Class of 2018: Thai boxer combats teaching degree to deliver knock-out career

Rebecca Newby

Published on 06 July 2018

Whether it’s inspiring primary school pupils in the classroom, coaching kids in Thai Boxing or supporting Roma Orphans in Bulgaria, Rebecca Newby has set the bar high to achieve her dreams of becoming a teacher.

 The 21-year-old, who graduates at the Stadium of Light today, embraced every opportunity and experience she could during her degree (Primary Education with QTS) from the University of Sunderland, which has led to her landing her first job as a primary school teacher in Hartlepool.

 But before she starts her new role teaching Year 3 in September there’s no taking it easy as she’ll be jetting off to Thailand for a month to be put through a rigorous training regime ahead of an amateur Thai Boxing competition back in the UK in August.

 “It will be tough but I’m looking forward to the experience,” explained Rebecca, from Peterlee. “I have been doing Thai Boxing for about four years, encouraged by my partner Ryan O’Donnell, who trains professionally and together we run weekly classes with Masters of Fitness and Martial Arts for youngsters in Thornley.”

 She added: “It’s been quite a journey since I started my degree and has been challenging at times, but I’ve loved every minute of it. Sunderland was also my first choice university and I’m delighted to be graduating before my family and feel very proud.”

 What makes Rebecca’s achievement so special is she never expected to get into University - the first in her family to do so, but was always passionate about working with children. She left school and began volunteering in a nursery before embarking on a BTech in Childcare at college, walking away with a distinction that would land her a place on the degree course at Sunderland.

 She added: “I made sure I embraced every opportunity at Sunderland, as I was so grateful to have been accepted on the course. In my second year placement in a primary school I made excellent progress which lead me to being graded as an ‘Outstanding’ trainee. However, I wanted to build on this, as I felt I had a lot more to give. It was then that I decided to look for volunteering opportunities and came across the Bulgaria Volunteering Programme Gavroche.”

 The programme works with neglected, abused and vulnerable children from the Roma community, as well as those with learning difficulties, helping them to build self-confidence and integrate better socially.

 Rebecca, who took extra educational resources, including art and crafts, creating activities for the children to participate in, said: “I wanted to experience and learn about the culture, education and needs of children who live a disadvantaged lifestyle in a foreign country and to challenge myself to work in a difficult environment, developing my skills.

 “I had a very clear understanding of how opportunities such as this could be used to develop my future employability.”

Rebecca admits that while eye-opening and heart-wrenching at times, the overall experience was “incredibly rewarding” and gave her so much confidence.

 “I knew it would be challenging, especially given the difficulties of the children’s backgrounds, but they were wonderful, they appreciate so much that you do for them, even the tiniest gesture of kindness. One little boy had a lollipop stick with felt stickers on it bought from a pound shop, but was walking around as though I’d given him £100, it was a really life-changing experience.”

 Rebecca says her experiences interacting with youngsters both on and off campus have helped develop her into the person she is today, as well as preparing her for the challenges of life in the classroom.

 She says: “I can’t wait to start my career and would recommend to anyone that Sunderland is a great choice and to embrace every opportunity that the University offers. The lecturers were great and very supportive, there was so much more to developing my skills than just the academic side, the placement opportunities were great and I even received help with my CV and interviews skills, I feel very lucky to be in the position I am now.”

 Rebecca received her (BA Hons) Primary Education degree at the Stadium of Light, during the summer graduation ceremonies, where thousands of students received their degrees.