Many times, adults are reluctant to return to school. Whether compelled by the potential of increasing earning power, confronting an internal challenge, or simply from a compulsion to learn more about a subject of interest, they hesitate to return to the hallowed halls of learning. They are afraid they won’t fit in.
They may fear that the other students will regard them as geezers and ridicule them, that their academic skills are rusty and they won’t be able to keep up with younger classmates, that they will have no friends with whom to socialize, and that they lack the technological skills with which the youngsters have grown up. If their memories of former schooldays are unpleasant, returning to an educational institution will require a major dose of courage.
I can approach this topic from the vantage point of experience. I returned to university after retirement. I have taught elementary school for thirty-five years. When I began, the only criteria for a teacher’s certificate in Ontario was the successful completion of Grade 13, and one year of Teachers’ College.
As requirements for became more stringent, I watched my colleagues entering the profession with higher and higher qualifications. By the time I retired, young teachers were starting off with Bachelor of Arts degrees, Master of Education degrees and some had even more advanced degrees plus a plethora of specialized courses.
I had completed a few university courses over the years, but I found that I couldn’t adequately juggle teaching, family responsibilities, housework, and the reading and essays that a university course demands. I wasn’t giving my best to any of these endeavors, so I dropped the courses, but I always felt like the “poor relation” at work, the teacher who had least formal education and so, was not quite as good as her colleagues.
After retirement, I determined to prove to myself that I could do it. I enrolled in a Theology course and faced all the anxieties, apprehensions and fears outlined above. I needn’t have worried. Here was what I found:
* The mere fact that a mature adult was present, taking the class of her own free will and obviously enjoying it, made younger students reevaluate the worth of their own participation.
* Because of my age and experience, I was able to add much to class discussions. The students, realizing this, often sought my opinion and advice.
* I never detected any ridicule. In fact, the students were very kind and anxious to helpful. To be honest, it may have been because I reminded them of their mother or grandmother, but they couldn’t have been more pleasant.
* I had many friends. An added bonus was the fact that the professors were especially amiable, and I was treated as a fellow adult, rather than as an inexperienced neophyte.
* I was seldom stuck for material when writing essay-type papers. The experience of living and working in the world so for many years provided lots of opportunity for reflection and disclosure.
* I was not skilled with computers when I started the courses. Assignments motivated me to learn more and my young friends were willing advisers.
* I had never learned to type in high school. It wasn’t required in the 1950s, but I have become quite speedy and accurate with my unique one-finger technique.
If you are an adult contemplating a return to school for whatever reason, do not hesitate to do so. Your presence will be a asset to the class. You will be a resource person for the younger students, and a friendly adult face among the sea of youthful visages for the teachers. If you are lacking any technical skills, you can pick them up; all you’ll need is a little coaching and some practice.
One of the most satisfying experiences in my life was walking up on stage in Toronto, before my children and grandchildren to receive a Master’s degree. I knew all along that I could do it, and if I can, so can anyone. All it takes is a major dose of courage.