More to an MA than meets the eye

A story of academic partnerships

The decision to take on an MA at my local Higher Education Institution (HEI) for me was ridiculously ambitious. It was something I had personally never viewed as attainable within my academic remit, nor more importantly, would I have considered myself as worthy of such a lofty ambition. My ability to string together an academic sentence was ad hoc at best, and at worst, pretentious. However, as a primary school teacher and absolute advocate for learning, I knew the time was right to take stock and invest in my learner journey, whatever that might look like…

My MA adventure was to an extent instigated for me. As a shameless consumer of CPD, I found myself on an action research project, courtesy of the NCETM and headed by an inspirational maths teacher and an academic at a local HEI. Just like all good teachers, he saw my potential and the passion I had for learning, and in particular, research. He wasted no time in opening doors for me, assisting me in getting my research published (making sense of a scruffy sentence or two) but most significantly, signposting me directly onto an MA in Education at NTU’s Nottingham Institute of Education. It was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. 

This was July, and I started the MA in September. This short snippet of time gave me little chance to overthink the very expensive decision I had just made in terms of investing in my professional development. It did, however, give me chance to momentarily mull over the MA modules, deciding which ones to ditch and more importantly which ones to delve into (note these decisions did not stick!). Before I knew it, I was enrolled as a student again and set out to become a self-proclaimed professional consumer of knowledge.

Initially, the MA fitted the bill perfectly in terms of investing in my own CPD, as I became accustomed to absorbing journal articles and revisiting the realms of Harvard referencing. It certainly met my expectations, of learning loads and feeling proud when I passed my first module, gaining invaluable insights into how to be both a professional and ‘proper’ teacher-researcher! However, this academic adventure didn’t stay on piste for long. When wandering in and around matters of social justice and inclusion, you’d be wrong to think you can come out on the other side either feeling or thinking the same way. I came to realise a new lesson, that a MA was more than just a professional endeavour; it was increasingly and unavoidably becoming personal.

Although this MA adventure in itself was full of turbulence in how it twisted and toyed with my thinking, what remained consistent throughout was how the lecturers and module leaders were never far away to help me make sense of my messy thinking. Their support was steadfast. But this quickly went above and beyond simply support and soon I realised it had ventured into the realms of an academic partnership.

Being part of, and developing, an academic partnership for me has been the greatest lesson of all and I have come to discover many things, that have ventured beyond the MA. Firstly, when a humble primary school teacher co-authors with an academic, they become not just co-learners but co-contributors in the knowledge exchange process. I have also learned that there will be inevitable disagreements within our writing – do we call them children or pupils for example – however, most importantly that when as class teacher I am professionally and personally empowered to think as researcher-practitioner, the impact is borne on the children I teach. I have now learnt to involve my children’s voices more, to empower them to become co-contributors of knowledge too. Hence, my children have become aware of their contributions and this excitement and culture of learning within my classroom is nothing short of wonderful.

The academic partnership and mentorship modelled to me throughout this journey have helped me continue to develop my teacher-researcher empathy which has become invaluable when supporting both my children and colleagues (equally!) when their learning becomes messy. Through the constant churning away of my critical cogs, new knowledge has not just been gained and shared across the contexts and colleagues I am lucky enough to work with, but it is always tweaked and tailored to ensure it is fit for purpose. We are collectively becoming research literate in our approaches.

This academic partnership has continued to open more doors and opportunities than I could ever have imagined, from writing research articles for ASPE to presenting research at international virtual conferences which have since led to book contributions, and even the possibility of published journal articles. In a small way, I think, I too have opened doors for others, and I am so very proud. It has transformed me from being a passive consumer of knowledge to an active and critical contributor. Finally, it is this academic partnership, and persistent mentorship, which started right at the beginning of my MA journey and has not shifted an inch throughout, sets a university, particularly this HEI, leagues ahead of other ‘academic’ institutions – in my humble opinion.

So my takeaways today are very straightforward: say yes to an MA, invest in an academic partnership, and be prepared to go off-piste. And know that learning is not meant to be linear, but an MA is an academic adventure absolutely not to be missed.

Rebekah Gear (MA student)

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