When we talk about the kinks in the technology we use in online courses today, it’s easy to forget that they are nothing compared to the vagaries of correspondence courses in the past. Previously, students and instructors had to account for cassette tapes and Canada Post. I am deeply appreciative to alumna Margaret Marsh (BA, MA) for giving us insight into that period. I am also in awe of the way in which she balanced everything: class, children, and work. Read on to find out more!
JLH: Can you tell us a bit about how you ended up studying English at UWaterloo?
MM: From earliest childhood, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, particularly primary grades. When I graduated from high school in the mid-sixties, a university degree was not required to teach elementary school so my plans were to attend Toronto Teachers’ College following graduation. Since I had a bursary to the University of Toronto, I decided to attend that institution for one year, after which I attended Toronto Teachers College. Fast forward thirteen years (a few years teaching, a few years in Christian ministry, marriage, two children), at which time I decided to upgrade my education. Since I was not living in the area at the time, distance education (i.e. cassette tapes/mailed-in assignments/proctored exams) was the way to go. When we did move to Kitchener-Waterloo, I pursued my BA Honours English in earnest, completing 16 full credits in just over two years (correspondence, night school, Saturday classes, summer school) at the same time as I was raising two children and working part-time as a long-term occasional teacher (supply teacher). Upon graduation I hoped to gain full time employment (contract) as a teacher, but such a goal was almost impossible considering the lack of employment opportunities in the teaching field at the time.
JLH: I’m wondering how your experience – being a mature student, and part-time – shaped your sense of yourself as a UWaterloo student. Did you feel a part of the department, or that you had the full attention of the faculty?
MM: In some ways I did not feel a part of the department (not until graduate school); not the fault of the department, just that my life was so different from that of most undergrads. While they were dating, partying, or whatever on the weekends, I had family responsibilities, work outside of university, and a huge amount of study and homework/essay prep. The faculty was wonderful, very supportive (on one occasion when I was carrying a course load of 7 credits and at the same time was offered a 4 month full-time job teaching grade 3, my professors very kindly gave me extensions on many of my assignments). My profs also told me that they appreciated the dedication and the wealth of life experiences of mature students. After graduation, I was unable to secure employment as an elementary school teacher, but since I was offered a scholarship to graduate school, I followed that course of action. I LOVED grad school, felt very much a part of the department, really enjoyed teaching undergrads report and essay writing. I also worked for another professor at one of the church colleges, marking undergrad papers for English usage. I took longer than average to complete my Master’s degree, but during that time I gave birth to a very premature baby who occupied a great deal of my time. I received my Honours BA (English) in 1980 and Masters (English) in 1984.
JLH: How did your studies at UWaterloo shape your time as a teacher?
MM: Much of what I studied at UW did not have a direct bearing on my teaching, but very much so indirectly. I really learned to monitor my time, work to deadlines, stay focused. My several courses in Psychology (developmental/deviant behaviour) were very helpful in my understanding of my students, especially when I was teaching in special needs classes. My classes in linguistics were also helpful when I was searching for ways and methods of teaching students to read as part of my duties as a Special Education teacher. In addition to my UW studies, I took several courses through the Ministry of Education.
JLH: What books are you reading for pleasure right now or plan to read soon?
MM: I love to read. I do not have a TV but listen to the radio a lot (usually CBC) and read as much as I can – seldom fiction but usually travel, biography, books about horses/dogs, history (about 100 books a year), most recently – The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (fiction); FOB Doc, A Doctor on the Front Lines of Afghanistan (a war diary); Country Roads, Memoirs of Rural Canada (short stories); Saving Simon, How a Rescue Donkey Taught me the Meaning of Compassion; etc., etc., etc. My “to read” list includes about 100 titles. I also read several periodicals: The Walrus, Christianity Today, The Economist, and others. In my “spare time”, I volunteer with young children at the local school, visit lonely/shut in elderly people, take people to appointments, volunteer at KDCHC, WPL, my church, and Joseph Schneider Haus (I am retired). I also love to knit, do other needlework and garden. I am 71 years old and have 3 children (one a UW Math grad) and 6 grandchildren.