How lifelong learner Rebecca found her way into education

With a lifelong interest in education, Rebecca Bolger decided at age 42 that she had bigger dreams.

A single mum with three children, Rebecca had been working as a teacher’s aid and assistant in regional schools. But four decades into her life, she decided to study the Bachelor of Early Childhood and Primary Education.

At first, Rebecca studied online at Swinburne, but she found remote learning difficult and frustrating,

“Living regionally did make tertiary study hard,” she says. It was enough of an impediment that she deferred her degree.

Fortunately, this led her to La Trobe Shepparton in 2017, which had begun offering a dual early childhood and primary education degree on campus. Rebecca transferred in, and was both thrilled and anxious about face-to-face study.

“I loved the fact that La Trobe were finally offering teaching degrees in Shepparton and that I would actually get to experience university life with face-to-face classes.”

“I was excited and really nervous as I thought I [was] maybe the only mature-aged student. I was definitely wrong!”

Mothers make natural teachers

Navigating her responsibilities as a mother, teacher and student was a “fine balancing act”, Rebecca admits. But it was being a mother that inspired her to study education.

“My love of teaching came from teaching my middle son, who was born deaf and has severe autism.”

Rebecca Bolger

Learning how to communicate with her son and giving him the tools to communicate was a complex undertaking. Rebecca used “different tools like Auslan, PECS, COMPIC and verbal language.”

“We used picture books that we made and a communication wall to provide language and literacy,” she says.

Rebecca also thinks being a mother is a huge positive in education – not just for her, but universally.

“Absolutely being a mum has helped in my career, it provides a different perspective to teaching. You can see things and empathise in a way that differs from many. Being a mum with special needs children also gives you an abundance of patience that takes years to learn.”

From study to shaping minds

Studying on campus in her hometown of Shepparton gave Rebecca the opportunity to connect with her classmates and find a community close to home.

“Making new friends and peers who have been on the same journey and share the same passion for teaching,” she says, was what she enjoyed most about the degree.

Since leaving La Trobe, she’s still an active member of the university. She’s a member of the La Trobe Excellence Academy, she volunteers in the Emerging Leaders Program, and she’s a La Trobe Host.

Outside of the La Trobe community, Rebecca works for the Goulburn Regional Preschool Association as a relief teacher and educator in Merrigum, Undera and Violent Town Preschools – all of which are close to Shepparton.

She loves the “curious minds and new ideas” she encounters when teaching young students, and she’s excited to have the responsibility of shaping young minds.

Following your dreams

Rebecca’s story shows us that it’s never too late to go to uni or earn a new degree. She’s sure there are many potential students out there who are uncertain about taking a new pathway in life due to their age.

“There [must] be many mature-aged students who would be nervous or second guessing themselves,” she reckons.

But she’s adamant that people shouldn’t allow these anxieties to deter them from following their dreams.

“My advice would be to go for it,” Rebecca says. “University study isn’t just for the school leavers, but for those of us who are looking to challenge ourselves, to upskill, or change in career paths. Goals change as we get older, career goals change. Don’t let age stop you from reaching out to get the goal.”