Melanie Brown is here to tell you it’s not.
A primary school teacher with nine years’ experience, her passion is for helping kids to develop their literacy skills. She and her husband, James, live in rural Victoria, with their two daughters Addisyn (5) and Lilah (3). Three years ago, she made the big decision to go back and study a Masters of Education (Reading and Literacy) at Torrens.
“After I had my second daughter (who was only about four weeks old), I was going crazy at home. I’m not sure if it was tiredness from all night feeds, or my need for mental stimulation – but I thought, why not try and stay up to date with current research? It was something I had thought about for a couple of years, but never had the time to do.
So I researched some Masters degrees and found Torrens had an online option, which suited me perfectly because I needed to be able to study at home with my young family. I enrolled, and committed myself to developing my career from home whilst on leave.”
Tip #1: Choose a course where you can be flexible, and do it online.
You never know exactly how much study you’re going to be able to take on until you start, so it’s good to have flexibility.
Mel initially decided to ease into the study by starting off with just two subjects. She discovered pretty quickly that even two subjects was too ambitious, and reduced her study load down to one subject per trimester.
“Having two-week modules for the subjects really helped me. I knew I could have my readings and postings done in the first week. Then, in the second week, would respond to others, work on assignments and try to get ahead on the next module readings (although this was not often possible).”
In her experience, being able to study online also made a huge difference.
“We now live in a world where it is almost impossible to be a stay at home mum, let alone a student with a family. Online availability of education is a great alternative to having to physically attend university campuses. There aren’t many online degrees available, which definitely limits access to further education.”
Tip #2: Time management is everything.
When her daughter reached six months old, Melanie decided it was time to go back to work.
She started back as a casual, but during the course of her whole degree, she was mostly working full time. To cope, she had to develop a study schedule around the demands of family life. She would often squeeze her study in at night after the kids had gone to bed.
“Study became less of a juggling act once I worked out a routine that worked for my family, and stuck with it. It became about time management, and I had specific plans to get through everything. My children were in childcare when I was working only, so I had to do 90% of my study at night after they had gone to sleep. Sure, my house was always in need of more of a tidy, and my family probably had a grumpy mummy at times – but that is the reality of working, having a family and studying. It is hard, but the routine I found worked for me.”
Tip #3: Use all the organisational tricks in the box.
Sometimes it’s the simplest tricks that keep you from being overwhelmed. To-do lists, calendars, and daily reminders can be invaluable when you’ve got a lot on your plate.
“I would write lists and tick them off, which I found motivating, and I would also set daily goals on the calendar to count down to the end of the course. Studying became part of my routine. It was stressful around assignment time, but I just knew I would always manage to get it all done.”
Tip #4: Love and support are essential.
Of course, let’s not overlook the important role that James played in this story.
“My husband was so supportive over the three years of study. He would listen to me when I would cry from stress and would celebrate when I received my good grades. He would take care of the girls, cook dinner and really stepped up when I was hunched over a computer screen working on an assignment. If it wasn’t for him then I don’t think it would have been as easy or possible to complete the course.”
But, it wasn’t just Melanie’s significant other who helped her on this journey.
“I was really lucky to have two very amazing friends, who are also teachers and are both now studying their Master degrees as well, who were always available to cheer me on, proofread assignments, give advice and kept me sane at all hours of the night.
I was also able to complete my research component in my classroom with my students. Without the support of my principal, my students and their families it would not have been possible to pass the course at all.”
Plus, she had a little help and guidance from Torrens University.
“In my final year, Torrens University introduced success coaching. Feeling like I couldn’t do it anymore I replied to Toni Jones, Education Faculty's Success Coach, emails. She was amazing at explaining my strengths and helping me understand how and why I do things. This helped me discover how I best work and how I can best complete the course.
Toni kept me going, especially at the end when I was thinking it was impossible. With each subject I completed, my grades would increase. I feel this is from the support of all the people who kept me going over the years.”
Tip #5: Don’t Give Up!
About halfway through the course, it was all just getting a little bit too much. Melanie reached a point where she really felt like quitting. It was a sheer determination that kept her in the game.
“Looking back, there were many tough times when I didn’t think it was possible to finish. Somehow I just managed to get it done. I figured I’ve already come this far – there is no point in wasting my time and effort. I knew I had to just keep going.
I believe if you want something hard enough, if you work at it and just keep chipping away, then anyone can study whilst juggling work and family.”
So, how does Melanie rate her overall experience of the ‘triple juggle’?
“I am proud that my children came to the graduation day and saw Mummy get her special certificate for her ‘school work’. I have shown my children that you can be a mother, wife, friend, teacher, learner, and you can study to improve yourself and reach your goals.
I don’t feel I had a triple burden in the end, because look what it is possible to achieve! That’s not a burden. I loved studying with Torrens. The lecturers were so supportive and really took time to know me as a person and a student. I had Dr. Pamela Fitzgerald and Prof. Tim Moss as lecturers, and I couldn’t speak highly enough of both these people.
It’s so strange – studying and being a part of the Torrens degree was such a big part of my life, I actually miss it now that I have finished I look back and realise how much I loved developing my knowledge. It has really enhanced me as a person and an educator, which is only going to be better for the students I am privileged enough to teach.
As teachers, we advocate for lifelong learning, and you can’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk. So teachers, I truly encourage you to look for a course that interests you and just go for it. You have nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain!”