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Stepping up to help children reach their full potential

When 35-year-old stay-at-home mum Sheree Reilly decided to enrol at TAFE Queensland she never imagined the complete transformation her studies would have on both her work and personal life.

By Sheree Reilly, TAFE Queensland graduate

When I started studying my Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care (CHC30113), I never imagined I'd be graduating. You see in 2020 I was yet to finish any studies in my life.

I enrolled in my certificate thinking it would be an easy course because I had previously worked in the industry. But what I wasn't prepared for was the incredibly emotional journey that I would go on.

Obviously 2020 was tough for everyone. COVID-19 came along and threw the world into chaos, but my journey was so much more than just that. At the beginning of my course, I was an engaged stay-at-home mum raising two little girls. I enrolled to simply get out of the house, to engage with people, and have some sort of socialisation. What people didn't know until much later in the year was that my fiancé was violent, controlling and abusive. I was stuck in a domestically violent relationship and needed to have something in my life that she couldn't control.

Orientation was a blur. I wasn't worried about finding out who was teaching, what we were learning, or where our classroom was. I was just glad to have a few hours to myself. But all that changed the moment I met my amazing Teacher Danielle Martyn. From the moment I spoke to her in the classroom I knew she saw me — not as a partner, a mother or just another student, she saw me as a person who had a story to tell.

Throughout our early lessons, Danielle opened the floor for me to share with the class my previous background in childcare. My past experience had been very traumatic. I had previously worked in a specialised centre in rural NSW that cared for behavioural children, foster children, children of drug addicts and abused children. During my time at the centre I was witness to abductions, domestic fights, children being abused and, towards the end of my time there, we went through the horrific experience of losing a child, which is why I walked away. That loss haunted me for years and it was only through sharing my experiences in our classroom that I was able to heal and forgive myself for not doing more.

My relationship came to a very sudden and abrupt end in the midst of COVID-19. I had finally found the strength to say, 'no more'. I returned to class even more focused and determined to finish my course as I didn’t want another failure in my life. While ending my relationship potentially saved mine and my daughter's life, I felt as though I had failed. My mental health was suffering but I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I wanted to show my daughter that I was strong and resilient. I wanted to teach her that no matter how many times you fall down, you get back up. And so I did.

In my time studying I've learnt to be more patient, and about how I can help children with support from other industries. I've learnt how to communicate with other industries and I'm not quite so gung-ho now — I've learnt to step back and evaluate the whole situation.

TAFE was huge for me. I didn't think I would ever go back to studying but being able to be flexible definitely made it easier. My aim from here is to keep going — I'm already studying my diploma. I have a room leader position but my big goal is to become an educator, to teach others how they can help kids.

My story is a story of success, but I've had my fair share of challenges and had to overcome many obstacles along the way. I thank Danielle for taking a chance and believing in a wild child like me. Her support throughout my studies, her understanding of my challenges, and her 'no excuses' attitude not only helped me to pursue my dream career, but also inspired me to do further study. This not only changed my life but gave me the courage to show my daughter what is possible when someone believes in you.

My advice to others is don't let anything stop you from studying because the team will support you. There will always be someone that believes in you even if you don't believe in yourself. And to those who are still studying and may be struggling, believe in yourself — I believe in you, never give up!

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence or abuse, support is available from 1800 RESPECT via their 24/7 hour hotline: 1800 737 732.


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