Where are we from and where are we going? Laura tells us why TLG has changed her life permanently.

Teach Learn Grow is one of my favourite topics of conversation, and so I jumped at the opportunity to write a blog post about my experience with TLG over the last year. However, I’m horrendously indecisive, and so it’s taken a little while to come up with this post. Where do you start when you want to talk about something that has had such a large positive impact on your life?

In the spirit of The Sound Of Music, I thought I would “start at the very beginning”. So, I’ll begin with my first (and only) Rural Program in November last year, when I applied to be a tutor on a whim, and ended up spending the first week of my summer holidays with 11 complete strangers at Coolgardie Primary School.

At the time, Coolgardie Primary School was a school of about 50 kids (including 5 sets of twins!). It was a much smaller school than the primary school I attended, meaning that the sense of belonging and community within the school was extraordinary. While I was excited about working with my three students, I was pleasantly surprised at how many other students and teachers I spoke with over the week. It was a fun challenge coming up with new ways to teach mathematics concepts that I remembered struggling with when I was younger, and then being roped into a game of handball at lunch time (sadly, my skills at that game never progressed past year 1 level).

I want to write about one of my students in particular– we’ll call her Sally. Sally was in Year 1, and out focus for the week was to achieve understanding of the place value system (ones, tens, hundreds). I devised a game that was meant to involve her running around the basketball court and jumping into the correct place value ‘box’ (drawn with chalk), but it was me who ended up sprinting around, while she corrected my deliberate mistakes. Although the main aim for TLG is improving numeracy skills, what I really remember is the 10 minutes at the end of each session that Sally and I spent in the library. She’d choose a picture book, and read to me.  It wasn’t only Sally’s numeracy and literacy skills that improved by the end of the week, but also her confidence in speaking to myself and the other tutors, as well as holding eye contact in conversations. Taking the extra time to sit with her and listen to her read, and making learning fun, ended up making such a difference for Sally.

Something that I really remember about my time in Coolgardie was speaking to a lady who volunteered in the school canteen, making breakfast for the students who got there early. She spoke so highly of the teachers at Coolgardie Primary School, but mentioned how the students often became disengaged when they started going to high school. I’d already thought about applying for Teach For Australia, a program that places individuals in low socioeconomic area high schools to work as teachers while they study for their teaching qualification, however this conversation really inspired me to go through with my application, which was successful.

There are so many experiences from my time with Teach Learn Grow that I will take into my job next year. I’ve learnt about the inequalities in our education system, and about how to work with different people from different backgrounds to achieve a common goal. I now know that while the literacy and numeracy skills that are taught in our classrooms are incredibly important, it’s sometimes the extra time to just listen to students that makes a massive difference. And, perhaps most importantly, I’ve learnt it is imperative to realize that everyone learns in different ways, and that not only is this not a hindrance, but it is an opportunity to make learning more inclusive and enjoyable for everyone. 

A week of my life turned into 10 months on the Teach Learn Grow executive, and is now turning into another two years as I embark on my journey as an Associate with Teach For Australia. Next year, I’ll be in front of a classroom as a high school teacher, and I know that the lessons I’ve learnt from being part of Teach Learn Grow will stay with me.

The 'Aha' Moment

When I was approached to write something up about my Teach Learn Grow experience, I immediately said yes, and then realised that I had no idea where to start. TLG has become such a massive part of my life and absolutely every moment that I've had has been so incredible. I'm lucky enough to have been to Morawa, Pia Wadjarri, Coolgardie, and most recently, all the way up to Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley. 

Being the Education Manager of TLG and an overly passionate education student means that I am fully invested in the education and well being of these children. That 'aha' moment, when a child finally understands something that their tutor has been going over all week, is the moment that I get really excited about. There is nothing I love more than seeing a child realise their own self worth and abilities because they've had a tutor that's empowered them, and made them realise that they can do anything. Ask anyone who has been on a program with me, I get super teary about these little moments. 

I want to tell you about Davey (not his real name). Davey was in Year 5 age wise, but when I met him, he had completed a total of 9 weeks of school. Can I just say, the school was so supportive and was doing everything that they could to get this little tacker on track, but when a graduation from Year 6 means high school.... Sometimes the reality for these kids is a little scary. 

When I met him, on Day 1 of the Rural Program, he was so shy and quiet, and he was so afraid to try in case he was wrong. Davey couldn't read words, but he was good with numbers and he could write numbers and his name. That's a pretty good start, I can work with that! He was very smart. Although he couldn't read, he understood content fairly well, and knowing that... I worked him hard! I made sure every single thing he did went in his workbook, and by the end of the week it was full. One moment I will never forget is going through that book with him on Friday afternoon, and seeing him cry because he had never seen that much of his own writing or work in one place. When I tested him on Friday afternoon, Davey got every single question correct, but for me, seeing his confidence grow through the week and getting to know him was priceless. I feel very lucky to have met him and I know that no matter where he ends up, he will work his absolute hardest. 

One other story I will share with you is my most recent trip to Fitzroy Crossing. This was a special trip because instead of the usual uni student tutors, I went with some Year 11 and 12 students from All Saints College. I think to give up a week of your time as a uni student is a big sacrifice, and I was so excited to see the kinds of high school students that were willing to do the same. I wasn't disappointed. Not only were these guys ruthless Mafia players, but they also gave their absolute all to the kids at Bayulu Remote Community School. 

Fitzroy Crossing is a different kind of a beast because of a lot of different factors at play. A massive issue for the area at the moment are alcohol restrictions and this deeply affects the kids and their families. The tutors all had their work cut out for them, for sure. 

Seeing kids that haven't even graduated high school yet interacting with the kids at the school, some of which who didn't even speak English is something that I felt very grateful to have been a part of. A couple of the tutors them came to me on the Thursday to tell me about their 'aha' moments and little victories, and honestly hearing those made me happier than some of my own magical moments. I know that many of those high school tutors are now considering becoming teachers, or medical professionals, or going into research with the sole intent of getting back out to a community and helping them. That's a pretty major thing, young people recognising this need and feeling empowered to do something about it. I'm all about that. 

Look, it's so cliche, but seeing other people grow on the program is my absolute favourite part. We Teach, we Learn, we Grow.... Seeing other people come to care about our vision, that all children deserve equal opportunities when it comes to their education makes every single thing that I do, and that our entire executive team does behind the scenes worthwhile. If you have been on TLG before, I know you've already told your friends and family how incredible a program it is, because our applications increase every program we run. If you haven't, I encourage you to take a risk, and come and have the craziest and most rewarding week of your life with the rest of us. #tlglove 

 

Emma Bradstock

Courage and Change: The Experiences of a TLG Alumni Teaching in the NT

In the midst of the National Youth Week this week, and the recent National Close the Gap Day and the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence last month, we reached out to one of our Alumni to share their experiences of witnessing up close the serious social and educational issues that youth face in Australia today. Stephanie is a Teach For Australia (TFA) associate, currently teaching in her first year of the program at Katherine High School in the Northern Territory.

 

By Stephanie Gill

On the 17th and 18th of March the National Close the Gap Day and the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence were held. People came together from all over Australia to deliver messages about bullying, violence, disadvantage, poverty and equality. Many of us hear about people taking action, creating change, making impact, but how do they really do it?

On average, students from remote locations are performing 2 years behind metropolitan students.

For me it was this statistic that impelled me to take action towards educational equity.  

Courage and Change

I see courage as the ability to take a leap into the unknown, to go out of your comfort zone and do something previously seen as daunting or challenging. If there is one word I would use to describe my choices over the past three years it would be courage.

I joined TLG in November 2013 and attended my first Rural Program at Morawa DHS. Having grown up in a privileged background myself I was shocked to see the reality of these statistics in our country and so close to Perth. I learnt the harsh reality of a postcode defining someone's opportunities and was able to see first-hand how it affected students across WA. From here I continued my journey with TLG, completing 4 Rural Programs as both a tutor and coordinator, as well as being a part of TLG's first eMentor pilot program. These sessions allowed me to mentor one student in a rural or remote school via an online platform, once a week for seven weeks. The topics specifically focused on mentoring including discussing goal setting, role models, bullying and peer pressure - with the aim of increasing students’ resilience, self esteem and self confidence in order to achieve their true potential and manage the difficult transition to high school that lay ahead. It also involved tailored one-on-one mathematics coaching to help develop the educational outcomes of these students.

The experience as a mentor made me realise the potential of a program that targets disadvantaged youth and how important it is for all students to have a positive role model and someone to talk to. The online nature meant it was accessible to ALL students across the state and the one-on-one environment allowed you to focus on the specific needs of that student to give them the time and support they need. 

The experience that I gained through the Rural Programs and eMentor lead me to apply for TLG's executive team. In the year that I volunteered with TLG's executive I worked to grow and develop the eMentor program, which now reaches at-risk students in five schools in WA and is constantly growing. I developed skills that are invaluable to me now as a high school teacher and this in turn increased my commitment to addressing educational disadvantage in Australia. 

TLG has taught me so much and has truly changed the trajectory of my life. From completing my Science degree in 2015 I have become a Teach For Australia associate. This means I am completing a Masters of Teaching alongside teaching full time in a disadvantaged school. I currently teach Mathematics and Science to high school students in the Northern Territory. Everyday I see the challenges Australia faces to tackle educational disadvantage and closing the gap. 


The courage to reach their potential

Most of the students I teach have been dealt an unlucky hand in life – compared with metropolitan students they are statistically less likely to finish high school, they have access to less opportunities, and some may never get a job. Working with these students everyday I see their potential, what they are capable of, but the problem is that they don’t. They give up before they even try, and so they are so far behind in school that they don’t see the point in trying and see no value in their learning. Often my students don’t have positive role models to lead them in the right direction and therefore they give into peer pressure. One of my Year 10 students is incredibly intelligent but she would wag class and not study for tests in order to avoid getting teased by her peers and to fit in at school. This is where TLG comes in – eMentor equips students with the skills to deal with bullying and peer pressure and builds their resilience. It also allows students to have someone to talk to, who cares about them and listens. This one-on-one attention is so valuable to these students who don’t have a positive role model in their life.

From my experiences in both TLG and Teach For Australia, nothing has inspired me more than students showing courage. Whether it is to stand up to a bully, help out a friend, try a new maths problem, or even dream for a life or a future that is beyond the limitations of their disadvantaged background, it is this courage that distinguishes them from the struggles that define who they are. I truly believe that fostering courage in students is the spark that leads to real change in their lives and breaks them out of the cycle of disadvantage. I used my courage to create change and found something I was passionate about along the way. So can you.