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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Essay 2: Should Taxpayers Relieve Students of Loan Commitments

“Why should UK taxpayers support you for three years to read novels, write poems or play with words?”

As I approach the final few months of my three-year BA English degree with QTS Secondary Education it seems appropriate for me to place my fingers on my keyboard and take stock of my time at university. The dates of my graduation ceremony in summer have been posted up on the university website; although I have several arduous assignments to complete before I can don a gown and cap, a teaching job awaits me at a well-renowned school in September. Friends will soon delight in being able to poke fun at my reinstated tax-payer status whilst moaning over my inflated holiday allowance. My previous career will eventually be forgotten in the need to write lesson plans and produce interesting and illuminating activities for the classroom. Perhaps, in a few years’ time, I might only remember my university years as a means to an end - a caesura in the middle of a line of a stanza which addresses my life? A brief footnote in my memoirs? No.

These last three years have stretched and challenged my mind in exactly the way I wanted when I sent off my university application. Invited and asked to defend my opinion in seminars, I have developed confidence in my critical reasoning where there was previously little. Slowly - but eventually - I reconciled my ‘9 to 5’ work mind-set with the notion that a day and night’s research and reading for an essay was not a waste of time. In short, I embraced education... and it has enveloped me.

As a mature student, it had been over twenty years ago since I had last felt the fear which comes when somebody whispers the word “exam” in your presence. I had long been a passionate and informed reader but feared I would struggle to unravel a Renaissance sonnet. I might have inherited the gift of the gab from my mum but could I tell the difference between ‘anaphoric’ and ‘cataphoric’ in an English language seminar? Could I refrain from thinking of girls named Anna who own tabbies? Over time, these fears faded, as did my other old preconceptions on education. For example: learning environments can now be virtual - there is no need for chalk and dusters nowadays; and teachers, sorry, tutors never ask you to copy out of a book. They impart knowledge and feelings instead, and give off an addictive air of appreciation, making a powerful contribution to the emotional and intellectual make-up of this soon-to-be newly-qualified teacher.

Although I will soon be a graduate and will no longer need my library ID (showing the grinning face of a man who might have read Arthur Miller but who had no idea of Brecht or Ibsen’s work or what it is like to have actually written a play), I will always be a student... of sorts. The ‘University of Life’ which my mother and father graduated from some years ago with honors will now have to be expanded to make room for the lifetime of study that I started three years ago and will now pass on in illuminated dribs and drabs. Perhaps while they are clearing the ground for my foundation stone, they should clear a space for others? Maybe someone reading this essay... perhaps someone wondering if they are cut out for the ‘student experience’?

Immediately after leaving my former career, and before entering university, I underwent a six-month stint as a volunteer English teacher in Ghana, West Africa. I saw at first-hand the trials and tribulations of instructing children in life, literature and language, and I learned much about myself through the generosity of the Ghanaians I met and befriended. I felt ready to teach English. Returning to the UK, I was glad to be able to receive a student loan to pay my tuition fees; even better, there was a maintenance grant to go towards paying my rent. The three years since have flown by, and now I am ready to teach English. I am soon to join the workforce once again, and feel fortunate to do so at this tricky economic time. After being supported financially by others I am now in a position to support others in their dreams and ambitions. Such a commitment is not taken on lightly but tax-payers were not consulted over the money which left their monthly pay packets to help me over the last three years. Perhaps they should have been polled for their opinion, I wonder. Would these folk put education – my education – before other, more pressing, needs?

In answer, I can only reply with this: the true worth of what I have studied these past three years will be apparent in my classroom and to all of my pupils. I will be able to relate to aspiring A level and university students, and can now confidently talk of the actual benefits of applying yourself to education. As an active, questioning reader, I can open young minds to the delights of Dylan Thomas or lasso in a bunch of rowdy Year 10 pupils restless with studying Of Mice and Men. Having learnt the relevance of meter, rhythm and stanza my forthcoming renditions of Blake, Hughes, Armitage and Duffy will not be as flat and uninspiring as the contents of my brain before entering university. If I had been denied the chance to debate and enter into dialogue, my chances of engaging Year 9 on a rainy last period on Friday afternoon would be slim to none. Without knowledge of the different types of ‘English’ narrative, I would not be the open-minded English teacher, whose words you read, who is about to commence his new career.

These lessons represent a tiny portion of a huge ‘mountain’ which I have climbed with the help of others. Other students that I encountered have been similarly inspired and empowered through their course. University, nay education, is a force for good. While all of it may not be for everyone – or, should I say, I’m still not convinced about a play by a certain Mancunian playwright – it has something for everyone... and is everything for a certain someone…

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