Wow, what a response to my debut blog! Feeling all the love!
Something that has come from the feedback and questions is relationships.
Building relationships is vital. With your students, parents, community members, colleagues and also maintain the relationships that you have left behind in the big smoke.
Relationships - You will never believe it but…
So as a new graduate I was greeted by the then Deputy Principal. He was rushing out of the staff room at recess time as I arrived off the plane putting his hat on his head and wearing odd socks. He rushed past me, stopped, turned around came back to me and shook my hand. “Garry Davis, remember a positive works 9 times out of 10 times more effective than a negative, sorry I have to run – MVA” and off he went! What a whirl wind! What did that even mean?
That statement of positive interactions has stuck with me my whole life. I learnt that his wife was the Education Assistant in the Kindergarten and a year later I would be working with her (learning from her – remember my first blog of the greatest resources you will ever have in regional and remote communities are these gems?). Over the first few years, my relationship with Garry and Allison grew to one of mutual respect (there is that word again!) and admiration on my end. Garry was the Fire Brigade Captain and St John Ambulance Trainer as well as the JP in town. Not all heroes wear capes! Allison, the woman behind the captain, was the educator who taught me so much about the smaller people of our school community. I remember her commenting on how one particular class of Kindergarten students that we had were her 3rd generation of one family. Like Miss Julez, she knew the families, the aunties and uncles and the grandparents, proving to me that relationships are key!
Turns out I must have done something right with building this relationship because thirteen years after meeting Garry and Allison – they became my inlaws after marrying their youngest son earlier this year!
Relationships – Colleagues who become friends and are now like family
Ah, the backbone of a regional and remote teacher is often those who you spend your work day with. Just like any workplace you will click with some people, others not so much. Those who you do click with become friends and often pseudo family. When your family is several hundred or thousands of kilometres away you need these people in your lives.
A friend of mine Hayley, lived next door to me in our little shared serviced government issued units. We worked all day and would come home and spend hours after work hanging out at each others houses, mainly hers because she had the better couches! I would have lost count the number of times I fell asleep in her arm chair! In those early years, I don’t know what I would have done without having her next door. The conversations, the good, the bad and the funny!
When I moved to Laverton, I got off the plane and that afternoon went to the pool. I arrived with my friend Julez (from my previous blog) to be introduced to “Mrs Winter”. We both looked at each other and went “hey!!!”. Turns out Mrs Winter was Miss Rock, whom I had met whilst on my final teaching practicum 4 years previous. The relationship that I had built with Ange (Miss Rock) all those years ago was the building block for us to continue to grow. She took me into her family. She became part of my LA family. Ten years later, she stood beside me as my maid of honour and is “Aunty La” to my son.
Colleagues who become family for me has also extended to those who I've turned to when I've needed a “mum hug”. Living away from your family is hard. Its something you think you can handle but a few months in when the honeymoon period of a new town and the excitement of the new school year has faded, it can be a very lonely place to be. For some of us it’s the first time living out of home, for others it is the first time when you move to a place that you know no one and have no connections to. You cling to those who make the effort, and although sometimes this isn’t always the most ideal situation, more often than not those first friendships are the ones that sustain themselves through the years.
As a young educator, you don’t always have the foresight and maturity of those senior in years. That’s when those “mum” colleagues come to your saviour. Let me introduce you to Mrs Hill.
Mrs Hill was the Early Childhood EA at Laverton School. She was a mother and a grandmother, a wife, business owner and long time resident of the region. She made the BEST hot milo and gave the best hugs. She was the woman who would take most of us young ones under her wing and show us the path that is often needed in small communities. Without those wise guiding angels in our communities, new teachers (and old ones), often don’t last the distance. The isolation gets us and the call of the big smoke is too much.
Ive been blessed to have more than a handful of colleagues that I call my friends and my family in my life, who contribute to my growth as an educator and as a person. Who have taken on the love for my little family as I have for theirs. Don’t be afraid to make friendships – but don’t lose yourself in the process. Be true to yourself and if that’s what shines towards others and draws them in, they are the keepers! Sometimes you don’t see or speak for years – but that bond you share will forever be the ribbon that ties you together.
Relationships – the small people who grow into big people
Teachers, we are here in the regional and remote communities primarily for our jobs, to teach the students in our classes and offer them our best on the daily. The difference is that without the relationships with the students, you as teachers will never get the best of out them. This is the case especially with our Indigenous students in community. Often in the smaller remote community schools, you could be the third or fourth teacher for the class for the year. For many reasons, the high turnover of teachers in communities means that those genuine and passionate relationships are often never formed and grown. I've said before if you give yourself to communities they will repay you tenfold.
Building relationships is more than knowing their interests or their family tree, its about sharing a piece of you and your world. I still start my school year with photos of my family, my dogs and my interests. I share with them my achievements and even my sorrows. Our students want to know all about you, and to some people it can be very confronting. Coming straight from university and being told do not share your personal life with the students, that just doesn’t fly in regional and remote communities. Now don’t get me wrong im not suggesting you share your deepest darkest secrets and inappropriate photos of you partying at your 21st. But I am talking about what small thing might link you with your students. Like family, your pets or a place you have visited previously.
Speaking of links – if you move to regional or remote communities, particularly in Western Australia, chances are one strong common thread is AFL. If you don’t have an AFL team before you move, find one before your first day! For me, I am a Port Adelaide supporter. That didn’t go down too well in Mount Magnet, it did however go down a treat in Laverton! Just be prepared for the ribbing when your team loses to theirs! “Eagles chopped Port last weekend unna miss”
In 2013, I had a massive amount of grief and loss in my family with 4 family members passing as well as being flown out on RFDS with Meningitis. I was away for a significant amount of time and I was worried for “my mob” back at school. Little did I know that my mob were just as worried about me. As happens in small communities, word got around why I was away. The empathy and support that these small people gave me was something I had never experienced from adults let alone children. I believe it was the bonds that we had grown that proved so positive with their kindness in my time of need so very much appreciated.
I am very lucky that the big scary high schoolers at my school were my tiny little Kindergarten students a decade previous and still get requests to come to my class. I get asked by other teachers how do I manage behaviours so well, how do I know their strengths and weakness and how do I know their stories. It’s the mutual respect that’s been grown over many years but more importantly the genuine relationships that have grown.
Relationships – Community outside of the school gates
Living and working in a small community, everyone knows everyone and everything you do – even before you know! When you live in the regions you have a choice, to be part of the community or to sit inside your house and watch Netflix.
I chose being part of the community. I have been a volunteer Ambulance Officer for over 12 years and was recently invested as a Member of the Order of St John. As a teacher I have resuscitated the family members of my students, delivered babies, stabilised spinal fractures and held the hands of the elders of our community as they have taken their last breath.
Being part of the community for me means doing something to give back. The skills that I have been taught by being a volunteer saved my own son when he stopped breathing at 10 weeks old. Through all the trauma and heartache I wouldn’t give up my green uniform for the world knowing that my own family is here today because of the skills. I cant imagine my life today if I didn’t have the skills that being part of the community has given me.
Being an ambo and a teacher means that your parents and caregivers see you in a different light, although you are still Mrs Davis when you get to the call out, the relief on their faces knowing that I am there to help is something that you simply cant compare. When you’ve been out all night helping and yet get to school and do your job – those parents see you in a different light too. Building those relationships outside of school means that when the hard questions need to be asked as a teacher, you’ve already broken down the walls to communicate.
I can not express to you the importance of being part of a community group. Not only for the relationship building experience – but also for overcoming the isolation and loneliness that comes with regional and remote teaching.
Relationships – Those you’ve left behind
Speaking of loneliness and isolation, don’t forget the relationships with those people who you have left behind. It might be your parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, best friends, partners even your pets. It is vital in regional and remote teaching that you keep the strong relationships with those whom you have left in the city.
Often I can go days without actually talking to my mum. Shes busy and so am I. We text, email even facebook but the calling? CALL YOUR MUM MRS DAVIS! You often forget that there is another world outside of your own community. You get so involved in your own self that those people who love you want to hear from you too! Yes it’s a two way street with those who are left behind contacting you, but if everyone makes the effort its one step forward in a positive mindset of managing your relationships and mental health.
Share your hardships with people outside of your community, a burden shared is a burned halved. I have had some many wonderful teacher friends leave to go on new adventures and you think that maybe they are too busy or that you were only a friend for the time you were in community together (because trust me that happens too!) but those genuine friendships – reach out, invite them to the local race day, fair day, meet half way, go to Bali! Anything that reconnects you is important.
Finally – Relationships – WITH YOURSELF!
This I feel is the most important relationship to have is the one you have with yourself. Love yourself, protect yourself, surround yourself with positive, understand your limits and set goals.
Take the offer of someone’s lift to the regional centre for a day trip to shop or just a real coffee. Buy that pair of shoes online, find a hobby, a passion outside of work. Love yourself first.
When I was a new to remote teaching, I wrote a letter to myself. It said in it to do the things that I knew I would forget within a few weeks at my new school. I got mum to hold onto it and in a few weeks post it to me. I read it, it said “If you haven’t gone to Kal yet get in your car on Friday and go!” and that’s just what I did.
Ask for help, phone a friend, write a letter, share a journal post, smile and be kind to yourself.
Be happy – Teach Well