Undertaking the program… as a career changer with a family

8 August 2018

This week on the Stories blog, Cohort 2018 Associate Stephen Damen shares a few tips and experiences he wishes he’d heard before starting the program.

At 46, Stephen decided to become a teacher. He had over twenty-five years of experience in business development, business management and professional photography, but this year started teaching Media at Mill Park Secondary College in Victoria.

“I have an amazing wife, who runs her own business, and four fantastic kids, ranging from seventeen down to four years old,” Stephen writes. “I’m telling you all this because although I am by no means the only Teach For Australia Associate who is an older career changer with the responsibilities and restrictions of a family, I did not really have the opportunity of hearing from someone in my position before starting the program.”

In his blog post, Stephen reflects on several key aspects about the program, both the challenging and the rewarding.

The selection process

After going through it himself last year, Stephen’s takeaway on selection process is: it’s rigorous, but you can trust it. He writes, “If you get through, it’s not because you’re smarter or better than someone who didn’t – you are just more likely to ‘fit’ in the program and the way it is delivered, but more importantly, you are more likely to be able to successfully navigate it.”


You’ll be at times lonely and homesick, but your family will also feel the pressure. “This decision will only work if you approach it as a team effort,” Stephen writes. “[You have to] realise that whatever pressures you are feeling, the other members of your family are also feeling. You will need to support each other through it.”

Time and money

Both will be tight. “Doing the program with a family will be harder than if you don’t have one,” Stephen says. The transition takes some settling in, but it’s “not impossible, just harder.”

Masters study

For some career changers, the idea of returning to study after time away from the university setting can be daunting. Yet, Stephen reiterates: “You just need to trust in the selection process. They only let people in who they believe will be able to successfully navigate the whole program, including the study.”

In addition, the Masters program was designed in partnership between Teach For Australia and ACU. “The degree is designed knowing that Associates are working in schools serving disadvantaged communities and are under significant pressure while they are studying. Due dates are factored around busy times at school and they are very fair with granting extensions when required.”

The TFA Family

The Teach For Australia network is comprised of Associates, Alumni, staff, and all sorts of other supporters. “Having this network around you is one of the best parts about the program,” Stephen writes. “The other Associates in your cohort become almost as close as family. You support each other, exchange resources and socialise together.”

More than that, Stephen writes that he has found fulfillment being a part of the Teach For Australia mission. “When you see a Year 12 student with no confidence and no previous experience in your teaching area absolutely ace a number of assessment tasks, or when a transgender student confides in you about their anxiety and depression, or even when you just keep a couple of Year 10s in the classroom when their regular gig is to wander around the yard… you realise that there really isn’t a better job in the world  – or a better way to transition into it.”

Read Stephen’s full blog post here.

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