27 February 2015

Teaching in The Arnhem Land Region in Northern Territory

Five weeks into Term 1 and I'm just starting to catch my breath. 

I spent the Christmas holidays back in Melbourne with my family and friends. I managed to flit away five weeks worth of wining and dining while having far too many options to choose from; referring to everything from grocery items, restaurants and entertainment venues to men (Tinder just isn't the same on a remote island!) 

I'm already craving baked cheesecake from Moi (Bay St, Brighton) and scoffing down sushi whilst on the run. I keep telling myself neither luxury are suitable for the island anyway. Cheesecake in 35 degree heat- no thanks. And let's be honest, there's no need for 'on the run' take-away when there's nowhere to 'run to' during the wet season. 

As soon as I arrived home, I was reminded of the island's downfalls. Many friends and familiar faces had left the island for good, leaving me with departing gifts such as half-consumed grocery items and kitchen-cluttering contraptions. Their weird organic grains and unopened vinegars found a space in my pantry after I had to pour out the contents of my Tupperware containers; full of bloated ants on sugar highs and an army of weevils in my rice. Littered among my waist-high lawn are fallen palm fronds, coconuts and mango seeds. Five weeks on, I’m still kicking them around my backyard and I’ve just found out my lawn-mowing next-door neighbour is leaving me too.

Unfortunately it wasn’t long after the ants and weevils annoyance that I was fearing the arrival of a much more catastrophic resident; cyclone Lam. With no shelter constructed to withstand anything more than a Cat 2 cyclone, people were scrambling to get off island. School attendance dropped, cyclone plans became hot topic and there were even talks of a mass-evacuation off island. Luckily for us, Lam decided to head further west and avoided us completely. 

It's week five and I've already had four new enrolments; taking my class total up to 26. I'm teaching Year 3/4 with students' ages ranging from seven to soon-to-be ten. Their backgrounds and educational experiences are staggeringly varied. I have nine Indigenous students and four international students. This means that 50% of my class are EALD (English as an Additional Language or Dialect). The diversity of cultures, religions and inherited values of 26 students calls for great mutual respect and patience for one another. Put simply, teaching such a diverse bunch is a tough gig for any teacher. 

On the east side of the island is an Indigenous community called Umbakumba. They have a school with approximately 100 enrolments and a 50% attendance rate (according to the Department of Education NT website). This year, they have adopted a new teaching style called 'Direct/Explicit Instruction’. Rather than grouping students based on age, individuals are working alongside others with similar capabilities. This means that a five year old student could share the same classroom and teacher as an 11 year old. This is the first year Australian schools are trialling the heavily scripted teaching program (only in northern parts of Australia). It has roused mixed views from those in the education profession. If you'd like to know more about DI (Direct Instruction) or read public opinions, I recommend you visit the below link. 


If you'd prefer watch a clip demonstrating Direct Instruction teaching, click on the below youtube link.

Whilst I do not teach DI, I have a few friends engaging in this style of teaching on the island. I'm fascinated to see it in action, however, I don't think I could implement it long-term. The main reason being that the program is 100% scripted. Teachers are put through training to ensure they deliver the prescribed program exactly how it is intended. Teachers are stripped of their creative licence and the program doesn't leave room for a teacher's 'individual flare'. Sadly, if and when I do get to see it for myself, I will be unable to share my personal opinion via social media, as the NT Education Department forbids public servants to share opinions/comments online. 

On another note, I'm loving teaching Visual Art at the moment. The students I taught last year now have the foundational skills necessary to evaluate their own work and make changes to improve it. They show greater patience and enjoy developing their skills rather than rushing to complete their work. Here is a display I just put up in the office to showcase their talent!

2015 is set to be a busy year of travel and hopefully professional accomplishment. I will be staying on island over the Easter break if anyone is interested in visiting. I'll be in Melbourne from April 30th until May 4th. Then during mid-year holidays I'll be karaoking it up in Japan. 

Until next time...Sayonara!

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