It had always been my dream to work in academia, but as an Eastern European immigrant with no teaching experience and a degree from The Open University, it seemed like a dream that would never come true. As a foreigner, I’d somehow imagined that British university lecturers had to be very posh, very old and very wise, and I am none of those things. So I never really pursued this dream and instead focused on a commercial career in a variety of industries, from pharmaceuticals to fitness.
In 2011, I became a mum for the first time and then again in 2012. I absolutely loved having children and this seemed to be the way I was going to find fulfilment and purpose. But life had other plans! Once my younger child was nearly two, I realised I had a burning desire to get back to education. I started a Master’s degree at the University of Gloucestershire and began attending lectures at the Francis Hall Campus in Cheltenham.
I remember coming home that first week and telling my husband: I want to stay at that place forever! I felt like I’d found a second home. It’s very strange now, when I think back to those days, how strong the feeling was that I belonged there, although at the time there wasn’t even a hint of an opportunity to stay past the degree itself.
For two years, I combined looking after my very young children with lectures on three and a half days per week, a couple of 6-month periods of temporary office work as well as helping my husband with his business. Speaking candidly, those were the days when anything that wasn’t an absolute priority simply didn’t get done – and things like dusting or gardening always fell right to the bottom of that list.
In that time, my daughter started school and my son began attending pre-school a couple of mornings per week. Having that little bit of childcare was helpful on some days but added to my to-do list on others, and the double drop off and pick up split the entire day into 2-hour slots. I was on the constant treadmill of work, studying, essays, homework, housework, various school projects – I admit that there were moments when, juggling all those balls, I’d drop some.
I recall, with absolute horror, a certain Reception year parents’ evening that was missed on one occasion…but I also think it’s important to confess to those less-than-perfect moments because, all too often, us working mothers (and mothers generally) have completely unrealistic expectations of ourselves – expectations that we can be super human and get everything right all the time, but that’s just not possible.
In 2016, while I was in the second and final year of my MA, the miracle happened – a lecturer left, creating a vacancy, and I ended up with the job of my dreams – a permanent role teaching Dramatic Writing at the University. The truth is, I could hardly believe it! All my lecturers became my colleagues overnight, and the classrooms where I’d sat as a student became the place where I was now teaching others. I’ve sometimes in life heard people say that, when we get something that we’ve wanted for a long time, it never feels as good as what we’ve imagined. In my personal experience, that is not the case at all. Walking back on the campus, on that first day in my new capacity, was easily one of the best days of my life! And although my personal life has suffered some challenges since then, my work and my children provide all the joy, stimulation and fulfilment I could ever ask for.
These days, my life runs in semesters. The twelve weeks from September to December are insanely busy and, although my hours are meant to be three days per week, I work five or six days including evenings. This is a very intense time, as I try to combine being a single parent, lecturer, writer and researcher (as I’ve now commenced my PhD), friend, daughter to a family who live abroad.
The semester after Christmas is more manageable, and the summer months are quiet and steady and a chance to catch up on everything – reading, cooking, running, friends. Do I feel guilty? Of course. Show me a parent and I’ll show you a person struggling with guilt! I feel guilty every time I rush my children’s bed-time because I have essays to mark or lectures to prepare, every time I don’t see them at the weekend because I have to attend a conference or a University Open Day. And there is still that odd occasion when I take my children to school and, speaking to other parents, I realise that I’ve totally forgotten to get involved in some school activity like a Bake Off or a PTA event. But I’ve started to accept that there are physical limits to what I can remember and achieve, and I try not to be too hard on myself for the occasional oversight that doesn’t do any harm to my children or anyone else.
I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be doing a job I love so passionately, and the University is a great place to work. My message to any mum out there, whose children are young but who has an unrealised ambition, would be – just go for it. Even when it looks like the odds are against you, you never know how things will work out – if you want something badly enough, you may just find that it’s possible and perhaps even meant for you – the dream could be yours, and the hard work that you put into achieving your ambition will be more than worth it in the end.
A Guest Blog from Aleksandra Andrejevic-Bullock
Aleksandra is a Lecturer in Dramatic Writing at the University of Gloucestershire and is currently working on a PhD and her first novel. Her work has appeared in The Lampeter Review, The Wrong Quarterly, Storgy Literary Magazine, Brain, Child, Literary Mama, The Scrutiny Journal, Dawntreader and other magazines. She lives in Cheltenham, England, with her two young children and a whole lot of books.
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