So far, this year has not been kind to me. Right now I’m dealing with a deeply unpleasant chesty cold, but that’s just the tip of my 2012 woes.
Whilst I still believe that education is the key to solving so many of the world’s problems, I’ve come to doubt whether I have a role to play in it; at least in an academic sense. No jobs teaching English seem to be forthcoming and I’ve just heard that a fifth university has denied me a place on a PGCE course. So now I’ve had four rejections from four different universities in the space of a fortnight. In some ways it’s good because it means I can move on to the next choice as soon as possible. But, then again, I could do without getting my hope dashed every fucking week.
It’s probably only natural that I’ve started to reassess things. Why was I not getting on the course? How, I wondered, would I get on this course? So I started thinking about what was wrong with my application. When it comes down to it, there are three, maybe four deal breaker problems with my application.
The biggest problem, however, is my degree. Now, I didn’t do all that well in my undergraduate degree. I didn’t fail, but then, I didn’t get the grades that you’d normally expect a guy with a Masters degree (even if it is just in Film Screenwriting) to get. Now I think that, overall, I’m a pretty solid PGCE candidate. Sure, I’m a little below the usually required standard in regards to degree result, but I’ve got a Masters, a CELTA and a bit of actual, on the job teaching experience. To my mind, the overall package is pretty good. At the very least it’s acceptable. Of course, if you’re just ticking off boxes then I don’t quite get a tick in the one marked degree result.
There are about a thousand different reasons why my time as an undergraduate didn’t go as well as it should have. I’ve told this story before, but, it does bear repeating. Right before I was due to go to Uni, my Dad died. It’s a pretty traumatic event made so much worse by all the crap that followed. My Mum wrote a letter to the History department at my chosen university, Royal Holloway. I figured they knew all about everything I’d been through and would, as a result, would take that into account. So the first year goes on. I have trouble with lectures (believe it or not, It’d somehow not registered that I had to go to a bunch of tutorials, so I was already on the back foot just a few weeks into term). Then, back home, my mum is, probably quite understandably, given that she’s just been made a widow in her mid-forties, freaking out. She was, I would say, severely depressed. My Grandma, having lost her only son, was starting to lose it too. Clearly she was in the early stages of dementia too, so that didn’t help. During this period, she sold the house she’d lived in for nigh on 60 years (yeah, rioght before the property explosion. Five years later it would have gone for double. Anyway, I digress) and moved into a warden controlled flat. Whilst she was there she started to think that people were stealing things from her. It was all getting pretty sad and damn difficult to bear. My sister, in the meantime was having a pretty tough time too, all of which culminated in her almost dying after downing half a bottle of vodka. She passed out in the middle of a nearby park and actually stopped breathing. They had to take her to hospital to pump her stomach. All of this was happening whilst I was trying to study for an exam. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t pass.
Anyway, during the first two years, my Mum kept getting me to come back home to see her. I remember one particular time when, after I’d just managed to forget all the troubles back home and had a great day out at Chessington World of Adventures (and you can have a great time at Chessington), she called me up and insisted that she “needed me” back home. Dutifully, I came back and sat on my own in the living room whilst she spent the night upstairs. Definitely worth missing out on a night out for. But that’s the thing with depressed people, they’re basically just selfish.
Actually, just this evening, after I heard about not getting in to yet another University, she apologised for all the time that she insisted I come home. Yeah, it probably did have an impact on my performance, that’s true. I was pretty sure that I’d actually returned of my own accord due to worrying so much about the pair of them, but anyway that wasn’t the worst problem.
Oh, I should also add that, during the second year, my Grandma had died, which was pretty damn horrible. Over the course of about 18 months I’d lost two of my four closest family members. You’d think that the Royal Holloway Department of History would be a little understanding. You’d think they would, wouldn’t you.
So, anyway, the second year is drawing to a close and I get told to attend a meeting with the then head of department, Tony Stockwell, to discuss my issues. I went in thinking, well, at least he knows about some of the stuff I’ve had to deal with, so this is my chance to tell him about the rest. Now you’ll remember that my Mum, right when I started, sent them a letter. Tony Stockwell, however, told me that they’d received no such letter. Okay, fine. These things happen, I thought. At least, now I know, so I can set the record straight. So I tell Tony about all my troubles. He seemed to accept it all and we moved in. For what it’s worth, I think I made a better go of things in the third year. I don’t think I missed a single lecture, and all this despite the fact that I’d only managed to get my third choices for courses that year, something that was, as far as I can tell, pretty much unheard of.
Anyway, so I do better in that final year and, it’s good enough to get me through, but I don’t do as well as I might have done had the circumstances been different. So, I wrote to the history department at Royal Holloway and ask if they’ve taken my troubles into consideration. What troubles, they say. They claim to know nothing about it. I come back to them and tell them that I told Tony Stockwell, during a meeting at the end of my 2nd year, about all of the horrible things that had happened to me, They get back to me. He flat out denies that any such meeting ever took place. Unbe-fucking-lievable. So there’s a little back and forth and, in the end, it becomes obvious that there’s nothing I can do because Stockwell, despite sitting in front of me listening to my story not more than 14 months earlier, is not going to admit that the meeting took place. Effectively, I’m being called a liar. Seriously, this is not something I’d make up. I’ve got documents to back up my story about the dead relatives, primary sources, if you will, yet this guy has the audacity to say that our meeting never happened. Now, on this subject I can reach only a couple of different conclusions. Firstly option, he could genuinely not recall any of the meeting and failed to write down anything to document it. Second option, he remembered everything but, for some reason, didn’t give a shit and couldn’t be bothered to actually do something to help me. Actually, there’s a third option. He screwed up. He screwed up, forgot to sort something out and, callously, decided to cover the whole thing up and claim that I was lying. After all, I had no proof of anything. The only evidence that a meeting took place would have remained with him, so what might have happened to it, only he knows.
So, in conclusion, he’s either incompetent and stupid, incompetent and downright evil or just laughably forgetful. Either way, they guys not on my Christmas card list. Anyway, I thought that I should write all this down and name names so that, if some other hapless soul has problem with Tony Stockwell, they can see that he’s got form. Seriously, I poured my heart out to that guy. My tale of woe was, quite frankly, so awful and so unfortunate that no one could ever have forgotten, yet that’s exactly what Tony Stockwell claims happened when he stared that he could not recall out meeting.
Still, though dumb luck, determination and, possibly, a need for the Media Stuies department to collect a tuition fee (though there must have been people who applied and didn’t get in. Surely?) I got on to my Master’s degree. I hoped that this would, both practically and in my mind, make up for my undergraduate failings. I really didn’t. I never really got over doing so badly and it’s something that affects me to this day. I still feel like I failed. Like I said, there are a lot of reasons for that which I’ve already mentioned, but none was more deplorable than the part Tony Stockwell had to play in the whole affair.
Like I said, I hoped that my MA would make up for it, but it didn’t and now I’m left wondering if my degree is the reason why I’m having no luck getting in to a PGCE course. There’s a few other things it could be. To my mind, I’m not sure that my reference was glowing enough (it seemed a bit like being damned with faint praise at times), I haven’t, as yet, spent any time in a Primary school (though I intend to once I get a place) and I fear that I wasn’t able to adequately express why I wanted to be a teacher in my application, owing in part due to the 400 character limit on personal statement (sure, everyone else had the same limit, but do they have as much to explain and justify as me? I don’t know). Regardless, I can’t help but focus on the one thing I can’t change, my degree result. The one unchangeable constant in my life. Or is it? Couldn’t I just do another degree?
Yes, I thought today. That’s the answer. I decided that I’d do a degree in English and Creative writing. I never really should have done History. In other circumstances, I would have realized that it was the wrong choice for me before the first term of my first year had ended. This was more like the sort of thing I should have done. This, ultimately, is what I really want to do. I’d slay the demons and put the ghosts to rest once and for all. I hadn’t done it before because of the cost and the time it would take, but why not do it now? Well, the cost would now come to £27K for tuition fees alone. It would take 3 years from my life, just as it always would, but, even if I were to get in this year (unlikely as the main deadline has passed) I’ be 37, going on 38 by the time I finished. After that, I’d do my PGCE at a cost of £3750 (yeah, helpfully they now charge you for it, whereas before you’d get paid) and another year. I’d be almost 39 before I drew my first paycheck.
So, I don’t know, is that crazy? There is, after all, no guarantee that I’d do any better at that degree (though, given that I’m actually deeply interested in the subject matter, I’d hope I would). Actually, my sister had suggested that I do a BA in education, but I’m not sure I’d really want to spend three years doing that. But then that raises another question; if I didn’t want to study that long to be a teacher, did I really want to be a teacher all that much in the first place? I’ll debate that more another time, once I’ve had a chance to think about it some more, but it’s a damn good question.
I’ve got to be honest; a lot of my new found anti-PGCE ire has a lot in common with what might be a typical guy’s reaction after being dumped. “Screw you. I didn’t want to go out with you any more anyway.” As you might say to the girls who’s finally give you the boot. You adopt that attitude in an effort to mitigate the hurt. And, if you’ve ever been dumped (and I’m sure that many of you have been) that point of view doesn’t always last. Quite how serious I am about not wanting to do this PGCE is up for debate and it’s not really something that I want to contemplate whilst I’m in this state of mind.
For what it’s worth, teaching’s definitely taught me a lot. Overall I’m more confident, I’ve started to learn how to grab a class (and an audience’s?) attention and I no longer really have a fear of public speaking. In fact, I’ve started to relish the attention that I get. Actually, I’ve rather missed that. There’s nothing like knowing that, when you go into work, 15-20 people will be hanging on your every word (an exaggeration, of course. Sometimes it’s a struggle to get any of them to pay attention, but by doing so I feel like I’ve won an even greater victory).
Of course, if I did a PGCE (and, let’s face it, not all hope is lost on that front anyway, since, chances are, I’d get a place in clearing), would I even make it through that? What if I decide against the whole teacher thing, what then? What do I do? You ask me what I’d want to do and, if I’m feeling confident enough, I’d tell you that I want to be a writer. But them that’s never seemed like a particularly sensible or practical answer. Only one person has ever really encouraged me to give writing a chance, my Masters lecturer. Most other people, and this includes my Dad, told me not to do it. My dad went to great lengths to put me off. I guess, deep down, that’s one of the main reasons why I have such difficulty writing and, more to the point, finishing anything. A son as I start writing in earnest I’ve immediately courted the disapproval of a dead man whose approval I quite seriously craved. It’s just fucking impossible.
So what the hell am I going to do? I guess, for now, I keep applying to different unis in the hope that one of them thinks I’m worthy of doing a PGCE. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try to get in through clearing. Hopefully that’ll work, because I’m all out of ideas after that (signing up for another Undergraduate degree the next academic year aside, of course). In the meantime I’ll keep going for TEFL jobs and hope that somebody takes me on so that I can boost my dwindling finances and stop myself from, as I sit alone in my room, turning into Jack Nicholson in the Shining.
As for the writing, well I’ve got to try. I’ve got to force myself to try and to have an idea. If I get to the end of my life and I haven’t given it a go then I can only look back with regret fir what could have been, if only I could get over my fears and break free of the inhibitions placed in me all those years ago.
So anyway, it’s all very confusing. So much so that I even started to do an aptitude test to figure out what I should do, which is pretty damn stupid. I mean, I’m not a moron. I know that if I did an aptitude test, all I’d do is respond in such a way that made it impossible for it not to, right at the end, proclaim that my ideal profession is a writer. I did it, of course. It suggested that I become a writer, obviously, but it also reckoned that I should be a teacher, so that’s something to think about.
Actually the most damaging thing is my attitude towards life. I think that I’m completely screwed because of my degree. It simply isn’t true. Most people assume that, because I’ve got a Masters, I must have got a good degree anyway. In other words, to most people, it just doesn’t matter. I have stop thinking like that. I see myself as a failure so it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The truth is, I’m not a failure. I went through a difficult period and, yeah, things could have been better, but the important lesson is that I got through it. I had enough presence of mind and determination to do a Master’s degree, despite the odds. People believed in me then and they can believe in me again. I don’t need any more academic validation. I know who I am and what I can do. Doing a new degree would be fun, but it’s also unnecessary. People with far fewer academic accolades than myself have made it in the kind of areas where I’d want to succeed.
In some ways, I know that, no matter how many rejections I get, it doesn’t matter. If I want to go through the normal life backup plan then I can. Chances are I’ll get in to the PGCE course through clearing. The issue is the terrifying wait, the uncertainty of it all. I want to know now. I want things to be certain now, but I just have to accept that they can’t be; not yet anyway.
If I want to write again then I don’t need to have the excuse that a course will give me. I can do it all on my own. I’m not saying it’ll be easy; I’ve got a lot to get through, but I am capable of doing it. I am eminently more capable than I give myself credit for being. I can do whatever I put my mind to. Sure getting my head around that is easier said than done, but I just have to remember that I can do it. I’ve started to contemplate the idea that counselling might be a good idea, especially since I’ve stopped taking my tablets. I need to figure out some way of re-wiring my brain so that I can actually come to grips with what I can do. I don’t know. It’s just a thought for now. We’ll see where it goes. Maybe there’s plenty else I can do to help myself.
I’m worried about having an ordinary, normal, boring-ass life because that’s just not enough for me. I have way too low a boredom threshold to not have exciting stuff happen to me every day, That’s why, despite some obvious problems, I loved my US Road Trip so much. Every day was different. Every day was exciting and unknown. Maybe, in real life, it’s not possible for every day to be different, but some variation from week to week would be nice.
Yeah, I need control and I feel like I don’t have control of basic aspects of my life, like my environment, but I can change that. I still have some money on my bank account and I can invest it in myself. I don’t mean that I’m going to move out and get a flat or something extreme like that, but, if I so desire, I can get out of the house once in a while on my own. I can go to a Café and write if I want to. I just have to want to. To do that all I need to do is to get over the idea that one moment, one perceived failure, can dominate my entire existence. I need to stop trying to exist only to meet everyone’s expectations. I have my own expectations. I have my own desires. I know that what I want from life is for it to be more than just ordinary. Maybe that goes some way to explaining why I’ve has such trouble trying to make a normal life for myself. Maybe it’s time for a new approach where I realise that what people in general seem to perceive as being unattainable may actually be well within my grasp.