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May 9, 2011


Question 1:. What do you wear to school when you’re a 45 year old student?

by Prue Miller

While cruising through my notes recently I came across my TAFE diary, made a few years back when I had little choice but to learn new skills. Having never been to University or College, it was the first trip back to school in 30 years! I thought it might be fun reading for those of a mature age who may be contemplating the idea. Because it is an actual diary it is pretty long, so  I thought I would just put up part one – and see if any of you like it! If you do – TELL ME and I’ll let you see how it all turns out in the end.


Prue 🙂

These days it is not unusual for mature aged people to change jobs many times in their lives – and on occasion, change careers. Prue Miller faced the challenge not all that bravely, and kept a diary of her life- changing adventures.


The Mature Student’s  TAFE Diary


It just dawned on me that this is NOT a good plan. Not a good plan at all.

At 45 plus, with not enough consistent work around, and needing another life challenge like a hole in the head (like being a divorced single mother of two boys isn’t enough already) I am returning to school this week, in the form of TAFE, to study nursing, Certificate III. It’s an 18 week course – full time. It is only with the good grace of the Government footing the bill that I can go at all. So they are co-conspirators in this mad plan. To help keep me honest I have decided to diarise this journey of old person returning to an institution of learning … an institution surely choc-a-bloc with young people proudly showing off belly button rings and facial acne.

While I on the other hand can’t remember my last pimple – and wouldn’t be able to find my belly button with both hands even if I wanted to puncture it (which I don’t).

I fear a really, really big fish out of water experience is approaching.


Today I went to enroll. I left very early to make sure I’d have time to screw up, auto correct and find my way, but amazingly I got a park right outside. So I sat and read for a while before entering the labyrinth of learning.

This was my first mistake of the day as I was it turned out, actually sitting outside the wrong campus. I discovered this when a bespectacled man in a cardigan with patches (how cliché!) found me wandering hesitantly through deserted corridors.

I was pretty close – only 10 kilometers to the left of where I should be.

I lead footed my way to the new campus, failed at finding a parking spot, so after a handbrake turn I parked illegally and ran into the new campus. I found the canteen first – very Grease I thought, somewhat romantically And the people behind the counter were so sweet – they called me dear and honey. They probably thought I was faculty.

I found the registration room on the third floor only to discover a small group of people already (nervously) waiting. There was one teenage looking blonde girl and a whole bunch of Asians teenagers. I fitted not into either group.

The appointed registration hour came and went. No activity at our room. Being pushy  I approached a staff member who sighed and asked “Haven’t you read the signs??” Somewhat chagrinned I said no, and the Chinese woman who had followed me chimed in “No” as well and becamed adhered to my right hip from that point on.

With great haste and no charm we were led to another room where a staff member was impatiently handing out forms the size of a ballot papers and quizzing each recipient.

Do you want to come Monday, Tuesday half day Wednesday or Wednesday Thursday half day Friday??

This made me nervous again – I thought the course I had signed up for was full time, not two and a half days a week. “At TAFE this IS full time,” she said dryly as I asked her if I was in the right room.

I had no idea which days to pick. As a single mother with contact visits, choir practice and Tai chi lessons to navigate – any commitment usually takes me a night of schedule review. So I blurted out Monday through Wednesday. I was given my paper and prepared to sit behind my first school desk in 30 years. For a moment I panicked that my mature frame wouldn’t fit into the slim line, all in one unit, but blissfully I made it.

I seemed to fill my form out incorrectly because it was done in about 2 minutes. I looked around at my fellow classmates for the first time and realised there were only 3 native English speakers, and everyone was young. I know the race thing isn’t supposed to count, but the last time I went to school I think we had one Asian kid in a year of 120 students.

I had to go from one queue to the next as I paid up for the course (thank you Australian Government), signed up to the student union, got my picture taken (which I hadn’t prepared for and in which thanks to my nervous please-like-me smile I looked like a real freak ) and then returned all my forms. Despite having stuffed up the location, I felt I’d done pretty well. I went home feeling hopeful.


I woke in a cold sweat through the night realising I’d picked the wrong days to study and had to grovel on the phone with my soon to be tutors to switch me over. Crap.


Yesterday, went shopping with my little guys, I bought a student back pack thing. How cool! My older boy rolled his eyes and said I was dumb and he was bored, and my little guy encouraged me to purchase the Barbie Pink backpack.

I settled on camouflage green. Very cool.


Tomorrow I start college. I have purchased my textbook and dictionary ($130) from the co-op bookshop. It’s huge and impressive and I feel a little proud that I am going to study the art of nursing. Something inside me feels really good.

I have warned the kids that tomorrow we must, absolutely MUST leave home on time, as I don’t want to be late. Jess, who doesn’t even look up from his X-box game asks why. And I am really aggravated that my ‘life changing’ day tomorrow is of absolutely no importance to him.

I have completed a freelance writing job, so that’s out of the way, and sent a couple of invoices out and paid as few bills as possible on-line…. I’m ready.

Is this a Mary Tyler Moore hat moment?

I hope tomorrow is good …  I wonder what I’ll wear?


Okay, so I bought the wrong book. Okay, I’ll read it anyway – it’s really interesting unlike the one that I had to buy for $50 which is a mish mash of modules and photocopying and the page numbers are all wrong and it doesn’t match the lecturer’s so…well. Let’s say it’s a bit of a business.

I ended up wearing sensible shoes (not tennis shoes) and blue trousers and a very nondescript shirt and I blended in not one bit because most of the students are from Asia or Africa and are all freezing in their skinny brown bodies which they’ve wrapped up tighter than a silkworms cocoon in many, MANY layers of grey and brown clothes. Whereas I look like I’ve come in from the pool.

I don’t know where to sit, as I arrived five minutes late (thanks kids) and there is a chequerboard of available chairs. At the very back? At the very front? What messages would I be sending?? I sit on the side, close but not quite AT the back of the room.

The teacher is Rita and she is athletic and fast talking. She hands out more forms, some of which are destined to be read by a computer so they have hundreds of little circles to be coloured in.

This, I would have thought, was about a grade 2 level of difficulty and I have it done in about 2 minutes. Every other person labors over it, I have my eraser borrowed no less than five times by nervous kids with no English skills. They try to hide it by whispering everything, but that just makes understanding them even harder. I try to make them relax by smiling a lot but then realise that that makes them think I’m loopy so stop doing that too. This experience is not at all like I thought it would be. Surely it will get better?


Wrong again.


1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Shelley
    May 10 2011

    Love this! I have just started at TAFE (as a mature age student) as the government has decided to regulate my industry and requires me to have some “formal qualifications”.

    I have been awarded RPL (Recognition for Prior Learning) for all but one subject (gosh those 15 years of hard slog really paid off, when I could have done it in 2 years part-time at TAFE)!

    Luckily for me there are a few students in the same boat as me – so I’m not such a fish out of water, but it is a very intimidating experience for someone who hasn’t been near a textbook for 30+ years! Thanks for your humorous adventure.


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