Bush tour provides inspiration for new teachers

Published 21 August 2007

Up until two months ago young Tweed Heads teacher Jeremy Whiterod’s lifestyle centred around the beach, surfing and fishing. He was teaching casually at his former high school – Wollumbin High – not far from his childhood home.

But while the Southern Cross University graduate still routinely wakes at 5am wondering about the surf conditions, he now finds himself hundreds of kilometres from shore, teaching English and drama at Mendooran Central School, south of Coonabarabran, in central New South Wales.

“It’s a different world,” Jeremy said of his bush posting, “but it’s a great community and the school is the hub of the town (population 385). Living on the coast my whole life, I was surprised at how ignorant I was about life in the bush.”

Jeremy’s westward pilgrimage was inspired by his participation, two years ago, in the Beyond the Line initiative. This NSW Department of Education and Training program gives education students first-hand experience in remote and rural schools west of the Great Dividing Range, where teaching opportunities are more numerous than in many coastal locations.

And as 41 Southern Cross University primary and secondary teaching students from the Lismore, Tweed Gold Coast and Coffs Harbour campuses, venture into 12 schools in the Dubbo and Warrumbungles areas this week, Jeremy is one of the program’s strongest advocates.

“I went out to the Moree district with an open mind in 2005 but I didn’t really expect that I would find myself teaching out west,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised with what I found and that experience was central to my decision to take up this teaching job.

“The thing that has struck me most is that the country hospitality we hear about is real; people are genuinely welcoming and happy to help you out. The teachers host barbecues a couple of nights a week and, when we need to, we share our workloads.

“I see this appointment as an opportunity to diversify my professional skills and to develop personally. I’m already reviewing the school handbook and I’ve been offered the position of senior sports co-ordinator. The school offers adult education and runs healthy eating and exercise programs so I expect that there will be lots of opportunities for me to take on new responsibilities.”

Mark Straney, co-ordinator of the NSW Department of Education’s Explore Your Future program, said the Beyond the Line school community visits challenged many perceptions about country schools.

“Some believe that rural schools are isolated and under-resourced,” he said. “Beyond the Line challenges those preconceptions and through it we have achieved significant attitudinal change, with more teaching graduates applying to work in rural schools.

“Graduates who go bush often come to love the rural lifestyle and sense of community and remain there for many years, even if it was their original intention to return to a metropolitan or coastal region. There are also a range of financial and professional incentives and benefits associated with a bush appointment.”

The Southern Cross University students will be among 540 students making 16 trips around NSW in 2007, heading to Dubbo from 20-24 August. It is one of the largest Southern Cross contingents in the program’s history and the student teachers will observe and participate in classes as well as enjoy social activities.

“It’s as much about experiencing life in a rural town as it is observing the goings-on in the classroom of a country school,” said Dr Neville Jennings, an education lecturer at Southern Cross University’s Tweed Gold Coast campus.

Photo: Southern Cross University graduate Jeremy Whiterod at his new school, Mendooran Central.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.