"The biggest thing you can expect when teaching in a rural or remote school is to be part of a close knit community or family. The best thing I have found about teaching in rural schools is the friendships and bonds you make with the people you work with."
I’m currently the Principal of Salmon Gums Primary School, a small school in the Goldfields-Esperance Region with an enrolment of 34 students. Being a small school I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to teach all the students within the school as well as take on board all the administration duties. On a general day I separate my time between working with the staff, supporting students with activities or teaching and communicating with parents. I work closely with other schools in my region to develop programs and build our capacity as a network. As principal, I work on developing the programs within the school and setting clear expectations and targets for our students to achieve. Currently we are working on implementing strong writing programs to enhance our results. A small school environment poses an interesting school community with multi-age classes and addresses the complexities of implementing the Curriculum in a more targeted context to ensure all student learning needs are addressed. Small schools also provide the capacity for more student-centred learning programs that cater to each student; I work with our current teaching staff and education assistants to ensure the programs implemented are successful and provide a targeted approach to their student improvement.
From a very young age I wanted to be a teacher working in a school. As I grew older I aspired to become a school principal but was never sure whether I could make this part of my dream come true. I completed my teaching degree at the University of Tasmania and was lucky enough to earn a Western Australian Teaching scholarship that offered me the opportunity to begin my teaching career in a WA rural or remote school. My first posting was at South Newman Primary School. This was an interesting adjustment and introduction to Western Australia, which opened up many opportunities for me. I had the privilege of working alongside some incredible teachers that shared their knowledge and helped me grow as a teacher. From my first teaching post I knew that this was the right career choice for me. My next teaching post was at Tom Price Primary School which helped develop my foundations as a teacher. Following this posting I applied and was successful in achieving a position at Kalgoorlie Primary School. It was at this school where I felt my career developed to its highest point, opening up huge opportunities for me. Here I was provided with opportunities to lead programs with IT and focus on developing STEM education programs. The dedication and commitment I put in earnt me a nomination as Western Australian Teacher of the year 2015 where I was announced as a finalist. This acknowledgement led me to apply and be offered an Acting Principal at Salmon Gums Primary School. A one term contract lead to a year contract which finally led to me applying for and winning the position of permanent Principal at Salmon Gums Primary School.
The biggest thing you can expect when teaching in a rural or remote school is to be part of a close knit community or family. The best thing I have found about teaching in rural schools is the friendships and bonds you make with the people you work with. This is an important survival mechanism for teachers embarking on this journey. Sometimes you can feel isolated due to your location and you need to ensure you have the support network surrounding you, especially for graduates or if you are making the move alone. You can also expect to find your true niche as a teacher when teaching rural or remote. As most of the schools have a high transiency of teachers there are times when you are a lead teacher at the school due to you being at the school the longest. This allows you to find your area of expertise in your career and share your knowledge with your colleagues. Everyone becomes an expert in an area. Also as schools are transient with teaching staff it enables you to learn a lot from the people around you as we all come from different learning backgrounds.
When it comes to your job you need to be confident in your ability as a teacher, but you also need to be prepared to step up and take on responsibility. Sometimes working in rural or remote schools you are one of a very limited staff and no matter how big or small your school is the expectations from the Department need to be met. This could involve you putting on many hats. You also need to be resilient and learn to bounce back from the many challenges you may face. Working rural or remote can lead to a range of challenges within the classroom and out, it is how you bounce back from these that will define you as a person and a teacher. The rural and remote context is very different to the city school context you need to be able to walk into the school with energy and smile to brighten up your students’ day.
Teaching rural or remote opens you up to more financial benefits. You receive extra pay for being in a remote school and this is based on how rural or remote you go. If you are willing to work above the 26th parallel this also opens up extra tax benefits for you. I found working in rural schools provided me a range of opportunities to develop my career. As I felt more a part of the school family I developed the confidence to be part of committees and take the lead on projects. By doing this I not only consistently learnt but I set myself up to explore greater options when moving between schools.
I would suggest that you think about your career and where you aim to be in five to ten years’ time. Working in rural and remote schools is not easy; however, I believe it is the best way to define your career and set it up. If you are going to work in a rural or remote school you need to be prepared to spend a minimum of two years there. The exposure to a range of challenges and roles are prominent when working in these schools. The access you have to services and resources can be limited; however, you learn to adjust and you are a welcome member of a small community.
I live in Esperance, an hour away from Salmon Gums and I travel out to the school each day. There really isn’t anything not to love about Esperance. It is a small coastal town with a population of about 15,000. Esperance is filled with beautiful beaches right on your door stop. The moment you drive into Esperance you experience its beauty and the calming effect the environment has you.
The thing that I love most about my job is the students; they are what make your job worthwhile. They are my inspiration to keep pushing myself and my capabilities. I love that each child is different and they push you to extend yourself to ensure you cater to each of their needs. Understanding my students is the most important thing to me. Watching the students grow throughout the year and develop their understanding under your instruction is the biggest reward you’ll ever receive in your career. Another thing I love is learning from and working with colleagues.
Advice I’d offer teaching students is:
- Take the time to breathe and enjoy the moment as it happens.
- Take the time to understand your students. If you are going to make a difference in their life you need to understand them as a whole person, including who they are outside of school.
- Don’t be afraid to change your teaching practice to move with the times of change.