Learning to be a Learner

Two of my friends, Matthew Boyle and Anne Glennie are involved in the Each and Every Dog website. It’s dedicated to exploring what it means to learn, to be educated and to use learning and education to help create a socially just society. Continually learning together should be an opportunity to make the world a better place in which to live.  The site is a forum and magazine to explore practices, ideas and the people that they believe are doing this. Click here to find out more.

Following their recent podcast, they invited listeners to submit a post about something they have found hard about learning, or have struggled with.  I took up the challenge and submitted this post.

After 25 years working in education and training I was comfortable in my role. I knew what I was doing and that I was good at it. This meant a hassle free work life and it would’ve been an easy option to continue spinning round on the hamster wheel. But my job wasn’t fulfilling and as far as expressing my creativity, I was in serious danger of ‘use it or lose it’.  I had two options. I could accept that my job didn’t stimulate me and suck it up or I could pursue my aspirations to be a published (in the traditional sense) writer and go back to uni to study for an MLitt in Creative Writing. I was lucky to have the support of my hubby so I took a deep breath and plunged into life as a mature student.

Being back on campus surrounded by bright young things the same age as my sons was weird. I didn’t know where I was going or how to get tokens to operate the printer or how to upload an assignment digitally. It was all new. It was daunting. It was scary.

IMG (2)Having spent my career training teachers and assessing schools, it felt odd to be the pupil and to concede that I wasn’t the expert in the room. This role reversal was a difficult transition for a control freak like me. I was used to dishing out the feedback and enjoyed the balance of power being in my favour.

A major element of the course was to have my writing ‘workshopped’ by the tutor and others in the class. This was the hardest part of all.  Offering up my words to be ripped apart made me feel very insecure. Was I wasting time and money on the course? Was my writing good enough? I had to learn to take harsh criticism and to decide whether to accept it or reject it. Ultimately, the challenge was to find my writing ‘voice’. I played around with different styles and tone until I found a voice that matched what I wanted to say. 

In my writing, I want to explore issues such as social class and identity and it became apparent that the best way for me to create authenticity was to use Scots dialect. It’s taken me ten years of writing to work out that I want my writing to reflect my working class upbringing in a credible way. My third novel, Talk of the Toun, is due to be published by ThunderPoint in October and will be my debut.  The journey to publication has been a long one with many disappointments and frustrations along the way. But it’s also been fun, exciting and the climax of a lifelong ambition. And however hard it might be, I’ve still got a lot to learn…

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8 thoughts on “Learning to be a Learner

  1. And luckily for me I got to meet you there 🙂 … and I think you took all the criticism with your usual good humour! x

  2. The Each and Every Dog website looks like a great concept. We all need to keep learning for our own sake and for the good of society as a whole.

    I enjoyed reading about your learning route to writing. So looking forward to your book launch.

    • Thanks Anne. Yes, the website is a great source of inspiration for anyone interested in education and learning. I totally agree with you, I’d hate to ever feel that I had no desire to learn new things. Your stint in the bookshop must’ve given you a rich learning experience and I bet it fired up a few ideas for your writing too.

  3. Lovely post, Helen. As the partner of someone who started his doctorate in his early forties I know how much that decision entails. He’s now an academic and very fond of mature students! Congratulations on all you’ve achieved.

    • Thanks Susan. As you know it’s a big deal to put your dream before the family finances so I’m sure your partner is as grateful as I am to my hubby that he had the support necessary to chase my dream.

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