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Further study needs degree of toughness

Jean Chaudhri masters tutor difficulty.

Completing my MA in educational management made me aware of the increasing number of colleagues who are pursuing further academic studies. There are 15 in the comprehensive where I teach who are either studying for a higher degree or plan to do so.

Why do we do it? Or, as some may more relevantly ask, how do we manage to find the time and energy? The most common motivator seems to be that a higher degree will be an asset to career progress, but this does not tell the whole story.

Some six years from retirement, my own reasons are more to do with the need to flex what Poirot calls "the little grey cells" and to take a more objective view of the swiftly changing educational terrain.

Teachers studying for a higher degree have two major obstacles to overcome. The first is financial. Higher degrees do not come cheap and most teachers will not qualify for the usual grants and bursaries open to those taking first degrees. My three-year MA course today would cost Pounds 1,645. I was fortunate enough to have financial support offered by my headteacher and governors, but such support is dependent on those who hold the purse strings.

Time is the second problem. The workload of teachers has steadily increased in recent years. My own answer to this has been "learner know thyself".

Studying for a higher degree while teaching full time is not for the poorly motivated, and requires tenacity, self-organisation and stamina. What might seem a good idea during the summer holidays will need to be followed through for at least three years.

I completed my own first degree with the Open University; as this was a flexible arrangement which suited me, I decided to keep with the OU for my Masters.

But some students need the stimulus of close contact with others, and for teachers who prefer studying in this way there can be difficulties in the conflicting demands of attendance at university and the increasing number of school evening activities.

There is a lot to be learnt from the experience beyond the academic knowledge acquired. As a student I have become more sensitive to the influence of the tutor. Most of my tutors were helpful and encouraging, but I felt that one was sarcastic and unfair. I attempted to overcome this by communicating with the tutor directly and, when this failed, by complaining to the university management. Neither course had any effect, and it seemed more a matter of determination and the support of my husband, family and friends that enabled me to win through.

As an adult, experienced in facing challenges, I still felt sufficiently demotivated by my experience with this tutor seriously to consider dropping out at one point. When I read now reports of pupils truanting because they believe the teacher had ridiculed them I know how they feel.

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