In times of crisis, we can see things through a different lens.
Our teachers and school communities have shown their depth of character in 2020 and, we now see the invaluable community leadership role they play in our rural and remote communities – much more than educating our children within their school. Many of us in rural and remote communities now have a high respect for the role they play which makes me hopeful for my young daughter’s future education.
This reflection is for all the rural and remote teachers out there who have gone above and beyond to be the glue keeping our communities together.
It’s only May, but what a year it has been. We started the year with large areas of the country being engulfed in flames and dust storms carpeting other regions – not to mention the lingering drought which many of these communities are enduring. Now, a virus has forced us all to stay behind our own four walls.
Over the past four months, we, in rural communities have had to come together like never before; we have had to be resourceful, be compassionate while remaining strong.
May has given us time to reflect upon our decisions, our lives as a whole, and what it is that truly makes us tick.
For my community and me, we were victims of the fire. Personally, we lost 98% of our family property during the New Year’s Eve fire. It has been a time of heartbreak – terrifying heartbreak – followed by a time of isolation. The fire ripped through our family farm, burning cattle that we had spent a lifetime caring for and milking – celebrating their first calf through to witnessing their last breath. The fences my husbands’ pop had put up on the day he bought the farm in the 1960s burnt. Nothing left but empty paddocks of burnt dreams, and a hollow farmer standing in the paddock terrified of what is ahead.
I vividly remember the days following the fire. Sheltering inside, out of the smoke, visiting the local school to collect supplies, sharing a warm cup of tea, and talking to each other about the heartbreak we now all share. I remember my then 2-month-old daughter being passed around from person to person inside that room at the local School. People found hope in her tiny little face, momentarily oblivious to the shattering, smouldering mess that lay outside.
That is what has sparked this reflection.
The comfort that I found within those schoolroom walls, the teachers that worked as volunteers and hugged their students and poured the tea for us all. The same teachers that lost their homes and fought the flames, grieving but desperately trying to take some pain away from everyone else. They hid their personal pain and smiled for their students and families. They took it as a time to teach life lessons and to teach them about strength. A strength that can only be shown from observing, from feeling, and from experience.
Following the fire, months of restoration have come. For a community that became so close-knit, it has brought a light we had never seen before. Fruit baskets left on each other’s doorsteps; donations of money from strangers we had never met; BBQs at the footy ground to reminiscence and talk about the troubles that fill our minds.
And just when you thought life as we knew it was getting back on track, we got hit with another curveball.
COVID -19 came quickly and we all ducked for shelter in the homes that we had fled only months before. Now, a few months in, a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. We can all sigh a breath of relief and prepare for the rest of 2020 with cautious heads and well-washed hands.
I reflected lately with a good friend (who just happens to be a retired teacher) about the year that has been. This discussion made me reflect on our teachers and about our schools, focussing on the critical role that they play within our community – maybe one that we often take for granted.
Over the past five months, I have witnessed teachers showing up at 6am and staying all day until midnight to make sure that their fire-affected students and families have a warm tea and fresh blankets in their makeshift stretcher beds that were sprawled across their school gym. Teachers have rebuilt and recreated the way they teach throughout the COVID-19 crisis making sure that no one student misses out on their learning – dropping learning packs home to them and linking with them through technology on a regular basis. They have helped to pull together our town and nearby towns to create school programs that fit this ever-changing year.
These past months have changed the way the schools will operate forever. It has shown us that by working together to help students in rural communities (across schools and between teachers and families) we can achieve any goal. Those goals that perhaps once seemed unachievable, given previous circumstances. Teachers are supporting our parents like never before, all across Australia. They are offering help through a variety of platforms for remote learning to support the learning and progress of their students. We have parents in our community who are now requesting teachers get paid more after only months of teaching their own children. We have a newfound respect for our unsung heroes.
Some part of me wonders if COVID-19 was a way of making us all slow down and smell the roses. Following the bushfires, I longed for slower days and more significant time with my family. This obviously was not how I wanted it to happen, but I can see the positives in our current situation. Students will learn differently in the future, and I now have the hope that things will be different when my daughter eventually joins the education system.
I hope we all have learnt that by working together we can achieve and do some awesome things for our rural communities. I hope that by the time my daughter goes to school, it is nothing like the education I endured years ago. I hope she learns in a place focused on community with happy teachers that want positive outcomes for their students in school and in life – all in an environment where schools who are prepared to work with other schools, and their broader community, make sure that all our kids get the best possible opportunities.
So, this one is for the teachers and school staff. I see you, I hear you, and I am grateful for you. For pouring my tea when I needed it, for the extraordinary number of hours that you put in, the care and compassion you show our community – you have worked well above your pay grade and job description to be the glue keeping our communities together.
You, our teachers, are the unsung heroes and the change-makers. Your dedication colours the future of our students, and the broader rural communities where you live.
May we show our appreciation to you for the remainder of 2020 and for the years ahead.