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Retail worker turned-student teacher urges others not to give up on their dreams

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Published on 16 April 2021

Dan Willsher
Dan Willsher

Stress and anxiety over exams and the future is something many students will experience, and it is a feeling Dan Willsher knows all too well.

Dan, from Durham, felt his life-long dream of being a PE teacher slip away when he didn’t get the A-level results he needed.

But now, that dream is becoming a reality.

Dan, 26, took the brave step to leave his retail job and apply for the Physical Education and Youth Sport course with an Integrated Foundation Year (IFY) at the University of Sunderland.

This is a carefully designed course to help students, who didn’t get the results they needed to get into university, progress confidently onto their chosen undergraduate degree.

Dan, who worked in retail since he was 17, said: “I wasn’t enjoying the day to day life of working in a job I didn’t enjoy, so I started looking into sports coaching courses initially with a view to finding a new job working in schools as a coach.

“However, when I came across the Physical Education and Youth Sport course at the University it took me back to my school days when I had always considered becoming a PE teacher, so I decided to take the plunge and study for a degree.”

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown up some challenges for Dan and his fellow students, who had to move to online learning.

Now outdoor sports facilities have reopened he is raring to go again!

“From a coaching perspective it’s great to be able to get the kids back in and get them involved in activities that we know they love and have missed during the pandemic,” Dan said.

“A lot of my development I feel comes from being infront of my peers and kids in school and it gives me the best feedback possible.

“Being face to face, being able to deliver that session, to be passionate about it and being able to give them the best experience you can is just unrivalled, and I can’t wait for that to be the case again.”

Dan, who will graduate next year, is now focusing on his end goal of teaching in a secondary school as a PE specialist with mathematics.

So, what advice would Dan give others who might be unsure about going back into education?

“Do it! It’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said.

“It’s life-changing and I don’t regret a thing. Even working through the pandemic, the University has done its utmost to support me in my degree.

“So, even if a small part of you wants to do it then don’t give it a second thought, there is always a way.

“I genuinely love the course I’m on, working with people with a similar mentality and goal, pushing each other to be the best we can be through constant support.

“I've made friends for life while studying towards my dream job. What more could I ask for?!”

Dr Steven Anderson is Programme Leader for BA Physical Education and Youth Sports at the University.

He said: “Dan’s positive attitude towards his education, coupled with the IFY offering him a route into Higher Education, have set him well on his way to achieving his life-long dream of becoming a PE teacher.

“On successful completion of the IFY, Dan took to his three year undergraduate degree as if he had never been out of education, completing both his written and practical assessments to a high standard.

“The IFY and Physical Education and Youth Sport undergraduate programme are helping others like Dan to make positive career changes.”