Host: Yougawalla Station
Written by: Jane Sale – Manager, Yougawalla Pastoral Company.
Five year-old Tilly turned and recited her new vocabulary to me. Golden curls skirted her face and her little eyes peered up at me, waiting for feedback as to how she was doing. “That’s good, Tilly,” I replied, a little thrown off by the situation.
The teacher’s voice echoed through the laptop speakers, “Now, like the boy’s genitals, the girl’s genitals also have different names. Can anyone tell me the name for the girls parts?” Tilly spoke up again, leaning towards her computer, “A pom-pom!” she exclaimed.
The other students, all ages four and five, piped in with their different names for the lady bits. No one came up with the correct terminology. “The girl’s part is called a vulva. Can you all say “Vulva”?” The teacher waited for a response from the kids before continuing, “Now turn and say it to your home tutor.”
Tilly turned to me once more, “Vulma.” She stated with confidence.
I nodded, not keen enough to correct her. Accepting my approval, Tilly turned back to her laptop to continue with her learning, which had moved onto the scrotum and ovaries.
It was a Wednesday morning and my first day on the job. I had just flown into Broome the previous evening and was not at all mentally prepared for what my first day of work would bring . . .
First Day of School in the Yougawalla School Room.
Sixteen months ago I had only known the stereotypical things about Australia. I knew that the Great Barrier Reef was huge and consisted of a lot of coral and colour fish. I knew there were loads of kangaroos just hopping around. I knew there was a big ol’ piece of rock in the middle of a desert. Last, but not least, I knew there were a lot of things that could kill you. If you haven’t guessed, many of us Canadians aren’t exactly well educated when it comes to Australia.
My voyage started off in Sydney where I lived for over three months. Once I had the opportunity to leave the city, I took it and headed off. I spent a year living in Central Queensland doing a variety of work. I spent the majority of the year working as a governess to a year four student before droving with a couple who had been badly affected by the drought. After a bit of time there, I tried my hand at being a ringer. Leaving the city was the best choice I have made while in this incredible country. I have learned that Australia has so much more to offer than reefs, and rocks, and kangaroos.
When Jane contacted me about coming out to Yougawalla it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. The thought of an opportunity to live on such a large property . . . live in the Kimberly . . . fly in a chopper! It was a dream I had had since discovering the beauty of station life. I switched from being a ringer back to a governess when I made the job change, but Tilly and Gus are so much fun to work with that I don’t mind.
The kids started school two weeks late and I didn’t have much time to prepare, so we all dove head first into the new year. Luckily, Tilly has finished learning about the human body so I won’t have any more surprises like my first day, I hope . . .
With school now back on full bore the kids are getting back into they rhythm of it all. When they get up and dressed each school day they know their school shirts need to be worn. The school room is attached to the main living area of the house so by wearing their school clothing it helps them get into school mode. We like to kick start the day by doing something fun, Tilly and Gus are big fans of the trampoline. Obstacle courses are also great, as long as you keep an eye on the old dog, Rusty, who has a habit of running off with the obstacles!
Once settled back in the classroom, Gus is the first to have his on-air lesson. Students of the Kimberly School of the Air (KSOTA) are issued laptops which they receive school lessons on. The on-air lessons are laid out like an online whiteboard. The teacher and students all have webcams and mics so they can see and speak with one another. Gus, who is in year two, spends forty minutes a day, from Monday to Thursday, online with his teacher. On Mondays and Wednesdays, he also has Indonesian lessons.
While Gus is on the phone with his teacher, Tilly and I sit at a desk on the other side of the room and start on her work. When it’s Tilly’s turn for an on-air lesson we swap spots, Gus moves down to the little school desk, while Tilly and I head over to the laptop desk. It tends to work best having the kids on opposite sides of the room – they just love distracting one another!
With only two students in the school room opposed to thirty, we are able to play games together, do extra little art projects, and also read together. Most days we will take a break from school work to read a few books together. Most of the time Gus and Tilly will each pick out a book, pull up their comfy floor seats, and prepare for a story. Gus is a great reader and often loves to read along with me. Tilly, who is still learning letter sounds, enjoys showing me the photos and making up her own adventure, sticking as close to the storyline as she can recall. This is one of my favourite parts of the day, I love to read and it’s a pleasure to see them enjoying books so much.
School can be rather entertaining with the two little munchkins. Like all kids their age, they absolutely love craft time. The school sends out boxes of craft supplies every year. The amount of paint, glitter, crepe paper, pipe cleaner, and every other craft item you can imagine, is a dream! There is no craft that these kids aren’t prepared for. Sometimes I think I have more fun doing arts than them! Cleaning up though, well that’s another story.
Unfortunately, school is not all fun and games. Just like every child in the public school system, Gus and Tilly have a curriculum to complete and worksheets to do. The school mails out lesson plans for the home tutors and workbooks for the students. Once the work is completed it gets mailed back to the school for correction and evaluation. Distance Education children still get graded, they still get report cards, they can still be passed or failed, they just have to do it with only having a proper teacher for less than an hour a day.
I thought teaching such young kids would be an absolute breeze, it’s not. I appreciate my primary school teachers now more than ever. With only a high school diploma and a couple years of travel under my belt, I had no idea the challenges of teaching letter sounds. Not the slightest idea of the best strategy for teaching addition. I certainly had no experience whatsoever of teaching the names of private parts to youngsters. Sometimes I feel as if I am now back in year one.
It takes a lot of work to try and remember back thirteen years, try to recall how little I knew back then. Yes, the lesson plans are provided but there is also a fair bit of improvisation that has to happen. Not every student learns the same way and in a classroom situation teachers are often able to adjust to their students’ needs. The lesson plans provided don’t often offer more than one method of teaching.
So much of the job is trial and error, testing ideas and explanations in hopes you can help each child understand their material and get the most from it. The skills these kids are learning now – reading, writing, addition, and subtraction – are some of the most important ones they will need in life. It’s a bit of a weight knowing that the rest of their lives can be either improved, or turned into a struggle, based on my ability to teach them. This is just motivation to do the absolute best I can.
As challenging as the job may be at times, nothing compares to the excitement I felt when Tilly started to sound out and read her first few words to me. They may have only been words we see as simple – at, sat, it, sit, etc. – but seeing her go from not knowing the sound of the letter, to putting the sounds together and discovering the words they make, was an incredible moment. Seeing how proud she was of herself when she realized she was reading just filled me with joy.
Knowing that I helped to make that happen makes it all worth it.
Gus and Tilly may be a handful at times, but they are amazing kids. They are both such brilliant young minds and I can’t wait to watch them grow and learn more. My job may be to teach them, but living here at Yougawalla, doing the job I am doing, these two kids teach me as much every day, if not more, than what I teach them. I love it.