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Career Reinvention Story – From Flight Attendant to Early Childhood Educator

Margaret Negus is a Diploma of Community Services (Children’s Services) graduate and 2005 TAFE NSW – North Coast Institute Student of the Year. In the following article, Margaret tells us about her sudden career change, the highlights and also challenges of her course, and her vision for early childhood education.

Why did you get into child care?

After the collapse of Ansett Australia, and the subsequent loss of my much-loved job of 20-plus years as a flight attendant, I was faced with the stark realisation that I had no formal qualifications to back up a job application. I decided not to chase another airline job which I felt could never measure up to the one I had lost so I turned to my childhood dream of becoming a kindergarten teacher.

What motivated you to complete the course and do so well?

A combination of a need for meaningful employment and the need to gain a qualification I could build on if I found I was capable. Time was a definite factor. I am 47 years old and I wanted to complete the course in the set timeframe. My initial goal was simply to complete the course doing so well was a bonus that happened partly because I found I was capable, but mostly because I was surrounded by wonderful people who encouraged and believed in me. It is quite a phenomenon to experience unwavering support and endorsement.

What were the highlights of your course?

 By far the most significant highlight has been ‘learning to learn’ and gaining confidence to continue. Throughout my two-year diploma course, my ability to learn was confirmed in my own mind and my confidence in this area grew by degrees with each module passed. The whole TAFE experience at Coffs Harbour Education Campus was positive for me from the wonderful team of teachers who were flexible, approachable, incredibly dedicated and always seeking to improve their own practices, to a remarkable class of fellow students who combined to create a wonderful energy and an atmosphere of generosity, networking and genuine friendship that blossomed within the classroom.

What challenges did you encounter?

Even though I firmly believe it’s never too late to study, re-entering an educational institution as a mature learner was fairly confronting for me. Another great challenge for me was the pressure I put upon myself, largely because of my age I imagined that somehow more was expected from me at this age than if I had been an 18-year-old straight from school. The biggest and most frustrating challenge within the course was learning, as I went, to use a computer to complete written assessment tasks. I was also challenged to adjust my thinking from the classroom to the reality of the workplace with each practical assignment I undertook.

What are you planning to do in your career?

My goal is to gain full-time employment in the Coffs Harbour area. With that, I expect to undertake some more formal learning to build on my early childhood qualification and continue my professional development. Since completing the diploma as a full-time student, I have become aware of the value of concurrent study with work in a relevant field where the work and the study complement each other even though it might stretch the duration of the course.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

One of the things that makes life interesting is that the answer to this question is often bears no resemblance to the final outcome. Today I see myself remaining in the field of children’s care and education; I am still at the starting line with the knowledge and experience of a beginner and continually formulating ideas and opinions. Through my present employment, work at TAFE and volunteer work, I have discovered the necessity of ongoing professional development in order to remain conversant with contemporary trends in child care and associated services. I am contemplating a degree in early childhood education.

What vision do you have for early childhood education?

My vision for early childhood education is that it is valued and respected by the community in general and also local, state and federal governments. More importantly, that all stakeholders regard these crucial early years of our children’s lives as an important foundation for their future physical and emotional wellbeing.

In a perfect world, I would increase the ratio of educators to children. Children with special needs would be given ready access to specialists and assistance when required. The red-tape maze that exists to gain extra funding for a child with special needs would be simplified.

My vision is that child care workers are paid a wage that realistically reflects their level of responsibility, training and ability. It is also important to acknowledge all of the facets of this occupation such as caring, concern, compassion and love.

What changes or refocusing might be needed to optimise early learning and development opportunities for children?

Child care services are as individual and unique as the children, families and caregivers within them. Change and refocusing must not always be viewed broadly it should be tailored to suit the people, place and time. In general, however, as more and more children will spend a great proportion of their early years at child care facilities, I see a need to simplify schedules and routines for children, and recording and planning for early childhood professionals. Refocusing and change is a continual process and it is important to foster partnerships with parents and other early childhood professionals so as to optimise early learning and development opportunities for children.

What does your crystal ball say about directions and developments in early childhood education?

Families are becoming more complex and mobile and, with a lack of extended family, they are often unsupported. This will lead to changes and movement within services for staff members and children. Many children may be spending a great proportion of their early years in formal care situations while parents and guardians pursue paid employment. This trend increases the vital role that early childhood education plays in our communities, as child care services become an important extension of the family unit.

 Providing high-quality care and education to all children attending child care facilities will require services to be flexible, open-minded and creative in these times of constant change.

What are you doing now?

I work two days per week in a centre that offers long day care, preschool and occasional care to children aged three–six years. At this centre there is a wonderful amalgamation of professionalism, fun, love and efficiency. One morning per week I volunteer in the kindergarten room of our local Rudolph Steiner School exposing me to a philosophy that caught my attention during my studies and which provides me with another perspective. Another morning I work at TAFE assisting at the play session run by the students. This is an opportunity for me to observe new trends and interact with yet another group of families, which further broadens my understanding of early childhood education.

I have continued with the job I had while studying, as a sales assistant in a furniture shop, working Saturdays, Sundays and 10 hours on Thursdays. I am juggling all this for now as I continue to explore early childhood education from different angles. In each of these situations, I learn something new each day.

Reinvent Your Career would like to thank Early Childhood Australia where this article first appeared.

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