Host: Kimberley School of the Air
Written by Cathie Bonner – Teacher, Kimberley School of the Air.
I’ll always remember the day that I headed off to start my new teaching position in the North West of WA, it was Australia Day 2015. As I boarded that unappealing 5.55am flight from Perth to Derby, I said good bye to my family and friends in the South West, for what was intended to be a one year secondment. Whilst I was excited about my new adventure, on this day I was feeling considerably isolated, wondering if this was the right thing to do, more to the point, if I was the right person to do it.
After arriving in Derby, I headed into the centre of town and looked down what seemed to be the main street, toward the marsh. I was standing in brilliant sunshine but a heavy storm was brewing over the marsh and rapidly moving toward me. I remember the feeling of anticipation and excitement as the dark purple clouds rolled in and the rain hit the road in front of me like a waterfall. That vision will always stay with me, and I realised quite quickly that at the very least, I would fall in love with the visual drama of this part of the world. And so I’m still here.
Day one in Derby, the storm roles in.
I had travelled to the North West to take on a Support Teacher position at Kimberley School of the Air. My position involves a number of roles including supporting teachers to fine tune their programs to better suit the needs of individuals, Liaising with agencies and supporting families to access specialist intervention where needed, and Coordinating the PEAC (Primary Extension and Challenge) program for year 5 and 6 students and researching new developments in planning and assessment. The role involves building capacity within the school through mentoring staff to expand on their experience, and I teach small groups of students to extend their learning by thinking beyond the completion of a task. I am fortunate enough to be involved with students from all year levels and as a result, participate in many home visits during the year.
Throughout my 17 years of teaching I had held positions in capital cities such as Canberra and Perth and rural cities such as Bunbury, but never had I ventured north of the 26th Parallel. I could quite easily be considered a city girl. I’d never had a flat tyre, I’d never driven through mud up to the car door, I had never had to wait, while a bull moved off my driveway in order to leave my home. Patting the odd dog was as rural as it got for me. So over the past year or so I’ve experienced many ‘firsts’. I’ve met some strange pets; bulls, poddy calves, emus, wallabies. I’ve driven through amazing country to visit amazing kids and learnt all about the different kinds of lives they lead. I’ve learnt where to fish, where not to swim, and how to crack a coconut with a brick. I’ve pulled a car out of a bog, driven through a river and taken over 4000 photos, none of which I can bring myself to delete. All of this has come about as a result of this very unusual teaching position I embarked on a year and a half ago.
The road turns into a river.
My teaching roles in the past have been varied, ranging from teaching art to primary school special needs students during the day, to teaching adults at TAFE during the night. I’d coordinated teams of teachers to deliver off-campus training for students preparing to enter the workforce. I’d taught Pre-Primary to year 12 over the course of my career and travelled overseas to support teachers in Fiji to meet the needs of their students. I’d developed strong relationships along the way, with the families of my students, external support agencies, training organisations and volunteer agencies, and felt that I was well equipped to deal with the role I was heading into, but I never realised how important school community relationships are to the students and families who live in the most isolated parts of the country.
My first ever Rodeo – Derby.
It’s impossible to talk about the School of the Air without talking about the school community, by which I mean the resilient mothers, the tireless fathers, the 24/7 tutors, the extended families, station workers and of course, the eternally curious and inspiring students who make the most of every opportunity and go through life with their glasses half full. Our school is fortunate to have a group of families who are passionate about our school and the education of their children. They collaborate and generously share their knowledge and experience with new families. They treat each other like family and although they may live hundreds of kilometres apart, visit each other like close neighbours. Through a combination of Air lessons, home visits, school camps, school visits and collaboration weeks, the school community contribute to a well-rounded education for the students of School of the Air.
I recently found myself in England visiting old friends, people I hadn’t seen for decades, and trying to give them a brief run down on what I’d been up to since I last saw them. They weren’t much interested in photos of my family, they didn’t really care about my hobbies and recent art exhibition. They were only interested in hearing about the school that I go to each day, where I teach children who are keen to attend lessons, and where I often have to wait until the noise of the helicopter landing settles down before I can finish my sentence. They sat wide eyed in disbelief that such a style of education existed, that students would have the most astounding news to share each day, that I would drive six hours through changing terrain in changing conditions to stay the night at the family home.
And sometimes we take to the air.
As I write this article I realise that some of what I’ve had to say could seem a bit exaggerated and larger than life, but it’s not, and I do love waking up each day and looking forward to going to work, and that’s no exaggeration!
With fellow teacher Amanda, the Daniel boys at Myroodah Station, and their governess.