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kalgoorlie (3)

#3: New Cultures & Experiences

The past two weeks have been very busy for us girls in Perth! Since the students here were on Spring break, we took the opportunity to head to Bali for a week. Some highlights of the trip were visiting Hindu temples, hiking a volcano at 3:45am to catch the sunrise, and being attacked by a monkey!! Thank goodness it only scratched me… I only had to get a tetanus and rabies vaccine. I’d definitely love to go back to Indonesia one day!

Once we got back to Perth, we had one day of rest, and then we headed off to Kalgoorlie (a small mining town located 6.5 hours east of Perth… basically the Fort Mac of Western Australia). We opted to rent a car so MacKenzi and I experienced driving on the left side of the road in a right-side drive car for the first time! It was a bit stressful to begin with and I accidentally kept flicking the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal (they are opposite of ours). Thankfully it didn’t take too long to get used to it.

The schools we visited in Kalgoorlie have definitely been my favourite school experiences by far during this TAB program. The first was a School of the Air base, which you can read more about in Nicole and Sheila’s posts! The other school was an Indigenous centred school. The deputy principal explained that they focus on creating strong relationships with the students and their families to help the students succeed. The programs and supports they had at this school were really amazing. They have a speech pathologist and OT that come in a couple times a semester to diagnose and create programs for the students who need it. Then they have a teacher at the school who takes those programs and makes sure they are being implemented and utilized, and works with those students. They have a breakfast program for all the students, as well as a room with extra clothes and shoes for students to just take from if they need it. They also started gaining funding for students to enroll in after school sports programs, to give students more opportunities as well as to socialize with other students in the communities. The deputy principal herself drives some of the students to and from sports practices. We were fortunate enough to sit in on a language class where the students were learning different Indigenous languages. Two Elders had agreed to help run this program once a week, and the students all seemed very engaged and excited to learn more about their culture.

The past two weeks have definitely been the busiest and most exciting weeks we have had here, but I am excited for the next 3 weeks because will be in the same school for the duration. I’m hoping this will give us time to connect with the students and teachers, as well as get a better idea of their day-to-day routines.

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The four of us at a Temple in Bali

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Overcoming Distance in Kalgoorlie

Hi Readers,

This week I had the pleasure of visiting Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie is a small town of 30, 000 people located 600 km east of Perth, my first time visiting the Australian Outback. To get there we rented a vehicle and set out driving on the left side of the road. The drive was straight and flat with many kangaroos and emus who had met unfortunate ends on such a busy highway. The view was of low brush and shrubs mixed in with taller trees, all growing from red dirt.

The first school we visited was the School of the Air. This is a base station to connect students from K-6 who live in very remote areas of the Australian Outback to teachers and learning staff. Students receive term packages with all the resources they will need for that term, this includes novels, booklets, art supplies, math manipulatives, and even science equipment, the students then return the package along with their completed work at the end of the term. Every morning students ‘attend’ an online meeting that begins with the school’s catchy and official song. Students and teachers interact through microphones and by digitally raising their hands to indicate they would like to speak. All comments conclude with a cheeky “over!”. Throughout the morning students attend lessons with their teachers, whether this be social studies or even music. The afternoon is spent working on assignments.

I was very curious about life for the students who live so remotely, I quickly learned how they create fun learning spaces and communities in their homes. Most students live at base camps, which are large farms, someone described them as similar to North American Ranches. The distances from Kalgoorlie range from 2 hours to over 14 hours away. Students often have school rooms located within their homes and wear school uniforms (a polo shirt) on the weekdays to help separate their home and school life. A live-in tutor, sometimes one of their parents, attend a week-long training session at the beginning of each term to learn how to support students and stay in contact with teachers. To build community students still participate in dress up days and attend camp. Camp happens at the end of the term where all students stay in dorms in Kalgoorlie and spend time interacting and learning with their peers and teachers. Teachers also spend week long visits at students’ homes where they check in and support learning as well as build relationships and start to understand each student's unique world. The School of the Air and it’s students have found the key to overcoming distance.

 

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Teaching is an Adventure!


You would think the life of a teacher in Australia is full of outdoor adventures including but not limited to surfing, kangaroo spotting, recreational use of boomerangs, and cuddling Koala bears while snacking on Vegemite… or at least that’s what I had imagined before I got here. Australia has a very laid-back culture and the same can be said for schools here. That’s not to say that teachers don’t work hard because they do, but there isn’t that same sense of strictness and formality you feel in schools in Canada. Student teacher bonds are STRONG, and I think this can be attributed to the relaxed nature of schools here.

 

During our time in Kalgoorlie, I noticed the strong connections between staff and students. Many students often greeted their teacher with morning hugs, and would not leave at the end of the day without an equally enthusiastic hug. This enthusiasm and love was also shown to teachers they had in previous years, and to administration. At one primary school, we went to students were often invited into the office when they did outstanding work, and were welcome to come in anytime to share work they are proud of. I was shocked at how many students names the principals, and vice principals knew just from this. At the second primary school, we visited there were handfuls of students who greeted the Principals with morning hugs. For some students, the school may be the only place where they have a positive relationship in their lives so it was heart warming to see teachers taking the time to build these relationships.  Moreover, it was inspiring to see that admin. was taking an active role in developing equally powerful relationships with students, something that seems rare in Canadian schools. Something that I am curious about is how teachers manage to find a happy medium between their school and personal lives especially at a school where students crave attention and love that they may not receive anywhere else. Do schools like that see high teacher turnover? How do teachers find balance? Do teachers build strong team bonds? I’ve learned so much during my time there but each day of reflection is full of questions and aspects of teaching that I haven’t explored yet.

 

In the Uber, posh private school life seemed different, easier in some respects but harder in others. Teachers at this school had certain unthinkable luxuries that Kalgoorlie did not, like free lunches and an extravagant coffee machine which got an extra workout while we were there (the mochas were particularly delicious). Teachers had all the resources you could want in your class, there was dedicated tech. support so tech problems were not an issue, students and teachers all had their own laptops, and the library had its own Art Gallery. Again it was Uber posh. But the students and teachers were all held to a higher standard. This is something you see at home as well, as though if you pay an exorbitant amount of school fees your child without exception should doing increasingly well and if they are not it is somehow the teacher's fault. Kids are kids, and not everyone is great at everything, this is a fact universally known… so you would think. The teachers at elite schools have the difficulty of dealing with unhappy parents come report card time and they see their child is not excelling at every subject. The stresses of dealing with this I would imagine would be much higher in secondary schools. How do teachers cater to the needs of struggling students while meeting the demands of parents?

 

I am looking forward to experiencing more about what the life of a teacher is like here in Perth. And while teachers may not have daily adventures, we’ve been having some pretty great ones and I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience them! 

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