Challenges of Outback Teaching

What challenges face outback teachers?

Someone posted the attached image and I think it is really important to address.

We don’t want to sugar coat what can be a very challenging teaching journey.

We want new remote teachers going out prepared, confident and experience success… because your success= student success.

Context

Every community is different- history, language, culture, intergenerational strengths and trauma, access to supports and services etc.

Every student, family, community is different- the challenges listed below are not a representation of all remote communities or of First Nations people.

The challenges and issues about to be discussed can and do occur in schools all over Australia from private, religious, mainstream, special needs.

The information below is shared in the spirit of ‘forewarned is forearmed’ and that if you have a better understanding of some of the challenges you can be more prepared. Not to stereotype or generalise or negatively represent First Nations people or communities.

This post also highlights the need for strategic and systematic training and recruitment of First Nations teachers to work in their own regions. There is a great opportunity to support and upskill our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support staff.

Discussion

Remote teaching can be very challenging.

  • You are working with young people from a different culture, language and way of being.
  • Your students will likely be impacted by intergenerational trauma- this can manifest in many different ways.
  • The statistics say you are likely to be touched by suicide in your community. Creative Spirits website shares some of the data: The Kimberley has the highest rate of suicide in the world. Suicide affects 95% of Aboriginal people in Australia, and many are born into families where grief from suicide already exists, sometimes across two or three generations. Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (second for males and seventh for females). https://www.creativespirits.info/…/aboriginal-suicide…
  • You will likely be touched by road trauma in community.
  • In 2018, after accounting for differences in age structures in the populations, the overall death rate for Indigenous Australians was almost twice the rate for non-Indigenous Australians. https://www.aihw.gov.au/…/indigenous-life-expectancy…
  • Missed school due to Sorry Business has a huge impact on attendance, transiency and truancy.
  • You may be working with students with FASD, otitis media and other special needs. The prevalence of FASD may be as much as 1 in 5 students in some remote communities: https://www.marulustrategy.com.au/pages/fasd-reseach
  • Some small schools only have one or two teachers- this can be really challenging if you are not a good fit for each other. You may be asked to share accommodation… that isn’t always easy.
  • The access to your community may be cut at certain times during the year- and you may not be able to leave.
  • Due to high staff turnover you may be left inducting or supporting new staff. Your administration team may be young or inexperienced.
  • There may be a distrust of the education system or authority.
  • Some remote teachers are less than competent- increasing your work load, having negative impacts on your students, relationships and community perception of education
  • You will likely have to juggle teaching with supporting students behaviour, mental health and other needs.
  • You may feel overworked and overwhelmed.
  • You may experience culture shock, homesickness, other mental health impacts
  • You may not have access to the food and services you are used to- or indeed need (health concerns, dietary needs etc)
  • You will miss important milestones and events for people back home.
  • Your classes and curriculum will be impacted by attendance, truancy and transiency. You will have to put in extra work contacting families, home visits and working with families to support students back to school.
  • Some students will experience poverty, some will experience neglect, some will be impacted by alcohol and drug dependency, some will have experienced abuse.
  • There isn’t often external relief teachers available- so you will likely cover for sick colleagues. This can decrease your DOTT time- which may feel like it isn’t enough to juggle your workload as it is (home visits, behaviour, mental health support, individual testing and support, planning, reporting etc)
  • You will likely have a wide variety of student needs, levels and abilities- you will have to differentiate widely.
  • You will need to balance curriculum with regular getting to know you, team building, class building to cater for new students, students who haven’t been for a while.
  • You will need to balance formal curriculum with mental health and wellbeing, life skills and more- You will need to make sure you are catering for the needs of students who want to go to university- as well as filling the education gaps for ones who you are creating into capable future community members.
  • You might find the lack of support services for your students really frustrating. A child who needs a speech pathologist or school counsellor or other supports may wait months to be assessed and longer to be supported by a visiting specialist.
  • You might have issues with internet connectivity, phone reception and the long wait times when you order resources.
  • You might experience natural disasters such as flood, fire, storms, cyclones etc and feel isolated.- Your community may be impacted by Government policies past and present- including the NT Intervention in 2007, mining, cattle industry, Missions, basic card, alcohol restrictions, lack of self determination, stolen wages and the longer impacts of successive Governments interventions since invasion.
  • You may not always have access to fuel, fresh food or basic services.
  • School culture not be established or may be negative- high turn over, initiatives started and abandoned, lack of leadership, change of leadership, First Nations staff feeling undersupported or overworked or turnover fatigue.
  • Youth crime can be an issue in some communities- you will need to have your insurance and be security mindful.

Strengths and Positives

  • You will get to experience the culture, language and land of the oldest continuous culture in the world.
  • You will learn skills and strategies that will make you a better teacher
  • You will form friendships formed ‘in fire’ as you all learn and overcome challenges together.
  • You will receive pay and incentives
  • You may find yourself in a school that is the perfect fit for you- this might be an amazing location, amazing colleagues, strong culture program, excellent professional development opportunities, life long friendships, great school etc.
  • You will likely receive extra professional development and may have leadership opportunities you wouldn’t in the city.
  • You get the opportunity to see places and things that most Australians will never get to see.
  • You will learn about ESLD, culture, language.
  • You will become the master of differentiation.
  • You might learn to become more organised, resourceful and adaptive.
  • You will likely have the opportunity to work alongside First Nations people in your classroom making your more culturally aware, culturally inclusive and a better teacher.

Conclusion

Remote teaching is challenging and so rewarding. It is not for everyone and that is totally okay. This space is a great place to learn more, ask more and be more as educators.

Future

That is why we need to make sure we are sending remote teachers who feel supported and prepared.

That is why we need to work together to train and upskill our First Nations colleagues to be teachers, principals and leaders who will be there for the long haul and can drive meaningful change.

That is why we need to reflect on remote teaching, remote classrooms and remote schools.

Over to you…

What are your thoughts, feedback and advice for people considering remote education? I’m sure we didn’t cover everything. Join the Facebook group Teachers in Remote Communities (Past, Present, Future).

First Nations Peoples

Please feel welcome to share your perspective, advice, feedback.

What hopes and dreams do you have for your community.

What do you wish new remote teachers knew or would learn or be better at?

Join Teachers in Remote Communities (Past, Present, Future) to share your thoughts and ideas.

What else?

We are passionate about improving outcomes for teachers, students and communities. We want to reduce turnover, increase teacher satisfaction and improve student outcomes.

We do this through our blog, podcast, courses and mentoring, and through our free Facebook group ‘Teachers in Remote Communities (Past, Present, Future)‘. Footprint Placements is a remote recruitment agency to support matching schools with new teachers.

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Hi, we are Hakea Hustler and Carl Merrison

We help new remote teachers feel confident and successful  so that they can make the most of their time remote and live a life of adventure.

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