What now?

In the courses that I teach I often have consultation sessions with my students to give them feedback or allow them the opportunity to ask questions. Most of the time the 15-20 minute sessions are pretty straightforward but occasionally a session may end up being a counselling session — actually more of a listening session because I don’t have any advice or solution to offer the student.

One month ago, I spoke with three persons, all ambitious wanting to be in positions of influence that allow them the platform to make a difference in the field, but somehow find themselves stuck.

Jason
He is pursuing a master degree but he feels that this qualification alone is not enough of a stepping stone to garner enough respect and recognition to achieve his dream. But due to family and circumstances, pursuing a PhD is not a realistic option. But he believes that with a PhD, his message will be heard, and the population of people that he’s advocating for will get the support that they need. But the sacrifices that he and his family will have to make in order for him to pursue a PhD are too great. There are certain hurdles to pursue a local PhD – lack of research experience, the length and instability of a part-time PhD. But the cost of an oversea PhD is prohibitive.

Jonathan
He feels that he’s currently not in a position where he can have an influence in the school. He hopes a master degree will add weight to his voice but realizes that it may not make a marked difference because the din of tradition and preference for the familiar in the organisation drowns out the voices calling out for meaningful change. He doesn’t know whether in 10 years he’ll be in that position. He feels stuck but going to another organisation may not be a real way out. He thinks that maybe if he can get a position at the teacher training institute, he may have an impact as a teacher trainer. I joked that he’s talking about my job but I often don’t feel like an agent of change at all.

Joni
She is stuck in a position where she does not feel that she’s valued by her organization. Her annual appraisal makes her feel like she’s a mediocre worker in her organisation even though she puts in a lot of effort to keep the giant organisational mechanism running smoothly. But her own career progression are neglected because there’s not enough hours in the work day. She has given up trying to meet the unrealistic expectations that have been placed on her. She contemplates leaving, but lacks courage.

When I hear stories like these, I think back about the time when I first thought of applying to do a PhD in the US, and went on to pursue that and finally achieved that dream. Where did all my chutzpah come from? So bold and courageous. But I sense that this boldness and courage are slowly fading away…

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