Karin Surgeoner
Primary Education at WCS Paisley (2013-14)
Now studying at the University of Glasgow (Classics & Archaeology)
Hi, I'm Karin. I'm 33, married with four children. I'm originally from Paisley, although I moved around a lot when I was in school. I attended four different high schools because I lived with my mum for a while, then my dad for a while -- and I was in foster care, as well.  I became the primary carer for my father, who had mental health problems, and my younger brother was raised mostly by my mother.  It was all very unsettled and unstable. Every school teaches a bit differently, so I was constantly having to try to catch up and figure out what I had missed.  There was a small student population at the last school I attended, and the teachers there were very encouraging and supportive.  I suppose that is what inspired me to think about becoming a teacher some day.   

As it happened, I left school at 15 when my first daughter was born. By the time I was 18, I had three kids and one of them was severely disabled.  My fourth child was born a few years later. Although when I was younger I had thought about becoming a teacher,  I just gave up on the idea and devoted myself to raising my kids.  I worked occasionally as a home carer for children with special needs.  But then I had a child of my own who had a disability, so dealing with those issues at work and at home just became too much.  

After my children were in school, I tried to get qualifications so I could work in a nursery.  The Deputy Head Teacher at a local nursery was qualified to teach various modules in Child Care.  I’d always had a knack for art, so I traded my services in designing and painting a large mural for the nursery in return for her help in training me and helping me to get some qualifications in child development, child protection and working with children who have special needs.    

In 2005, my youngest child started school, so I attempted to return to education myself.  I’d heard about SWAP and managed to get on to the Access to Humanities at Cardonald College. However, I wasn’t really prepared for that step at that point. I was too stressed and I couldn't keep up with all of the work, and family life, too. So, I quit and went back to what I had been doing.  However, as my kids got older and became more independent, I started to think about it again.  Two friends of mine had done the Access to Primary Ed programme, and one of them had progressed to university and told me how great it was.  I applied again and was accepted at WCS Paisley.   

The academic work was challenging. Some things I hadn't done in a long time and some subjects were especially difficult. Maths was never my strong suit; I wasn't even very confident with my times table! But at the end of my SWAP programme, I walked away from the Intermediate 2 external Maths exam with an 'A' grade. That was spectacular.   

The college staff were fantastic. They were very patient.  They understood that for most of us it had been a long time since we were in a classroom environment. When we needed correction in our work, they made sure to explain things in a way that would boost our confidence rather than knock us down. They made time to actually help us with things, which made such a big difference.  

 <karin_surgeoner03b.jpg> When I started I had NO confidence.  No belief in myself whatsoever.  I had gotten to the stage where I had given up.  I would never speak out.  The idea of getting up in front of a group to speak scared the hell out of me.  By the time I finished the programme, that had completely changed. I have no problems now confidently speaking out in class or even getting up to give a talk. I'm not afraid to be "wrong". I feel confident about voicing my thoughts and opinions. The boost to my confidence and self-esteem has been the best thing I got from the SWAP programme.  
University has been a lot harder than college -- and harder than I expected. Although our college tutor had repeatedly told us that uni would be more difficult, that we would need to step up a notch, I don't think that any of us realised how right he was.  But once you get into the swing of things, you start to realise what the standards are and you learn how to meet them.  Contrary to what you might think, the staff at the university are amazing and supportive.  I had to have surgery mid-year and my advisor and the staff from my academic departments made sure that I didn't miss out on too much and managed to keep up with the work while I was out.     

Originally, I intended to do Primary Education.  I had worked with children all my life, so it was the only thing I was really considering.  I worked hard at college and applied for Primary Education along with many of my classmates but, to my great disappointment, I did not get offered a place.  I was gutted. But I talked it over with my college tutor and he reminded me to consider the four other offers I held from universities for various subjects. We talked over my options and I decided to study Classics at the University of Glasgow – it was just too good an opportunity to pass up - and it still leaves me with the option to teach later on.  

Although I was hugely disappointed when I didn’t get my first choice, my tutor told me that I would be happy about it eventually --- and he was right.  In the long run, it has worked out for the best this way.  I was so focused on that one university course, it never entered my mind that it wouldn't happen -- until it didn’t. But now when I look back, I can see that it wasn't as devastating a result as I imagined it would be, and I am thoroughly enjoying what I'm doing now: Classical Civilisation, History and Archaeology.  

I'm especially loving archaeology.  It’s fantastic.  I'm just back from a dig up north. There were four of us from Glasgow Uni working in the dig at Glenshee for eight days. Other students have gone to Germany or Egypt or even Belize excavating a Mayan temple!  Our dig was fantastic.  We were doing "evaluation trenches" in preparation for the main dig next year, working alongside professional archaeologists, volunteers and others. We also had a visit from some primary school children and I enjoyed the opportunity to teach them and get their imaginations going.  

Here’s what I would say to you if you’re thinking about returning to education: It's not always going to be easy.  In fact, it’s going to be hard.  It was probably one of the hardest things I've done in a long time. And it's not always going to go the way you want it to.  I didn't get a place on my first choice -- but it didn't put an end to my plans. If returning to education is something you really, really, really want,  you need to make up your mind to work through whatever obstacles come your way.  Get on with it. Things will work out in the end.    

My partner and I have been together through thick and thin, and he has been really supportive of my decision to return to education.  My two youngest children recently returned from a trip to Rome with their school and they brought me back a book about Classical myths, as they know I’m studying these things at university.  And now, our oldest daughter is heading off to university in September! Looking back, returning to education is the best thing I've ever done. Without SWAP, there was no other way for me to get into university or to even get on to an HNC or HND. It was the only avenue for me so for me it has been life-changing.  Despite my feelings of disappointment at not getting a place on my first choice, the staff at WCS showed me that there were other paths and other options available. And those options have turned out to be amazing. 

UPDATE: I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2018 with an MA (hon) Classics. I am currently working on my thesis proposal for my postgraduate Masters. 

The journey wasn't always easy, but it has been worth it.
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