Written by VAL MOREY – Director of Learning & Teaching School of Education – Curtin University

Many people say that when you have kids, everything changes; your priorities and interests shift in ways you may never have predicted. Deb Edwards, who worked in financial planning before she had her children, was no exception. Once she had children of her own, she understood profoundly how precious children are to their parents, how parents want the very best for them, and how much parents want their children’s unique talents and needs both understood and met.
This realisation led her to recognise that a return to the world of financial planning was not for her. Instead, she undertook TAFE certificates 3 and 4 in education support that allowed her to seek employment as an education assistant in a primary school, where she could take a role in meeting the needs of the children in her community.
Deb, a long-term resident in Albany in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, was employed as an education assistant in a local Catholic primary for eight years. The potential in effective education assistants is often recognised by teaching colleagues, such was the case for Deb. She was urged by teachers in that school to upgrade her qualifications to a Bachelor of Education degree so that she could work as the teacher in a classroom, not the assistant. She graduated when she was 44 years old.
“‘When working as an education assistant, I felt so involved in the teaching and learning process, but I had to hold back from thinking ‘well, I would have done that differently’. Becoming a qualified teacher would allow me to think about how to improve teaching by taking the ‘bigger picture’ view of each child and their background,” she said.
Tertiary studies would not have been within Deb’s reach if not for the online study mode offered through Curtin University OUA.
“I could not possibly have gone on campus,” she said.
“I was working three days a week, running a family and a small business and besides, my husband’s employment is in Albany. I needed the flexibility that online study offers. Over the summer school holiday study period I could drop down to one unit and have a proper summer holiday with my kids and I could then burn through that unit later.”
However, online study is challenging and Deb acknowledges that determination, motivation and discipline are absolutely essential to success.
“Once I start something, I have to finish it and I was absolutely determined to finish my degree, even though it did mean taking my laptop on family holidays to meet some assignment deadlines.”
Deb undertook her internship (10-week professional placement) in a local Albany school. Despite initial common challenges, she found collegial support from others within the school who recognised her capacity and commitment and was supported along the way from Curtin University staff as well. In the end, the internship was so successful that she was subsequently offered employment in that school.
Just as Deb was encouraged by friends and colleagues to embark on and persist with online study, she is now supporting others in her community to do the same. She has given practical advice on enrolment processes and how to navigate the requirements of online tertiary study to several others in the Albany community.
“If you don’t start, you don’t finish,” she tells those who are contemplating this path.
Deb’s commitment is to the Albany community. Her extended family lives in Albany and she understands the importance of building relationships of trust within the parent body of the school community by being both professional and approachable. It is women like Deb Edwards who are proving to be the solution to Western Australia’s perennial problem of attracting and retaining skilled and committed teachers to the regional workforce. Online study enabled her to stay in the region while she studied and, importantly for her and her community, after graduation.