In 2018, I started at the University of Sunderland to train to become a Primary School teacher. At this point in time, I was still very confident that God wanted me in the Order of the Holy Paraclete, despite having had to extend my time in First Profession instead of make my Life Profession.
Then, things started to change in 2019. Living in a branch house with only one other sister is not the easiest, and there were a number of factors that made it go (for me) from “rather difficult” to “frankly impossible”. During this time, the then Prioress died. By Easter 2019, I was stretched to my limit, and on Easter Monday I ended up returning to Whitby to the mother house (which by this point was the newly built priory that the sisters were still, technically, moving into).
I spent the summer in Whitby, commuting to Sunderland until lectures ended, and then commuting to Redcar for the services at St Peter’s. My uncertaincy about the future lasted all summer. There was a Readers-in-training weekend at Wydale, and during the Saturday afternoon I went for a run, and when I got back, I really didn’t want to put my habit back on. I made myself do so, because I knew if I didn’t then, then I’d likely not put it back on in the morning either.
At the end of August, I went to Greenbelt, hoping that somehow answers would be provided. And they were. I had several conversations with people and realised that my future no longer included me being a member of a religious order past my time in first profession.
I returned to Redcar, and started the second year of the degree. So far so good, and for balance, there had been an extra sister sent to the house as well, which was pleasing.
January 2020 and it was my first long placement teaching practice. Loved it, although it reminded me of all the trials and tribulations of friendship problems between 10-and-11-year-old-girls! The placement ended up being cut short by two days because of the pandemic, which was fine for me (but sadly some of the cohort had only just started their placements). Lectures taking place online were very different to lectures in person, and writing now it seems so very long ago, when in reality it was only just over 12 months…
By the summer, though, it had been all sorted out that the branch house was going to be moving from Redcar to Middlesbrough. The sister I had been living with was returning to the priory and a different sister would join me in Middlesbrough. July and August saw me coordinating with a variety of different people to get the house organised to be packed up and moved, and then everything unpacked at the other end.
September 2020 I was resident by myself in the new house, and also had to tell the sisters that I would not be staying after graduation. I was also licenced as a Reader (Licenced Lay Minister) in September, and the information from University was that we’d have one face-to-face lecture (or 3D, as a friend has recently referred to it) a week. I was accepted as a student rep for my cohort too, one of six of us, which turned out to be fantastic support.
Lectures were very quickly changed to be all online via Teams, as Covid cases increased in the second wave and Sunderland further reduced the capacity of the lecture theatres. As a cohort, so many people supported each other as we tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
The sister who was joining me in the house arrived at the end of October half term, and we settled down to life – which was not as easy as I would have liked! Coming downstairs to discover the kitchen half re-arranged and then left because she’d gone to spent half an hour in the garden doing some weeding before coming back to it was frustrating. I had initially requested that the two of us move into the house at the same time, to prevent this sort of thing from happening, but it wasn’t possible.
Christmas came, and with it the news from the Priory that because of the increase in cases in the Middlesbrough area, we weren’t to go there for Christmas. “Gutted” doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I’d planned on only being there for three days, because of an assignment that was due in, but to be told we couldn’t even enter the building was heartbreaking news ahead of my last Christmas in community.
I threw myself into my studies and the assignment I was working on instead, and on planning my sermon, as I was the one preaching on Christmas Day. Huge honour to be asked to do that, and I think it went all right! And the effort on the assignment was a very good thing as I ended up with a result of 72 (which is a First).
New Year meant new lockdown, and that was something else that wasn’t easy to deal with. Lectures continued online, for the final assignment and then information about how to go about finding and applying for teaching positions, and also preparation for the final placement.
I spent 10 weeks with a year 5 (9-10-year-olds) class, who were fantastic. I still miss them, and hope they’re having a better summer than they did last year.
At the end of May, I packed everything into my car (it was a tight squeeze) and headed off into, well, not the sunset, but for the south west of England. I’m now in Devon, looking for my first teaching post. I’ve been granted Qualified Teacher Status, and yesterday received in the post my degree certificate confirming that I have a First Class Honours BA in Primary Education.
If I don’t get a full time teaching position, if I end up taking a teaching assistant type post, then academia calls – UoS offer their MA in Education part time via distance learning.
In the meantime, I’m staying with a friend and helping her look after her land (and her horse) and trying to figure out exactly where God wants me to go next.