Still hungry for learning at age 55: A student’s return to school after a long teaching career

Posted on Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Going back to school isn’t always easy. But going back to school at age 55 is a real feat! Jacinthe Martin was undaunted by the challenge. When she told people she was going back to school, many wondered whether it was a bit too late. Unruffled, Jacinthe retorted that her long career wouldn’t prevent her from exploring new avenues. Though it takes confidence and courage, it’s never too late to change career paths.

Jacinthe earned her master's degree in bilingualism studies in fall 2020. She is extremely proud of her achievement and shares her journey with us.

Changing career paths

After completing a bachelor’s degree in translation, I ended up in Japan, where I taught French and English at different levels from 1992 to 2016. When I returned to Canada, I continued teaching second languages to college students and adult learners. After 30 years of teaching on contract, I needed a change. I wanted a career that was just as satisfying but much more stable. Quite a tall order! After dozens of fruitless job applications, I realized that to succeed in today’s job market, I had to go back to school to broaden my knowledge and update my skills. All of the uncertainty I felt about being able to complete a new degree vanished when I discovered the MA in Bilingualism Studies program. It was exactly what I was looking for!

A smart choice

I chose the University of Ottawa for its values, and the MA in Bilingualism Studies for its interdisciplinary focus. Assessment, language planning, innovative second language technologies...every area of applied linguistics opened avenues that became clearer over the course of the program.

Program strengths?

There are so many! The expertise of the teachers (to whom I am infinitely grateful), the quality of the courses and the friendly atmosphere at OLBI. The way the meals and gatherings organized every season by our contagiously enthusiastic program director, Marie-Josée Hamel, helped bring us closer. Also, the diversity of the students. Since I’m passionate about intercultural relations (I’m planning on adding more languages to the six I already know!), I found this international environment extremely invigorating.

Rushing to catch up

The most challenging thing for me was being 30 years behind! Most of my classmates had completed their bachelor’s degrees in the 21st century. I had done mine back in the 80s! The new technologies and innovative approaches were quite hard to adjust to at first. I overcame this challenge by questioning, searching, asking teachers, librarians and mentors for advice and participating in workshops. My turning point was the methodology course taught by OLBI director Jérémie Séror. His course taught me that you can learn anything. I learned to learn, which made me want to learn even more!

On a personal level, I had to juggle my family responsibilities. With two teenage kids, my return to school was an adjustment for the whole family. Since many of my courses were in the evening, I remember I often used my breaks to call my children and make sure they ate and did their homework. In a way, it also helped them become more responsible.

"Going back to school revived my love of teaching, pushed me to challenge myself, gave me confidence and, most importantly, made me passionate about making our world more equal!"

Benefits of an intergenerational cohort

Far from separating us, our diversity brought us together and fostered friendship and collaboration. My classmates taught me so many things, and in turn, I was able to share my five decades of life experience with them.

Where job market expectations and needs meet

The program definitely equipped me for today’s job market. I got to use my new skills to address real needs during my practicum at the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB). My degree also proved useful in my new teaching job at OLBI and in my parallel role as translation and instructional design consultant at the CCLB. I would never have gotten these jobs without my master’s in bilingualism studies!

Technology: An asset for language learning

Technology will definitely play an increasingly important role in language teaching (and any other kind of teaching). My students find distance learning to be more effective and agile. It gives them more opportunities to practice speaking and allows them to quickly move from the main group to the breakout groups. Distance learning is also more egalitarian as it gives everyone the same access to education no matter where they live. I feel well-equipped to accompany learners through this evolved reality.

Any advice for people who are thinking of changing career paths?

Follow your passions! Learning is a lifelong journey. When I was 20, I found studying laborious. At 55, I found it stimulating and rewarding! Going back to school revived my love of teaching, pushed me to challenge myself, gave me confidence and, most importantly, made me passionate about making our world more equal! Thank you, University of Ottawa, for inspiring me and giving me the most rewarding experience of my life!

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