'New person fatigue' for First Nations staff

‘New person fatigue’ for First Nations staff

What is ‘new person fatigue’ for Aboriginal people in remote outback communities?

“New person fatigue” is a term used to describe the feeling of exhaustion that can be experienced by people in small, remote communities when they are frequently visited by outsiders or have a rotation of new staff into their school. It is particularly common in First Nations communities, such as those in the outback, where there is often a significant cultural and linguistic divide between the community and outsiders, but also extremely high turnover of staff. When outsiders come to work in the community, they may bring with them different ways of doing things, new ideas and may not always be sensitive to skills and knowledge of local staff, the customs and traditions of the community. This can be stressful and tiring for First Nations staff, who may feel that they are constantly having to learn the new ways of new staff, re-explain school logistics and re-do culture awareness as well as supporting teachers to learn students, school and programs. First Nations staff may feel that their own needs, priorities and skill set are not being adequately taken into account by new staff as they get to know the students, staff and school. This can lead to feelings of frustration, resentment, and exhaustion, which can be compounded by the high turnover and retention issues in remote outback communities.

You can imagine having to train up staff every few weeks, term, semester or year. Having to train new staff in EVERYTHING. Getting to know a new staff members way of being, rules, limits, new ideas. Having to re-establish relationships and boundaries.

In this blog post I will use the term Education Assistant- but I know that the label is different between communities: Teacher’s Assistant, Aboriginal Education Officer, First Nations Educator and other terms.

How can teachers reduce ‘new person fatigue’ when working with an Aboriginal Education Assistant?

There are several ways that teachers can reduce “new person fatigue” when working with a First Nations education assistant in a remote community:

  1. Be aware of your privilege. You are lucky to be able to work in this community with one of the oldest cultures in the world, to be immersed in language, to experience things others will never see. You are privileged to get financial incentives and subsidised/free housing that your local education staff do not. You are privileged that you can come and go as you please. Depending on your background you might also have ‘white privilege’ whether your life was hard it was not hard because of your skin or culture. Just be aware of your perception, bias and unconscious interactions and the pressures that they might put on your First Nations colleagues.
  2. Build relationships and establish trust. Building strong relationships with the Education Assistant and other community members is essential for creating a positive and supportive working environment. This can involve taking the time to get to know one another, showing respect and interest in the assistant’s culture and background, and being open and honest in communication. Get to know thir strengths and value them in the classroom.
  3. Be culturally sensitive and aware. It is important to be sensitive to the cultural differences that may exist between you and the Education Assistant, and to be aware of the potential impact that your actions and words may have on the community. This may involve learning about the customs, traditions, and protocols of the community, and being mindful of the potential for misunderstandings or cultural insensitivity. Actively seek out this information from blogs, books, professional development, teachers who have been in community longer- you can also ask local staff, Elders and community members. Be mindful of who you are asking, if it is an appropriate time, if you can receive the information as a group (so many people aren’t asking the same question over and over), if you can share knowledge too- so to limit the stress on individuals.
  4. Communicate clearly and openly. Clear and open communication is essential for reducing misunderstandings and building trust. Make sure to deeply listen, observe, ask questions and clarify any doubts or concerns you may have, and be open to feedback from the education assistant and other community members. Deep listening allows First Nations staff to be seen and heard, to have ideas valued and respected. Miscommunication can cause fatigue and frustration.
  5. Respect boundaries. It is important to respect the boundaries and privacy of the community and Aboriginal educator, and to be mindful of the impact that your presence may have on the community. We can switch off after school (although we are in a small community and need to be mindful), but our First Nations colleagues often don’t. They are supporting students, relatives, organising events, participating in other commitments- supporting students with mental health, dropping students off to/from school, speaking with parents and other things.
  6. This may involve being flexible and adaptable, and being open to adjusting your plans or activities as needed in order to minimise disruption to the community. For example during Sorry Business, Lore/Law time, anniversaries of important dates. It’s important to remember that while you switch off after school- your First Nations colleagues may not. They will be affected by the deaths, accidents, incidents on a deeper level.
  7. Take breaks and give support. Working in a remote community can be demanding, and it is important to take breaks and care for your own well-being in order to avoid burnout. It is also important to provide support to First Nations educators, and to be available to offer assistance or guidance as needed. Look at your commitments and timetable. Look at your First Nations Educators commitments and timetable- and be mindful.

We explore how to work with your First Nations colleagues in our New Remote Teacher course and on our podcast here.

Loved this post? You might also like to read: 9 Quick Tips To Forming Relationships When You Arrive In Your Remote Teaching Role

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