Teach For Australia places Associate teachers in a diverse range of schools and varied communities across Tasmania, ranging from larger regional centres such as Hobart or Launceston, through to a more remote environment on Tasmania’s West Coast.
Source: Our Impact (2020)
In Tasmania, 1 in 2 students did not complete high school and compared to other Australian states these students can find that their lack of foundational skills and knowledge impedes their ability to live a life of choice and prosperity; research shows that completing Year 12 (or equivalent) increases the likelihood of participating in the workforce or pursuing further studies.
Tasmania’s proportion of “high performers” in an educational setting is less than in the rest of Australia, although results in reading and writing have been improving recently.
Like in many parts of Australia, the education a student is able to access in Tasmania depends on factors outside of their control such as cultural background and socioeconomic status – or even parents’ own level of education.
Researchers found that in Tasmania, one in two students whose parents did not complete Year 12 did not meet the benchmark academic milestone for Year 7. This causes a cycle that is repeated from generation to generation.
Associates can explore the famous rugged mountains, beaches and walking tracks that Tasmania has on offer. There are also great communities right across Tasmania, from the people you work with through to local sporting clubs.
When interviewed about their experience in the program, a few consistent responses shone through: most Associates talked about the high level of support they received, from colleagues at their placement schools, from Teach For Australia mentors and especially from fellow Associates.
The Associates have developed a strong and tight knit community with a vibrant social life. “The TFA network in Tasmania is tight,” one Associate told us. “We rally around one another, collaborate and we catch up regularly, in person and online.”
Associates found that first impressions of particularly challenging students were quickly overturned as they learned more about their students. They spoke of the joy of seeing their students’ progress, through lessons, and over time through the school, expressing a desire to stay on to see their students graduate.
For most Associates the aspect of the program that they have enjoyed the most has been the kids! As one Associate put it: “The privilege of seeing the world through the eyes of teenagers. It gives you a grounded perspective.”
Another said that “this is honestly the first time ever I’ve been in a job that is all consuming in a good way” and that the thing they enjoy the most is “teaching, learning about teaching and being a teacher.
“I get so much energy from being in the classroom,” another Tasmanian Associate told us. “I really enjoy going into the classroom each day.
No matter how you feel in the morning, if you’re feeling bad, you leave it at the door, you have 30 kids expecting something from you.”
These schools vary in their size and community need, but all have many students who are significantly behind their more advantaged peers in their literacy, numeracy, health, and employment outcomes.
Working in these schools gives you the chance to live in a large regional city like Hobart, or a smaller one like Launceston, and have access to everything Tasmania has to offer.
Some of these placement schools are quite large and encompass extensive catchments due to the low population density. Students travel into these schools from a range of communities, creating a diverse student body.
Associates that move from the mainland may find schools around Hobart/Launceston different to what they imagined. An Associate teaching near Hobart described their first few weeks in the classroom as “a culture shock.
“It was overwhelming and not something I could have prepared for.”
At National Intensive we spoke about disadvantage but how it has played out is a lot different: “My students don’t know about much outside of their community – many have not been to Hobart.”
The communities are close and supportive, the sort of place where if you have a broken oven, you can just pop over to use the neighbour’s.
In schools, you’ll see hard-working students and families, many of whom are working through multiple and cumulative barriers to educational attainment. Working in these regional communities gives you a chance to become a part of understanding what educational inequity looks like first-hand, and to live and work with other Associates in the region.
Regional Tasmanian placements require a level of independence, resilience, and openness to get the most out of them, but have many opportunities and great people to work with. Associates have found everyone is always thankful and willing to lend a hand, and almost always up for a chat.
Northern Tasmania was a great fit for one Associate who relocated from New South Wales, who told us, “I really wanted to come to Tassie. I wanted to go somewhere quite remote but where I could still get back to Sydney if I needed to.”
Associates in regional schools discussed how the curriculum is designed with urban students in mind, and students cannot see their experiences reflected in it. These associates were joining with their colleagues to design more place-specific units.
Many Associates shared their insights on challenges that they had not anticipated, but were already working with colleagues to develop solutions.
Some schools were testing inventive approaches to classroom structures, to facilitate behaviour management and diversify the lesson delivery to accommodate a broader range of learning styles and levels. These regional schools are cradles of innovation.
“Reconciling my perception of education and the kids has been challenging,” one Associate said. “At first I would create lessons that I would have loved as a student, but engagement looks completely different to these kids.”
“You learn quickly that teaching is a huge sales pitch – you need to sell education. I didn’t see education as being something you had to sell to someone. I have to be the teacher my students need me to be, not the one I thought I wanted to be.”
This is an isolated community where the road in and out is often inaccessible during the middle of winter.
The community is welcoming and rich, with the school and students eager for new teachers. Many families have never had a member finish schooling past Year 10, and unemployment continues to be an issue – something that great teachers can have a direct impact on for these students.
Associates have a chance to become a part of a rich local community and explore Tasmania’s rugged west coast, one of the most beautiful and untouched places in the world.
Avid footy fans in particular will get a kick (excuse the pun) out of Tassie, where football is an important interest in some circles.
As one Associate placed here shared: “I am from Tasmania so arrived thinking I knew what I was going to, but the west coast is so different to Hobart/Launceston. Unless you’ve lived there you can’t really know what it’s going to be like.”
“It can feel isolated, but by comparison with other placements across Australia, it’s not!”
However Associates placed in remote and regional Tasmania consistently expressed their surprise at how much they loved living in small communities.
The same Associate also said that the aspect of the Leadership Development Program that they have enjoyed the most has been living and working in a small town.
“I didn’t think I’d like it, but I love it!” In particular, they found it surprising how many commonalities they found they shared with their students, though, if necessary, feigning a passion for AFL is a fast way to be accepted.
Associates discussed the undervaluing of education in a number of these communities as a distinct challenge: “The general attitude toward education has been surprising. It’s undervalued. It can be hard to get kids on side.”
This is clearly a huge challenge, but first-hand experience of this has further motivated Associates to tackle this issue. Associates in Tasmania express a growing passion for education.
An Associate in the north of Tasmania said, “I want to be in education and I’m excited about teaching. I’m unsure about the future in an exciting way. I am excited for what opportunities might present themselves.”
“Looking forward to adding to what I am offering in some way. Whatever that is, creating literacy programs, mentoring younger teachers, policy opportunities… I am looking forward to taking the next step in this area.”