I started a Bachelor Education (Early Childhood) in 1997 as a full-time student at University Western Sydney. At the time I had been working in the disability field for twelve months after having spent fourteen years working in banking and accounting.
I became ill later in 1997 and stopped studying. I was offered a position that was too good to refuse running programmes for children with disabilities, and did not return to the teaching degree.
In 1999 I started a Bachelor Social Science at Charles Sturt University via distance mode. I found this degree too general and I found it difficult to apply what I was learning to my work. I completed 8 subjects.
I moved from the disability field to foster care casework in 2000.
In 2003 I started studying at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry (NSWIOP), and came out the other side with a Masters, Child & Adolescent Mental Health in 2008. This was a brilliant experience and a rewarding learning environment. I loved every moment studying at NSWIOP. I was treated as a professional. I was treated as an adult. Assignments could be negotiated with the unit convenor to make the learning relevant to my work. All of the students were mature aged from a variety of disciplines (nursing, youth work, social work, health, counselling). Experts in their field presented at on-campus days. As students we presented case studies and discussed therapeutic interventions. My study enabled me to become a truly competent practitioner. Studying a Masters degree is all about the process and you quickly realise that no matter how much study you do you will never know enough and never stop learning. I suspect that the difference between an undergraduate degree and a postgraduate degree is that at the end of an undergraduate degree you may feel that you have finished, but at the end of a postgraduate degree you feel you have just begun. It’s very exciting and empowering.
Whilst I was studying at NSWIOP, I had a nagging feeling of unfinished business – the teaching degree. I started a Bachelor Education Early Childhood at Macquarie University in 2004. A few years into this degree, I felt that I needed more substance, so I started studying primary education subjects. I converted to a Bachelor Arts. With three young children and work, I could not cope with the practicums of a teaching degree.
In 2005, I completed 160 hours of Art Therapy studies with the Centre for Art Psychotherapy. The course was conducted by one of the founders of art therapy in Australia, Annette Coulter. It was experiential and theoretical and allowed me to experience the inner workings of the brilliant minds of Freud, Jung, Bion, and Klein to name a few. A most powerful experience, and one of the best things I have ever done.
In 2008, I left foster care to work in the community. I work for a non-government community development organisation in Western Sydney. There are approximately twenty staff, half of whom are Indigenous. My work involves providing quality early childhood experiences for young children (supported playgroup), early literacy experiences (songs, stories, and rhymes in the park), running resilience based groups for children (DrumBeat, expressive arts, Second Step), social groups for parents, and parenting workshops (1-2-3 Magic, Triple P, Keeping Children Safe). My programmes are located within a primary school, which operates within a ‘schools as community hubs’ model. The school has an on-site preschool and 25% Indigenous children.
At the end of a Bachelor Arts majoring in Education, there is pressure on me from family and friends to progress to a Diploma Education to become a teacher. I am not certain that this is the direction I want to take. This would mean another four years part-time study, with the probability of years of casual teaching work when I am qualified. Graduate teachers are not guaranteed of a position, and many spend years on the casual teaching list.
I really like the work I am doing now, working with a mix of parents and children. I have a lot of autonomy, the work is never boring, and I don’t work school holidays. The work is on the prevention and early intervention end of the health promotion spectrum, which sits very comfortably with me. I am using what I have learnt in both of my degrees, albeit in a low paid position.
I have always said that my focus is on the journey rather than the destination. This is a difficult position to justify in a results driven society. The question I am constantly asked is “what can you do with what you have done?” I can do a variety of things very well, but my study has not prepared me for one particular vocation and this is what people have the most difficulty with.
My children have always known me as a working and studying mother. I have always worked very hard, working many unpaid hours with the utmost dedication. I have worked in situations where I have had to beat my head against a brick wall repeatedly to have children’s rights, wellbeing and safety placed at the centre of the work we do. My specialty when I was working in foster care was working with children being abused in care, and with Indigenous children in care. In one case I rallied against the system for 22 months, including against my own management, to have two children removed from an abusive foster home. I have lived to work. Now in my mid forties, I would like to slow down. I want to pick up my guitar again, go camping with my family, go bushwalking, grow herbs in pots, and take the dog for a walk. I need the time and space to build reflective practice into my work.
I know the commitment and dedication that teaching requires, and children and parents should expect nothing less. The school system is complex, and confusing to me. I see some teachers who are not working in the best interests of their students, and I don’t know if I can accommodate injustice any longer. The highest priority in my work is enhancing children’s potential, and in my current work I can surround myself with practitioners who have very high standards and skills that complement my own.