Above and beyond: How regions won over future teachers

A five-day trip to NSW country schools was equal parts revelation and inspiration for some of teaching’s next generation. Glenn Cullen reports.

A woman kneeling down beside a sheep A woman kneeling down beside a sheep
Image: Surprised: Sarah Noble took to country teaching almost instantly.

After a week of experiencing teaching at rural schools across the state, third-year university student Sarah Noble found herself with a significant problem: she didn’t want to leave.

It really hit home for the Newcastle-based Ms Noble after her presentation night when her students had to depart.

“I was ready to hop off the bus and stay there,” she said.

“I didn’t want to come home. If I didn’t have the rest of my teaching degree to do, I would have just stayed.”

Ms Noble’s heartfelt experience was a common conclusion among the 50 pre-service teachers who travelled from the Department’s head office in Parramatta in the last week of Term 3 to visit rural schools in the Beyond the Line study tour.

The five-day trip took second- and third-year university students across NSW where they were able to engage with the local communities and gain valuable insights from teachers in regional, rural and remote NSW public schools.

Destinations and public schools included those in Coonabarabran, Narrabri, Tamworth, Barraba, Gunnedah, Taree, Quirindi, Binnaway and Mudgee.

“Every day I went to a school I was surprised at just how strongly I felt, and how connected I felt to the community and the kids in such a short amount of time,” said Ms Noble, who now has teaching at a regional school very much on her radar.

a group of students holding up pictures a group of students holding up pictures
Image: Class act: Chapman Tai, front row, second from right

For former Baulkham Hills High School student Chapman Tai, it was also about breaking down some stereotypes.

“I had lots of perceptions about rural schools,” he admitted. “I thought they didn’t get much funding, and I thought maybe they were a bit different to the city.

“But the whole trip, at every single school, there were so many great aspects.”

He described the clear sense of direction and purpose from the likes of Gunnedah Executive Principal Donna Riley as “inspiring” and the school as perfect for young teachers to go because you could “build something from the ground up”.

Mr Tai also got to share his Eddie Woo-inspired love of mathematics, encouraging a student to pursue the extension course at his school and talking about its applications in the agriculture industry.

Former Blakehurst High School student Braydon Pilot, currently in his third year of a teaching degree at the Australian Catholic University, said the engagement between teachers and students at the regional schools he visited was exceptional.

“The relationships were special; the teachers cared not just about the marks but the kids as people,” he said.

“It was just awesome and gave me a real picture of what it would be like to work in one of the schools.”

As part of the Rural and Remote Education Strategy, the Department continues to focus on delivering high-quality educators who are aware of localised needs to country areas.

The strategy is also facilitating more partnerships with universities, increasing the number of pre-service teachers undertaking professional experience placements in these schools.

After successful completion of the study tour, applicants will be encouraged and supported to complete a future rural practicum through the program or to commence employment in a rural setting following graduation.

“The department has had an overwhelmingly positive response from all of the pre-service teachers who have participated in the program, many detailing their excitement to begin their teaching career in a regional or rural NSW public school,” Senior Education Officer, Attraction and Engagement Programs Shannon Brehony said.

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