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When learning's a lifesaver

"WHAT a sight!" I am sure many members of staff were thinking that when they saw this apparition in a large blue T-shirt, blue diving mask and, to complete the outfit, yellow fins. Not that this is the way I normally dress for school: I was appearing in a charity fund-raising version of Blind Date.

Although I looked extremely comical and evoked much hilarity, there was a more serious side: I have taken up scuba diving. I am a great believer in the concept of lifelong learning and, as a mature student, I gained two Higher passes, a National Certificate module and two postgraduate degrees. I felt that being a teacher placed me under additional pressure. Failure was something I was accustomed to seeing others face, but not something I could face myself.

Having successfully completed my PhD I did toy with the idea of taking another degree, perhaps in management. Looking back I now view such an idea as being symptomatic of withdrawal symptoms rather than a real desire to continue learning. I have come to realise that I was afraid, after seven years of part-time study, to face life.

I was addicted. I knew that I had to conquer my addiction and, as my friends so kindly put it - get a life.

This was easier said than done. I was constantly tempted by courses in one prospectus after another. I had a void and I had to fill it: I felt I was sinking fast.

I was quite literally and metaphorically rescued by taking up swimming. The thought of me, with the proportions of a beached whale, thrashing about in the water made my stomach churn. Thankfully I cannot see without my glasses and so I was in ignorance of other people's reactions. When I did finally purchase a mask with prescription lenses I had become more proficient.

I enjoyed myself. I swam more and more and, looking back, I can see that I had transferred my addiction for study to that of swimming. My friends were hopeful that I had finally stopped looking for "yet another course" to fill my life.

Addictions, however, are not broken easily. Quite by accident one evening I spoke to Eric, who I later discovered had worked on the whaling ships with my ncle. Eric had taken up scuba diving at the age of 60-plus and he persuaded me to come along to the local club for a "Come and Try" evening. Game for a laugh, I went.

I did have a laugh and I decided to join. Innocently my friends thought that scuba diving is only a physical activity. How wrong they were. I had to attend lectures. I had to study biology, physics and first aid. I had to learn how to use tables to calculate how long I could stay under water and at what depth.

I was in my element: I had found another course.

I know, however, that my enthusiasm for the lectures was not shared by all my fellow club members, especially Stevie, who had to put up with my continual questioning. "You must be a teacher," he said after the second evening. There are some things you can't hide.

Prior to the exam I was neurotic. All my fears about failing returned and this exam assumed the importance of my MEd finals. To me, it was as important.

Thankfully for all concerned, I passed.

Physically, however, I found the course even more difficult. Although I swam every day I had always been nervous about going "under" - and this was only in the local swimming pool.

Everyone in the club was so supportive: there is a great sense of camaraderie. Eric especially had the patience of a saint. He is marvellous and possesses that "something" all good teachers have. He spent hours going over and over the same manoeuvres - after all, my life and his depended on getting it right.

I am aware that this may not be the type of lifelong learning which many people immediately think of. Although my course does not lead to any type of career advancement, what I find extremely interesting is the increase in the number of teachers now applying for such courses.

Jokingly people may say they are simply looking towards their retirement. More seriously I think they are looking for, and hopefully finding, as I have done, a sense of fulfilment. For me, courses such as this one are vitally important. I am still involved in the process of learning, but I have also got a life.

Thank you, Eric.

Sandra Percy

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