Gemma Feeney is at the end of her Master of Teaching and Learning, and she says, at the end of an era.
She began studying at the University of Otago College of Education four years ago, having started out in a Bachelor of Education Studies.
“There's something special about the College of Education; the small cohort means you build really strong relationships with your fellow students and with the lecturers.”
Gemma's third year involved a year of specialisation, where she was able to focus on drama by taking papers from the theatre department.
“I loved the theatre papers; coming to the wider university was quite different and gave me a different approach to learning. It was great to get the theory and experience to put into my teaching.”
As the Bachelor of Education Studies was to be phased out, Gemma was offered the choice to either continue on that degree pathway or to apply for the Master of Teaching and Learning.
“It was too good an opportunity to pass up - to be able to get a Masters degree in one year and to be able to spend two days a week in schools – it's intense but it's so cool.”
The time in schools, and the ability to have experience of both junior and senior classrooms within one year, was critical says Gemma.
“What you are doing on placement has every relevance to what you are doing academically and vice versa. At the beginning of the year, you get a huge amount of theory and when you go on placement it clicks. You can say 'right we learnt about this so this is what I should do'.”
The intensive one-year programme was a challenge but it's all about finding balance.
“You need to be prepared for your time in school but you also need to have your academic work done. It's a juggling act but there is a huge amount of support, from your peers, lecturers and teachers in school – they understand the pressure you are under.”
The structure and routine of the programme was instrumental in Gemma's ability to do well.
“The structure, routine and placements are how I've been able to do so well. That rhythm of having uni on Monday and Tuesday then school Wednesday and Thursday was really good.”
Gemma has already secured a job in a catholic primary school in South Auckland next year, and she is really excited about putting what she has learnt into practice. Thinking back on her time at the College of Education, Gemma's advice to new students would be to make the most of any opportunities.
“During my second year, I was able to have a placement at the school I'll be teaching at next year. Having had that experience and knowing the support the school will offer makes the shift to South Auckland a really exciting prospect.
“I was also able to complete the Certificate in Catechetical Studies. There are 230 catholic schools in New Zealand and having the certificate gives you that extra edge when applying for jobs. I didn't take catechetical studies in first year; I was a little worried that because I didn't go to a catholic high school I was out of touch. But there were plenty of people who did the course that didn't go to a catholic high school.
“You have to make the most of all opportunities - the Certificate of Catechetical Studies was a huge highlight of my degree. The papers were fascinating and you build really strong bonds with the people in the class.”