- Be a learner
You are in a new environment, new culture and new positions- be prepared and open to learning from others. Experienced remote teachers, mentors, Aboriginal colleagues, Elders, students- will all provide you with new insights into the local community, culture, school and classroom. Come with an open mind.
2. Be prepared to re-assess strategies that worked in mainstream
In your new context you will likely be working with a different mix of students. You may have a very high number of EALD students (some speaking Aboriginal English or Kriole as well as one or more traditional languages), some students with health difficulties less common in larger cities (Otitis Media, FASD, rheumatic heart disease, diabetes), potentially backgrounds of trauma or issues low attendance or transiency. The challenges in a remote setting are slightly different than those in your mainstream classrooms so the approaches you will need to adopt will also be slightly different. Educate yourself. Be open to advice from your local colleagues. Be flexible to try new approaches.
3. My mood matters
Your mood influences the mood of your students. Indigenous students are experts at noticing body language, tone and facial expressions that show your true emotions. Practising relaxation techniques when in stressful situations will help you find calm. Classroom culture is up to the teacher to create.
4. Duty is an opportunity to connect
Use your duty time to connect and build relationships with students. You will see your students in a whole different light with new strengths, skills and friendships. You will learn students outside of your class, their connections to your students and become part of the school community. Consider kicking the football, shoot a few hoops, take the time to appreciate a child as they swing across the monkey bars. Family connections are important in First Nations culture- being able to tell a story about a relative with students helps close the gap and build relationships. Students will see you as friendly, willing to try and maybe someone who will stick around.
5. Treat students as you want to be treated
This means no shouting, shaming or demanding. Build relationships built on mutual respect and role model what social skills your students will need in their future lives too. Learn calm and in control behaviour management techniques such as PBS, CMS and Barry Bennett.
6. Feedback is a powerful motivator when done well
Provide differentiated targeted work to students- acknowledge what they have done well and what they can improve on. Set small goals for your students.
7. Flexibility is important
The needs of your remote students are different than that of your mainstream classrooms. Consider ESLD progression or IEPs and SEN reporting options for students with different needs. Find other ways for your students to show their skills and knowledge- what may have been a test or essay in mainstream may be better with a student video, powerpoint or model in remote. We are not dumbing down the curriculum be are providing opportunities for students to show their strengths.
8. Make it a priority to connect with parents
Your most powerful ally will be the people at home. Being on the same page with parents/guardians allows you to support your students from both ends. It will be a powerful behaviour management tool, motivation, and allow you to address issues of concern quickly and effectively.
9. Look to your peers
Find supportive and positive staff who can and want to help you achieve. They may mentor you, have your back or provide you with other opportunities. Avoid deficit conversations and have conversations that proactively seek improvement and solutions. Lots of your students and fellow staff will have connections with students- an awkward overheard conversation can cause lots of trouble in a small isolated community.
10.Take time off from being a teacher
Life in a remote community can become isolating and all consuming. Making time to contact home, visit home will ensure you feel supported and connected when things become tough. Make sure you explore, adventure and take time to enjoy the amazing outback while you have a base, transport and local friends to do it with. You can’t ‘pour from a n empty cup’ as they say so do lots of things to ‘fill you up’ mentally and emotionally.
11. Plan ahead
Your time in remote will go past too quickly. Plan your bucket list, plan your finances, plan your professional development. Don’t let opportunities pass you by.
12. Learn relaxation and stress busting techniques
Things will get tough. Learn techniques to help you deal with the tough times.
13. Be grateful for the small things
Practice gratitude. Celebrate student successes. Celebrate your successes.
14. Accept that we cannot change everything for our students
Our role is not to change anyone or anything. Our role is to upskill, support and be an ally. Listen and learn from locals who will share with you the ways they are working to improve their community and the lives of students. Amplify their message, find ways that you can support their work. Make your classroom a safe haven, a source of hope. We can guide students and provide opportunities for our students.
15. Life will go on without you
If you need to take a sick day, if you need to go home for a wedding/funeral/important date- go (within reason). Don’t think that you are irreplaceable. Life in remote communities will very much go on without you. It is okay to put you first sometimes too. It sometimes feels like you are the only one who can do your job- and in truth our students need stability and predictability, and finding relief in remote communities is hard- BUT your mental health and feeling of connection with your supports is important too. When others cover for you, you will cover for them too. Build a community that supports each other. If you make your administration team aware in advance they will usually be able to find replacements or make it work.
16. It’s okay to not know it all
Recognising what we don’t know, and acknowledging that sometimes we ‘don’t know what we don’t know’ are important steps. When we acknowledge that we are learners too we are open to improvement and change. We can seek support, invite in experts, research new approaches, learn from our students.
17. Make classes fun
Low attendance in some remote communities is an issue. Retention of information that is boring, bland or not relevant to students lives will be poor. Make classrooms fun, inviting and relevant. Fun activities allow students to connect, release dopamine and endorphins and reduce stress.
18. A teacher needs fuel
In remote communities it can be easy to buy cheap food, feel like it is too hot to go out or easy to not put our needs first. Choose healthy snacks, drink water, make time for exercise and mental health. Role model healthy lifestyles for your students. Make time for you.
Think we missed something? Share your top tips for new remote teachers below.
This article was written by Hakea Hustler- Bachelor of Education (P-12) English and HASS teacher with over 8 years experience in remote settings.