Early childhood teachers are a studious group of people, and this means they often find themselves engaging with some higher learning over the course of their life time. Taking on a ‘couple of papers’, starting a Master’s degree, or gaining a qualification in a specialist area.
Studying is rewarding and awesome, it gives you a sense of accomplishment; you make some new friends, and it looks good on a CV. But studying and working can be hard, it can feel lonely, and overwhelming. In this piece, I offer some ideas to support you to remain on-track with studying. Even when it gets hard, hopefully you can find a few gems to help you remain focused in hard times.
Let me start by saying I like to study, I like learning, I like new information, and I like sharing information. Many of my sentences start with ‘did you know’, or ‘I heard today’ or ‘blah blah told me’…
I feel like I have been studying for the last 15 years! I finished my diploma many moons ago and got right into working. I enrolled to complete my degree when I identified that I needed that to move past where I was. Then I took some papers, which turned into a Masters of Education, and now I have enrolled in a EdD, which is a PhD in Education completed by 4 papers, then a piece of research. So I know a bit about the ups and downs of studying. The Gallup research on personalities, rates ‘Learner’ as my top quality out of my top five. It’s not that I don’t like learning, it’s just hard to sit down and get on with it some days. For example, right now, my wife is cooking dinner so I can write. This is great, and surface level so helpful. What’s not that helpful is the Spotify playlist from my youth belting out at full volume with a few splashes of “I love this song.” This doesn’t make me want to study, this makes we want to race down and dance!
I am also the oldest of four ‘girls’ in my family, my mother is a school teacher, my father a minister; we were brought up with a high work ethic, and valuing education. So much so, that when I became pregnant at 17 and left high school, it never occurred to me not to enrol in correspondence school to gain my 5th and 6th form qualifications to enable me to enrol in what was then known as ‘Teachers College’.
My household consists of my wife, Jody, and our youngest son, 14-year-old Zech. Our other three children have since moved out, thus, in essence, there is time and space to dedicate to the art of study. I have my wife’s full blessing to do more study. She set up a desk and added a book case and a pin board with a picture of Wonder Woman with a speech bubble saying ‘you can do it’. Just to show how supportive she is, she went and bought the new ‘Crash Bandicoot’ game, so she has something to do while I study. So, in spite of everything listed above, that clearly would support me to engage with further study, why is it so hard to sit at my desk and write?
Well, for me, it’s a long period to study, and the results are simply ages away – at the end of a tunnel. And it’s a lonely time. My experience with my masters tells me so; a day by yourself to write and focus is both an amazing experience and a lonely experience.
Some days I can get 1,000 words written, other days, nothing. The lure of dust on a light switch becomes too much for me, and I spend my day cleaning like I have never cleaned before. Another day, the sound of the cat on the bed licking is enough to stop my study in its tracks!!
One thing I did learn from my Master’s is this; there is always something to do, no matter how small. And, if I can’t ‘write’ then I can still do something to help myself along the way.
So, with that in mind, here is my list of “Always Something”.
Do something for Future-You
Think of ‘future you’, and do something for them. What is something you can do for yourself, right now, that you, in the future would appreciate? This one is a little like getting out the chicken in the morning, to cook that night, but for study. Is it tidy the desk, stack the readings, write a list of tasks to get you started tomorrow. Maybe you are someone who can’t ignore the mess in the room (think piles of washing waiting to be folded) while you study. ‘Future-you’ will use that washing as an excuse not to write, so ‘right-now-you’ will fold it and clear it away for ‘future-you’. You might be too tired to write, edit or read, but you can do one little thing now to be ready for later.
Sometimes writing is hard, getting the words around the right way, liking what you wrote, then not liking it. Editing, endless editing. Trying to convince yourself you like it, just to keep the word count up… writing is hard. Reading on the other hand, not so much. Reading in your favourite spot in the sun, with a drink in hand (think coffee- not wine), is much more achievable some days than writing. Take a highlighter, a pen and a note book if you like, or just read, pause, think, then read some more. It will all go in and be of some use sometime during the journey. Be kind to yourself on the days that writing doesn’t come easy, but don’t stop studying.
I have recently discovered the ability to link your pdf files directly to the reference in endnote. I was very excited, then quickly my excitement was crushed when I considered I had over 150 endnote entries that potentially could have a pdf file connected to them Gulp! However, one always eats an elephant one bite at a time, and this too can be achieved one task at a time. The idea of locating, saving, then linking 100s of pdf files was overwhelming. I am however, smart enough to do one. So, I will do one. This tip links nicely with tip number one, ‘future-Kath’ loves a linked pdf file, and really appreciates this effort, no matter how small. The positive endorphins I get from one link, often times makes me link two more, just to get a small thrill. BUT, I always start this task thinking I am only going to do one, and that is the secret to this success, if I think I’m going to do five or ten, then the job is too big and I won’t get started.
Map out your time.
My house is busy. I am busy. I am at times unmotivated, and I yearn for focus, clarity and time. What I have found is 20 mins is often just as good as 2 hours, not always, but sometimes. For example, my wife leaves home at 6.35 for work. Our son rises at 7.30, so I have a window where I can sit, undisturbed and write/read/edit. This little window has made me really focus. The end is finite, I don’t have to do anything for long. Just till 7.30, and then stop! I think it might be the sense of urgency that helps me remain focused, every little distracted thought I have I jot down on a scrap piece of paper and complete as soon as it is 7.30.
Another thought about time, I decided what I wanted to be part of in life, and didn’t let my study get in the way of that. For example, I wanted to watch my sons sport. So Saturday morning was study free. Because I did actually have to study that meant Saturday afternoon was study time. Because I had acknowledged that I would want to see him play, I didn’t feel guilty or conflicted as I watched the game. Then when I sat to study, I felt I had given time to my family, and wasn’t conflicted there either. Same goes for your favourite TV programme, don’t pretend you are going to study each night at 7 pm if Shortland St is what you want to watch.
So, next time, I will cover four more ideas that I hope will be a bit of help to those of you who have engaged with some study. I’d love to hear others practical tips for staying motivated, and focused….feel free to stay in touch, I’m @JabbaNui on Twitter, and @jabbacoops on Instagram. Until next time, hei konei ra, Kath.
Kath Cooper works for Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand. She is passionate about all things early childhood and issues of sustainability.
Her recent research was on the visibility of gay early childhood teachers.
She lives with her wife in Wellington and has four lovely children and three amazing grandchildren.