Nazareen Khan was told it would be “the experience of a lifetime” – and teaching in remote Queensland has been exactly that.
After working 18 months in Bamaga, on the tip of Cape York Peninsula, Nazareen and her partner don’t want to leave. “We have literally just fallen in love with it,” the Year 3 Northern Peninsula Area State College teacher says.
On the weekends the two take off in their 4WD and go boating and fishing. Sometimes they camp on remote islands – scurrying over sand dunes to find a place to sleep and then watching turtles slide up the beach to lay eggs. They spend time with other teachers around campfires, on the beach or at barbeques.
“The lifestyle is amazing,” Nazareen says.
“Being out on the water and not seeing another boat – just that blue water to the ends of the earth – that’s just breathtaking.”
TEACHING AND LEARNING
Nazareen says her work is very challenging and sometimes exhausting, but highly rewarding.
“There is opportunity for growth; the longer you stay here the more you grow as a teacher,” she says.
“I have grown already in one year by an amount that would probably take you three or four years on the Sunshine Coast. You become so resilient. The longer I do here, the easier it is going to be when I go home.
“The kids are high energy, I am not going to lie, but they are absolutely gorgeous.”
One of the lessons Nazareen values most has come from her students.
“Learning their culture, being involved and seeing the traditional dances for the first time – that was amazing – and seeing how rich the culture still is here. They teach us so much, the children do.
“The culture is still very prevalent and that’s amazing, you just don’t see that down south.”
The move, as expected, hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
“Settling in was a bit rocky,” the former childcare worker says.
“There was plenty of tears and transitioning, but within the six months we absolutely fell in love with it.
“I had one million and one questions moving here. I thought it was going to be very isolated and basic; however, I was pleasantly surprised with the local shops. We have three grocery stores, a post office, a pub, à la carte restaurant, a bakery and three petrol stations. Of course the cost of items is more expensive due to our remoteness, but they have everything you get in the IGA stores down south.
“One thing I think people do toss up about is the safety and young families. There are so many young families here and I think it is ideal for a young family.
“There are so many teachers who have come with two or three children – even babies – and they absolutely love it. It is definitely safe for a young family.”
EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
She can’t wait to return south one day and feel like she can teach about culture appropriately from the knowledge she been given by the community.
But she doesn’t want to leave yet and feels privileged to be teaching in Bamaga at the college.
“We could have put our application for transfer in this year, but we will not be doing that,” Nazareen says.
“So we will probably be here for another two or three years at least.”
For preservice teachers or those with experience who are thinking about a lifestyle change, or making a difference though teaching in a remote area, Nazareen’s advice is to “just do it”.
“Give it a go; you are only going to gain something from it,” she says.
“If you like camping, fishing and four-wheel driving then you’ll love the lifestyle this place offers.
“All my (supervising) prac teachers had done remote service and they said it was the experience of a life time.”
“They all look back and wish they had stayed longer or said it was one of the best things they have ever done.”
She already knows it’s one of the best things she has ever done.
“In 20 years’ time I am going to look back and go ‘Wow, that was cool’.”
She travelled 800 km to an outback town only to make international headlines with her efforts in the classroom. Sally Hannah, who knew she wanted to become a teacher when she was in Grade 3, is still shocked by a Daily Mail article which was based solely on her Instagram posts about her work at St Joseph’s Catholic School in Cloncurry.
The first-year teacher, who found out from others that her Instagram account Yearsixshenanigans had become a Daily Mail feature, is simply grateful to be in a town and a school which have been really supportive.
Her decision to teach in a rural area was made while she was still at university, despite having never moved away from home before.
“When I was in my second year of uni I did a placement at Hughenden State School,” she says.
“It was only a small two-week stint, but from there I realised I had to work in a rural school. I was just really, really passionate about that. There was something really different about working in a rural school,” she says.
“I think it was the community feel that I had.”
Making the leap
Opportunity knocked while Sally was on another placement at Marian Catholic School in Townsville. A job had become available at St Joseph’s in Cloncurry, where a Marian teacher had recently worked.
“She had just moved to Marian that year and said ‘You have got to do it, it is a really great school’; she gave that personal experience about it.”
The job has been everything Sally hoped for, but it has also been challenging.
“I am an only child and Townsville is home for me, and I have never been away from home before,” she says.
“It is an absolute roller coaster; you can have some really, really great days when things just click with everyone, and there are can be some other days that are a lot more challenging.
“But I am finding that as I am going on I have been able to reflect on my practice; what things worked, what didn’t. That has made the process a whole lot smoother.”
Social media stardom
While Cloncurry is isolated, Sally has found herself more connected to the outside world through her Instagram account Yearsixshenanigans, which she started to document her journey as a first-year teacher.
Her enthusiasm in setting up her first classroom was infectious.
“Woohoo! Finally got keys to my room! Let the set up begin!” Sally wrote in one post.
“They deserve nothing but the absolute best,” she wrote about her students in another.
In early March she received a flurry of texts telling her about an article in the Daily Mail, based on the captions from her photos.
The headline read: “The enthusiastic teacher EVERY parent wants for their kids”.
“Over a span of two or three days I got an additional 1000 followers, it absolutely just blew up,” Sally says.
The account, and the publicity, has put her into contact with teachers from all over Australia and the world, but there’s nowhere Sally would rather be than in Cloncurry.
A sense of community
“Cloncurry is such a wonderful community and it is really welcoming as well,” she says.
“It is a tiny town but I reckon that there’s so much support that can be given from a small rural school and I personally believe that it is such a great place to start out my career, with all the opportunities.”
She says St Joseph’s staff have been incredibly supportive, not just with curriculum and her work in the classroom, but also looking out for her wellbeing, given it’s her first time away from home.
Her social life is starting to gain traction, with teachers cooking for each other at night and town gatherings like the races on the weekend. Her “beautiful” students are also a highlight.
“There’s something about (country) kids that’s a little bit different to kids in the city,” Sally says.
“They are really compassionate and really caring.”
After just five months, Sally says she is where she is meant to be.
“It has definitely been one of the best things I have ever done to choose to come out here.
“I absolutely love it.”
You can read the Daily Mail article on Sally here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3471933/Year-six-teacher-Sally-shares-photos-perfect-classroom-Instagram-Year-Six-Shenanigans.html, or follow her on Instagram at Yearsixshenanigans.
It’s a long way from the Rugby Union fields of England where he played professionally, but Mitchell Brown has “loved every minute” of his new adventure teaching in Lockhart River.
Mitch, who discovered his passion for teaching when he was working with schools in England, has found himself hunting and fishing with members of the Lockhart River community, which is on the eastern side of Cape York Peninsula.
He’s been shown waterfalls and camping spots tourists don’t know about, and has considered it a blessing to work with the community’s students, who are naturally athletic and have great personalities.
“At the end of the day these kids have amazing characters and that is what keeps bringing you back every day,” the Years 2, 3 and 4 teacher says.
“They are just so full of life and full of character and they are just fantastic to teach.
“There is never a boring day out this way, that’s for sure; there’s always something going on to keep you occupied.”
Choosing where to teach
The 29-year-old is naturally adventurous, having also lived in North America and South Africa, and found himself still with “the travel bug” when he started teaching on the Sunshine Coast.
He first thought of teaching overseas, but his partner preferred the idea of teaching in a rural or remote area, and now they are both teaching at Lockhart River State School.
Mitch says living in a remote place has its challenges.
“Things that you took for granted before, like getting a fresh bottle of milk, you have got to time every fortnight now to make sure you are in the shop at the right time,” he says.
“Making sure that you have enough power in your house with power cards, all that sort of stuff.
“It is challenging, it is tough, but in the same breath it is also very rewarding.
“You have got so much to gain from these kids and from what they can show you, and in the same breath you are trying to impart your knowledge.
“Everyone here is on the same page and more than willing to help each other out because I think everyone knows it is a challenge, so everyone bands together and in a small community you have to.
“So that’s been really important and something that has made the transition really smooth and easy.”
Experience of a lifetime
For Mitch, Lockhart River has proven to be a perfect spot to live and teach.
He says the community has been very welcoming.
“It is something I will look back on with fond memories,” Mitch says.
“It is just an awesome opportunity and experience that we’ve had so far – it has been amazing.
“I have loved every minute of this adventure.”
You can follow the school on Twitter @Lockhartriver.
Life has changed dramatically for Jacques du Toit over the past seven years.
The Head of Humanities and Business at Riverside Christian College in Maryborough, who also runs Teachmeets in the Fraser Coast area, moved to Queensland from South Africa during the global financial crisis to set up a new life for his family.
He and his wife had a baby, moved to Maryborough from Brisbane, and Jacques started in a new career and a new job, over a period of just two weeks in 2011.
“We were thinking towards the future that South Africa wouldn’t be the place to raise a family, just for safety, and we absolutely love it here,” he says. “It is so much safer and so much more relaxed.
He said the Fraser Coast area was a great region to live and work in.
“There are about 25,000 people here (in Maryborough) and we have got Hervey Bay not too far away.
“It is relaxed; it takes me seven minutes in the morning to get to work, so it’s nice and close to everything.
“We love going to the beach in Hervey Bay. It’s perfect for little kids, for families.”
Jacques is well known on the Fraser Coast thanks to his role in leading Teachmeets and has more than 4000 followers on Twitter.
“I just love the concept of Teachmeets: that it’s free; the sharing by teachers; just getting together and connecting and building this network and doing these short little presentations,” he says.
“I started up the first Teachmeet here in 2014 – we’ve had seven events now in the last 18 months and it has grown to a number of schools which are now connecting through it, and starting to share, and it’s getting some momentum.
“It gives you access to new ideas seeing what other teachers are doing. I have got a lot of inspiration from Teachmeet; seeing what somebody else presents and trying it in my own classroom.
A passion for teaching
Surprisingly, Jacques hasn’t always been a teacher after starting out life in logistics, but he has clearly found his calling in education.
He is currently teaching five classes in modern history, ancient history and business, is a head of department and is studying for his Masters of Education degree. He’s also been named one of the top 25 Google innovators (educators) in the Asia Pacific.
“There’s just so much to learn,” he says.
“Every day is different, every day is a new challenge – no day is the same in teaching.
“I just love forming relationships with the kids and seeing how they develop over time and being able to share my passion for learning with them, and just trying new things.
“I am a teacher forever; I absolutely love teaching. I am not sure what my next steps are as a teacher, but I feel like I will always be involved in education.”
You can follow Jacques on Twitter at @jdtriver.