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From hospo to teaching: Matt's career did a full 180

This article appears in: Alumni stories, Changing careers, Education
Teaching graduate Matt McKenna at school

When Matt was working in the hospitality industry, he thought he had his career all mapped out. But after one too many long shifts, it turns out that wasn’t the case. A desire for change led him back into the classroom as a student, and then as the teacher. 

After a particularly tiring shift, Matt headed home and applied to study a Bachelor of Education at CDU.

CDU was always his first choice, and his application was accepted.

I applied to CDU because they had a great reputation for educating tertiary students and developing the required skills for the uniqueness of teaching in the Northern Territory.

“I also wanted the freedom to do online learning while still having the safety net of the university, facilities and staff within reach,” he adds.

The highs

Teaching graduate Matt McKenna at school

Matt says that there were many highlights during his study including developing relationships with a variety of educational professionals from the Darwin region and celebrating his graduation in the place he lives and studied.

“Having finished my university degree, the graduation ceremony and the celebration that goes with it emphasised the community spirit of the university,” says Matt.

“It was great to get a chance to recognise the enormous variety of faculties, courses and alternative pathways the university offered, as well as the cultural and age diversity of those who were completing their studies.”

Another standout of Matt’s study was a teaching placement in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

It was a great chance to interact with fellow classmates and working and living together really extended my confidence as a teacher.

“The school was larger and many of the teachers were from backgrounds in the subject that they were teaching, so their knowledge and experience was wide."

With minimal time to plan, limited resources and a curriculum still in development, Matt also learnt to think on his feet to develop lessons.

Big lessons

Being able to juggle study with other priorities and stay on track can be hard. But for Matt it was made easier by having a study companion.

“Not long after I started my course, my wife also returned to study which allowed us to spend ‘quality’ time together studying,” says Matt.

“This made the first year much easier to complete. By the end of summer semester, I was in a routine and my employer was really supportive in helping me with working and studying at the same time.”

Despite living in Darwin, Matt didn’t attend any lectures or tutorials at CDU. Instead, he did all of his study online.  

Having this flexibility allowed me to continue my day to day life and I’d just log in either before, after, and in some cases, during work to engage in lessons.

“This is the main reason I was able to accelerate the course and finish it a whole year early," Matt says. "The online platform was also a great way to establish connections with peers and lecturers, some who I have since worked with professionally.”

Matt notes that the university were also extremely effective at liaising with local schools to organise flexible placements.

“I was supported by the University who knew that I had to maintain a full-time job so would often have to leave my placement at 4pm, work through until midnight and then return to school at 6:30am to prep for the day.”

School’s out

Teaching graduate Matt McKenna in the classroom

With his bachelor’s degree in hand, Matt has now jumped into a teaching role where he’s continually learning from students, peers, parents and leaders.

“University provides a solid foundation of knowledge, while the application in a workplace is the next phase in your learning,” he says.

The studying habits and time management skills I developed in university translated exceptionally well into my work.

"I’ve regained a work/life balance and can identify how to effectively share my time between everything I care about."


So, now that Matt’s fulfilling his dream, what advice would he give to his younger self?

“Consider all opportunities. Nothing should be off the table without discussion,” he says.

"Remember that teaching requires dedication so full-time study without appropriate preparation in tandem with placement, work and social can become a burden rather than a path for success.”

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