Continuing our special ‘Day in the Life Of’ blog series, our graphic designer, Lynn Robertson spent a morning with Tracey Callaghan, an Early Education and Childcare Level 5 student at our Kilwinning campus.
This blog is in two parts, we start here with Tracey’s story and her experience of returning to college as an adult learner. We will catch up with Tracey again in part two as she returns to college in the Autumn to begin her HNC at Kilmarnock Campus.
With two grown up children about the leave the nest, and a determination to make the most of her life, Tracey came to Ayrshire College in January 2018, just two weeks shy of her 43rd birthday.
This is Tracey’s story…
For the past 20 years I’ve looked after everyone else and I continue to do so, but as a mature student, it’s been really nice to do something for me. My son started university last year and as I visited the various campuses with him there was this voice in my head saying ‘I’d love to do that’. That gave me the drive to actually do something about it and change my life.
Working in various admin roles through the years, I’ve always wanted to do more. I didn’t have the opportunity to go into further education when I left school, I went straight into the workplace and when I had my family, I worked around them. I’ve worked for 14 years in education administration and loved being involved with children. I did a lot of voluntary work with youth community teams, working in befriending projects and one to one with kids, monitoring their behaviour.
I tried to to go back to college on a day release basis several years ago, but budget cuts meant there was no funding available. It’s been a challenge to get to a point in my life where I was able to return to education.
Sometimes life can throw you a bit of a curveball. I suffered from chronic migraines for years, but during my last job, as admin for a local primary school, I had a particularly severe attack where I was left completely numb down one side of my body. I had ignored my symptoms for so long, I knew I was stressed, but just kept on going, until essentially my body began shutting down. I had MRI scans and was tested for MS. It was a wake up call for me, I realised I couldn’t go on like that any longer.
My illness was the kick up the backside I needed to start taking care of my own needs and take control of my life. I knew I was capable of so much more. For a while I wasn’t sure what my path would be, but I believed once I figured out what I wanted to do, then somehow I would find a way to achieve it.
I took a career break from East Ayrshire Council to return to college. When I’ve finished my studies, I would like go back in a different role, perhaps as a childcare practitioner for 0-5 year olds, a family worker, or to assist school children with learning difficulties. With the Scottish Government’s increase in funded childcare hours in 2020, there’s going to be a lot more opportunities available in the sector, so the sky’s the limit!
It can be difficult to make the decision to come back to college as an adult learner, especially if you have a lot of responsibilities and financial commitments. For me, I needed clarity – I needed to know what to expect, to work out if I could afford to leave my job, what support would be available, how I could manage my time and even whether I’d be able to cope with studying.
I had looked into returning to college when my children were younger but I felt there were too many barriers – perhaps they were just in my head, but I didn’t feel confident I had the support I would need to make it work.
However, when I came and spoke to the funding team in Kilwinning about starting the Early Education and Childcare course in January, they were absolutely fantastic. They made everything so clear and took time to chat through all of my concerns. All of a sudden there was a wee light, I could see how I could get from A to B, which gave me the confidence to jump in with both feet. Yes, sometimes it is a struggle financially but I’ve still got a roof over my head so it is doable and I don’t regret it for a second.
Despite my concerns, I found college to be a very welcoming place. My migraines can make it difficult for me to concentrate so I was worried about how I would cope with the workload. I was put in touch with the Learning Support Team who couldn’t have been more helpful, I was able to speak to them in confidence and although in the end I didn’t need any assistance, they made it clear they would go to any lengths to put steps in place that may help.
What am I doing here?
Of course I was also intimidated I would be older than my classmates. Some of the girls on my course are younger than my daughter! At first I thought, ‘what am I doing here, is this for me?’ but actually it’s been a great learning curve. In life you have to be able to work with people of all ages. I think we tend to navigate towards people of a similar age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will have the same interests. I have a great relationship with my younger classmates and have learned a lot from them too. It’s helped my confidence to know I can mix with people from all different backgrounds and age groups – I just need to be careful not to mother them at times!
Education isn’t just for the young, it’s about life long learning. Not everyone is academic and going straight from school to college or university doesn’t have to be the only way. Having more life experience can be an advantage.
For instance, while many younger students get incredibly nervous during course presentations, I’ve developed more coping mechanisms. I still feel uncomfortable, but have learned not to let it affect me. My background in education has also helped me visualize what we cover in class, and I’m hungry to learn more. I love that the course is so varied and I particularly enjoy the research tasks, it takes me so much longer than everyone else because I keep uncovering more things I want to learn about!
Taking time for me
I definitely feel I appreciate college more now than I would have if I had gone straight from school. My study time doesn’t feel like a chore, I treat it like self-development, in the way other people might practice yoga or go to the gym. I also enjoy simple things like having a nice coffee in the canteen or chat with my classmates. Again, it’s about having time for me.
Although it is a full time course we are only in college on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I think there is a misconception that coming back to college means being there all day every day, I certainly thought that would be the case, but it’s a lot more manageable and I think it is important people realise that, especially if they have concerns about childcare or work commitments.
Having support from your family is really important. It was a difficult adjustment for me. I was so used to making sure my family were okay, that thinking about myself, and what I wanted to do, seemed almost selfish. However, I shouldn’t have worried, they have been perfectly fine and it’s allowed them to become more independent too.
Just go for it
I would say to anyone considering coming back to college to just go for it. Come and speak to the student services or funding team about your concerns, they are genuinely helpful and will help you cross the T’s and dot the I’s – they understand the huge step you are taking and will take time to make sure you have all the answers you need. Sometimes you can make up scenarios in your head and can only see the barriers, the team here might help you find a way around them.
You won’t regret making that call or visit, even if you decide it’s not the right path now, at least you will know you have tried. But, it might just be the first step towards achieving what you want to do.
We will catch up with Tracey again after the summer when she embarks on her HNC course at Kilmarnock Campus.