Even in her first career as a woolclasser, Master of Teaching (Secondary) graduate Rebecca Iliffe was drawn to education. After her start in shearing sheds, she was soon providing wool education to international processors, and helping farmers and producers grow and diversify their businesses.

That interest also expanded to helping families and young people. Particularly, her business Turnstone Projects, set up in 2003, assists young people, their families and broader communities develop locally led education, employment and enterprise initiatives.

Rebecca felt a teaching qualification would be a helpful next step, even if it added new challenges to her busy life.

“Studying at UNE was a mid-career decision. My goal was to build my theoretical foundation, knowledge and skills to work in the best ways possible with adolescents and to help them achieve their goals,” Rebecca says.

Each of the 16 subjects offered new ways to think about how people learn, reflect on my own ideas and the opportunity to build my general knowledge.

“Returning to study with two children, then aged 10 and eight, and running my business during the day meant my time at UNE was very early mornings, late nights, and squirrelled time on weekends while waiting at sports events.”

Luckily, the content kept her interested and engaged.

“Each of the 16 subjects offered new ways to think about how people learn, reflect on my own ideas and the opportunity to build my general knowledge.

“Much of what I learnt could be immediately applied.”

But the biggest challenge – and also the “most rewarding” – was the two practical placements.

“I felt well-prepared to undertake my first placement, but the reality of my lack of experience in the classroom was profound! I did learn quickly, embraced reflection, asked many questions and found the students themselves great teachers.”

Now Rebecca is working with Sydney Secondary College as the learning coordinator and classroom teacher of a new priority program, the ‘T Centre’ for Year 7 and 8 students. She has had the opportunity to develop and implement a 10-week combined academic and wellbeing support program for learners more suited to a small group setting. Students undertake project-based learning across a range of disciplines to develop their own social enterprise, receive coaching, participate in fencing and through Stronger Brains, an intensive online program, build working memory, recognition and awareness.

“I see the T Centre as a leadership program with a clear goal: to help the students develop their own skills and strategies for success in and out of school,” Rebecca says. 

Rebecca’s volunteering work on a range of school projects from sport, music and literacy support, was recognised at the April graduation ceremony with a New England Award.

“Seeing these activities recognised and valued by the University – and presented on a certificate – made my children, and me, proud.” 

While not always easy, Rebecca says she found studying with children a help rather than a hindrance.  “My sons have always been encouraging. Learning from and with them has been a highlight.”

Image: Rebecca Iliffe undertook a Master of Teaching (Secondary) to benefit her work with young people.