isn't it David?), I still have a few friends who have tolerated my elusiveness over the past 12 months and right now I am overwhelmed with a sense of achievement. The course is split into four units (including a 3 hour written exam; phonology exam; three research projects and observed teaching) I managed to achieve a distinction in three of the four units and I'll get the result of the written exam (the final unit) at the end of January. Provided I pass the exam I will get a distinction overall which would be amazing and make it all worthwhile.
A selection of the books I've read this year
Having not studied formally for over 25 years (besides my RYA Yachtmaster navigation exams, my MCA Long Range Radio exam and my CertTESOL), I have a few observations about returning to academia as a 'mature' student.
The curse of perfectionism
When I was studying for my GCSEs and my A Levels, I became quite adept at gauging the minimum effort I needed to apply in order to pass my exams. I was very conscious that I could do better if I really studied hard and made sacrifices but I didn't really see the point as that would interfere with cider drinking, smoking fags, flirting with boys and being a rebel without a cause. I always managed to do just enough to get by without completely pissing off the parents who had invested a lot in my education. It did almost backfire with my A levels, which I still have nightmares about now, as I knew I had scaled back my studying a bit too aggressively. However, I got away with it - just.
Contrary to this, as an adult student, nothing but a distinction will suffice. I have literally slogged my guts out over the last 12 months to get the results I've managed. I have turned down invitations to parties, weekends away, sailing, hiking - basically to do lots of really super fun things. I have obsessed over my studying and been utterly focussed and I've got so stressed at times, I've had panic attacks. I have beaten myself up every time I haven't got a distinction for an assignment or an observed lesson and I've been angry with myself on the odd occasion when I've been too tired or hungover to study. When did I become this perfectionist? I swear, studying was a lot less stressful when I was the rebellious teenager.
Studying is different now
When I think back to studying at school, the most high tech piece of equipment I had to assist me was a tape recorder. I remember someone telling me that if you went to sleep listening to something, you learnt it by some kind of weird osmosis. Naturally, this sounded like a great short cut to proper studying so I dutifully recorded myself reading the translation of Pliny for my Latin GCSE and slept listening to it, only to discover in my mock exams that nothing had been magically assimilated - rubbish! So back I went to my trusty latin dictionary, a pad of paper and a pen.
Nowadays, studying is a multi-media interactive experience, this has really helped me to retain an immense amount of information in a relatively short amount of time. My coursemates and I have had the luxury of being able to communicate, share knowledge and debate topics on our online learning platform called Moodle. We have participated in live online seminars with our tutors each week. We have been able to find academic papers and presentations to read online. We have been able to watch conference presentations on YouTube. We have been able to listen to Podcasts by key opinion leaders in the TESOL field. We have been able to write our own online quizzes to help us learn important facts and quotes for our exams. We have been able to co-create assignments using Googledocs... The list goes on... Basically, technology has made studying much more effective and learner-friendly over the years.
Addicted to expanding the mind
Above all I have discovered that studying and broadening the mind are quite addictive. Despite the fact that studying is, at times, very stressful, the satisfaction of increasing your knowledge and being able to apply it to real life has been incredibly rewarding. I feel very confident now talking about how learners acquire a second language most effectively. I believe I could efficiently design and deliver courses for both adults and children that would help them to learn English for their particular context, based on a very solid understanding of how learning works and what courses need to include to produce the best results. I know I have become a better teacher as a result of the past year. However, now I'm at the end of the course, I want to know more. I want to keep learning.
Now the DipTESOL is done (assuming I've passed the written exam), the big questions is, what next? I don't think I want to stop here - although I need to wait before broaching this (and the associated cost) with David. So, I'm thinking to start with, a Masters in Applied Linguistics and then, well, maybe a PhD - afterall Doctor Walder has a good ring to it, don't you think!