Spoiler alert: This week has been really significant for me as I officially graduated from Dublin City University (DCU) with a Professional Masters Degree in Primary Education.
To say I was clueless before taking on this intense 2 year course is an understatement. I decided to totally change my career path in my mid-30s. I had been working in a job that I just couldn’t see a future in, and was routinely unhappy. As a result, I embarked upon a career I never thought possible for me.
Although my personal life felt as though it was going in the right direction, my professional life felt non-existent. I was proud of myself for my reaction to my MS diagnosis. I had started writing blogs, doing interviews and raising money, all to improve, and increase, people’s knowledge and awareness of Multiple Sclerosis. The reaction I got was always extremely positive. I felt comfortable being out of my comfort zone. There still felt, however, as if there was a massive hole in my life that I just couldn’t explain.
I’m a lot less reckless towards myself since diagnosis. I try to eat healthy dinners as much as possible and my alcohol intake is few and far between; particularly since the birth of my son in 2017. I ran the Dublin marathon in 2018, which was a major milestone for me given that I had never considered myself fit at any stage in my life. I also have MS, with all the hurdles that it likes to put in your way. Yet, with all the triumphs I had achieved, something was amiss.
I rarely get things right at the first time of asking. After changing my medication in 2017, I was feeling really low for a period of time. This was not a known side effect of the medication. As such, my doctor put me in contact with a therapist. I still remember the first night I met with her. I rang a couple of times in advance, first to say I was on my way, next to say I had arrived. I was interrupting her session with another client and, therefore, we didn’t get off to the best start. I’m terrible at making a good first impression.
I went back to the therapist a few times, and it transpired after about the 3rd session that the main bug bearer in my life was my job. The therapist put it to me that I would be very suited to primary school teaching. I thought she was having a laugh at first but over the next few sessions she kept suggesting it. I had never ever thought of teaching as a career. In fact, I had never thought of ANYTHING as a career. I always admired those who have a specific profession that becomes part of who they are. My dad was a soldier, my wife is a social worker, my best man’s an electrician etc… A job can really play a big part in our identity.
I was working in banking, and while I worked with some brilliant people, I never felt comfortable talking about my job outside of work. I never got any real satisfaction from it. Some aspects of it were good but, overall, I knew I needed to make a change and it wasn’t going to be easy. A close friend of mine had qualified as a primary school teacher over 10 years previous when I rang him looking for his opinion. I’ll never forget his words: “Keith, it’s not a job that’s suited to everybody but you would be excellent at it”. And with that, plans were afoot.
Of course, I had discussions with my family. I recall almost being as nervous telling my parents I was planning to give up a permanent and pensionable job as I was when I told them I had MS. There was a lot of things to take into account: how would I finance this change? how long would I be out of work? would my wife feel the extra burden of being the only bread winner in the house for a considerable length of time? what if it didn’t work out? I didn’t really know the answer to most of these questions to be honest. I just knew if I looked after myself everything else would fall into place.
I first started college in 2001, in the National College of Ireland (NCI), and failed my first year miserably. I decided to try again the following year in DCU, without realising that you had to pay full fees if you’ve done a year college already. My dad coughed up the fees so that motivated me to pass the first year (just about!). After two years, I just gave up. I was working part-time and wasn’t willing to compromise having a social life so something had to give and that something was my education. Again, I rarely get things right the first time round and, in this case, the second too.
I secured a full-time job in banking in 2004 without really knowing what I was getting myself into. Prior to the economic collapse of 2008, people were freely moving from bank to bank without a second thought. In this case, I was lucky that I rarely make a good first impression as I failed my second interview with the ill-fated Anglo Irish Bank in 2007. However, the collapse would continue to haunt my working life in my final banking position which lasted from 2007 to 2019.
It seems ironic that I went on to earn an undergraduate degree followed by a postgraduate masters in the same colleges that I started in all those years ago; NCI in 2016 and DCU in 2021. I really didn’t have much of a clue about the education system before I started these courses. I know a bit more now but not much. I do know, however, that if you’re willing to work really hard, make sacrifices and have really good people around you, you can achieve anything!
I love that I can call myself a Teacher now. I love being a teacher albeit a novice for now. I was so happy to see my son in the crowd with his mam waving to me after I was awarded my masters certificate. A close family friend regularly reminds that they always admired that one of my motivations, when changing career, was that I wanted my kids to be able to give their dad a title I was proud of when asked what he does for a living. Even before I finished my course my son was calling me a teacher, although I’m not sure if the Yoda comparisons are more to do with my appearance!
I don’t know what the future has in store for me, this has been an extremely busy few years in my house. A bad dose of covid aside, my health has remained stable throughout, long may that continue as I feel my true journey is only beginning.
“What we do in life, echoes in eternity”
Brief Outline of the events of the last few years:
2018: Started to make plans to change career starting with weekly grinds to repeat Leaving Cert Irish. Also ran the Dublin marathon.
2019: Passed TEG exam (Interview in Irish) which allows me to apply to colleges to train to become a teacher, repeat Leaving Cert Irish papers 1&2 (gets exact same result as I did in 2001), sell house, buy house, find out we’re having our second baby, quit job of 12 years (15 years in total in financial services), accepted into St. Patricks College (DCU) to train as a teacher, go to the Gaeltacht in Donegal for two weeks to meet my new course friends and “learn” more Irish – leaving 2 year old son and pregnant wife at home (I did a big shop for them before I left to ease my guilt), start Professional Master of Education course.
2020: January exams, Cara born on Jan 14th at 1.17am (completed exam that day at 2pm – I HAD to pass this course!), first school placement followed by lockdown meaning everything is moved to online for the remainder of the academic year – hid in the attic away from the family for the majority of this. Did one more school placement. Year ended with the sad passing of my Nana – I wrote a letter to her which I read out at her funeral – she is still very much missed.
2021: School placements were cancelled, I had to source different placements to what I had originally arranged which wasn’t easy during COVID times. Managed to successfully complete the Masters and become a newly qualified teacher. Took part in a podcast for MS Ireland to discuss changing career after diagnosis. Spoke to Damien Dempsey, a hero of mine, during a Q&A in Coolock cinema and told him about my journey receiving a round of applause and a free t-shirt to boot 😂
2022: Officially graduated with my wife and son there to cheer me on! (Cara was being minded by her proud grandparents)
And what would I do if all didn’t work out? I guess we’ll never know 🎤