39, and getting used to the raised brows

October 1, 2004

Wannabe teacher Simon Larter has quit work and sold his home to embark on a degree. He is a little nervous...

I've been throwing away old business cards that go back 15 years. People I won't contact any more because I'm leaving my profession.

Seeing all those names, reminders of all the experiences of so many years of work, feels very odd, unsettling even.

After making the decision to go to university, get a degree and then teach, the scale of what I am doing has just hit home. I have also had a proper look at the money situation and I am going to have to get jobs in supermarkets and bars to pay for this. I've been in a few places already, confident I would be offered work, but it isn't that easy. It's hard for me to ask, and it's hard for them to know how to respond to a professional 39-year-old male claiming to be a student needing part-time work. Planning for this has been exciting, but I am apprehensive.

This will be the second time I've made a major life change. The first time, in my mid-20s, I gave up professional dance, something that had completely dominated my life since I was ten. Being obsessed with ballet and with my parents going through an ugly divorce, I more or less ignored school and just about scraped two O-levels. I've had to get a duplicate copy of my certificate to satisfy the admissions office that I really was that crap.

While getting hold of old certificates, I've also had to sign a form for Companies House terminating my appointment as a director of my own company.

I've been so busy that the lead-up to moving into halls has, in the past few days of full-time paid employment, taken on the sensation of ground rush. Off and on, I have been thinking about teaching for years. The barrier is that I don't have a degree and no matter how hard I tried to circumvent the system, getting into a classroom without an education isn't possible. An email dialogue with an academic at a local university was the tipping point. Just after my house was sold, a consequence of a failed relationship, he told me: "Teaching is a graduate profession - simple as that. Getting a degree would be a long slog, but you've still time to apply for this year."

With nothing to lose anymore, and the fact that the business had been in decline for most of last year, the idea of doing a degree for its own sake became extremely exciting. I last felt so clearly driven when I auditioned for the big ballet schools in my teens. Commercial life has rarely given me that sense of purpose. I've downsized just about everything, given away my furniture and for the past six months practised keeping all my belongings contained in one rented room. I can, and it's fine. I've done the summer reading and bought the books. Friends laugh saying that I will be the class swot.

Applying for halls at my age raised some eyebrows. The accommodation officer suggested that, as someone who probably wanted to take study seriously, I wouldn't enjoy being kept awake by raving students bent on drinking and making noise. Besides, I am likely to be nearer in age to my lecturers than the student body, which may bring its own challenges. The solution was to put me with overseas postgraduates. It should be fun, but I'm nervous now.

Simon Larter will be giving a student's eye view of campus life, teaching and university politics on a monthly basis.

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