Back-To-School Reflections

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The late days of summer are here! We relish the last days of playing and dining outdoors without having to wear extra layers of clothes. The streets and shops are bustling with people squeezing in the last bit of warm weather or getting ready for school.

To me this time of year always feels a bit frenzied but also exciting, especially this year with more students returning to in-person learning as we are adapting to living with the COVID-19 pandemic. From my office window I can see the university campus and streets below filling with learners both eager and anxious to start the new academic year. Faculty and instructors are putting the finishing touches on their course outlines and thinking about how to engage their students in new ways. My colleagues, administrative and academic alike, who never stopped working during the summer, have now shifted their focus from behind the scenes to front-line service, answering questions with patience, and seeking to ease everyone into the academic year ahead. This is education in action!

For adult and mature learners, going back to school adds an additional layer of complexity. Just like their younger peers, they, too, must navigate academic schedules, registrations, and purchasing books and supplies. Where is the bookstore? How do I find my classroom or access the learning management system? They worry about being sufficiently prepared, and meeting new people – just like any other student.

Added to the traditional highs and lows at the beginning of term, adult learners also worry about juggling full- or part-time work and family obligations, and may face gendered or racialized burdens. As Heather Sorella, a PhD Candidate at Concordia University recently commented, there are numerous barriers facing mature students, including situational (for example, women caregivers juggling parental, childcare responsibilities), institutional (lack of extended service hours or of tailored support resources), and dispositional (questioning one’s right to be at university). For newcomers, add to that potential struggles with new languages and new cultural habits. Many learners also must contend with the stresses of finding gainful, productive employment – a full-time job in and of itself. The very language of higher education can be hard to navigate – what exactly are credits, and why should I care? What is an accommodation, and do I need one? In addition, there are difficult financial choices to be made. There is no one-size solution for any of the challenges faced by adult learners.

What we all share is a love of learning and teaching. As we re-orient ourselves to a new season of lifelong learning, let us take a moment to listen to our hearts and the flutter they make in anticipation of new pathways to knowledge to be explored. To me, every start of an academic year is a time of magic. Welcome to our new learners, instructors, and staff on this familiar, yet new learning adventure at the McGill School of Continuing Studies!


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