Once upon a time, I was convinced that it was my calling in life to teach. This started in school, after the time I was convinced that I would be a journalist. I loved writing and reading and had a very inspirational GCSE English teacher. When I progressed to A Level, I had a younger, trendier teacher who was a waste of space. She was by far more interested in her love life than in imparting wisdom. Our lessons were hugely dictated by what was happening to her personally. One week we’d be studying love poetry, analysing the relationships in Wuthering Heights and the next, after a break-up, we’d be looking at poems about death and questioning the notion of love in King Lear. Regardless, I still maintained my dream of being an English teacher.
I went to uni to study English and History as I thought the two subjects would offer twice the experience and I’d always had a soft spot for history. My A level results were slightly disappointing as English was my worst, earning a B. Still, I ploughed on with my ‘five year plan’ to finish a degree, do a PCGE (teacher training) and start working as a substitute teacher until I could get a job. This continued for two years of my degree until, after a semester of living hell in my Creative Writing class, I began to see sense. English in first year had been horrible, reading a book a week (usually a very boring one) and expected to understand complex -isms which had never been fully explained. I did well, gaining marks worthy of a 2:1. On the other hand, my first year of History was a revelation. I got to choose what topics I wanted to study from a range of first year courses. First semester had been fascinating but the second had awakened the historian in me. My performance in that class won me a prize at the end of my first year and a glowing reputation among the staff.
I started my second year with optimism, knowing that I could now choose what English modules I wanted. I went with one on language and power, one on medieval literature and creative writing. While my marks remained the same, my heart wasn’t in it. I rarely did all of the preparation required and would only read the things I knew I was going to write an essay on. I made more of an effort in creative writing but it quickly became clear that my tutor only appreciated sinister fiction that involved mutilation and, preferably, the death of several children. She told me that the only way I could be a writer was if I went into ‘chick lit’, in a very condescending tone. That semester also featured my collapse and subsequent adjustment to life with chronic pain, something which was extremely challenging. I think it was this that made me stop and take stock of what I was doing.
I realised that I attended my English classes out of duty more than anything else. The passion had long gone and only mild, wavering interest remained. Whereas in History, I was steadily becoming something of a teacher’s pet. I worked hard because every new thing I learnt seemed wonderful and inspiring. I looked forward to my classes and was eager to answer questions or engage in debate. My reputation was soon heightened and I realised that I really wanted to be as good as people believed me to be. Consequently, my average marks in English were eclipsed by those in History. I had to leave my old dream behind me, there was no point continuing in something which I no longer held in any esteem.
Making the decision to switch my degree to single History was difficult. It meant staying an extra semester at uni to complete the requirements but it was something I knew I had to do. The following year was confusing to everyone as I simultaneously attended second and third year classes. My new second year classmates, a year younger, had no idea who I was or where I had come from. I later discovered that they assumed I had failed a year and had to re-take it. It didn’t matter much to me, I had few real friends in History. Most of my buddies I had met at uni studied other subjects and we’d bonded over the most bizarre coincidences.
For example, I met one friend Bella at a music society Halloween film screening of The Omen. I hate scary movies and had only gone because I fancied the conductor of the university choir at the time and he’d invited me. I went as a pirate wench and, not being a music student, knew nobody so started a random conversation with another pirate wench who seemed similarly lonely. She turned out to be studying for a Masters in English. Over five years later, we’re still very good friends.
Anyway, I completed my odd year of being in two year groups and then progressed to my dissertation. Because I had mixed things up, I did mine in Autumn while everyone else did theirs in Spring. Finishing my degree in January meant I had the opportunity to work full time for six months before graduating with a scholarship for a Masters, something I definitely wouldn’t have earned had I stuck with English.
I sometimes think about what would have happened had I not changed my degree. A friend of mine is currently studying for her teaching qualification, not out of any real passion herself, more to appease her parents. The pace and intensity of the course seems like it would never have been compatible with my health. I consider myself very fortunate to have realised in time and chosen a different route. I’m very glad I had the confidence to change things since now, looking back, it was definitely the right choice.