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.