Being a parent and distance education tutor

Host: Isolated Children’s Parent’s Association
Written by Lynly Kerin – Manager, North Well Station.

Lynly and her husband Mat have managed North Well station since 2006 during which time she began a part-time career in nursing at Roxby Downs, juggling both station duties and nursing until their daughter Elke was born in 2009. Lynly teaches Elke via School Of The Air (SOTA) which has given her the drive to help those facing the challenges of distance education.

I have never thought my life was super special out here, or that we are doing anything extraordinary. Just living the simple life of a pastoralist, producing wool, sheep, and beef as a family on almost four thousand square kilometres. There are plenty of us that do it spread all over this big brown land. We all run our businesses a little different – we might prefer this breed of animal to that breed of animal, or prefer to sell our product here and not there, but from what I have learnt so far about people like us, people who live this life, is that we all agree that educating our kids out here is one hell of a challenge – and no one is more invested in it or has sacrificed as much than the parent distance education tutor. My name is Lynly Kerin, we live on North Well Station in North-West SA, and I am the parent distance education tutor of our daughter Elke who is a Year Two student with Port Augusta School of The Air. 

family-portraits-high-resolution-003-copyFamily picture. Lynly, Elke, and Matt Kerin – we scrub up ok when we have to!

I’m not sure how I could best explain what entails a parent distance education tutor’s job on a sheep and cattle station. It is purely supervising your child’s learning via distance education – we are here and her teacher is 400km away in our case. But if I am to illustrate the whole picture for you right now, this is how it would go. Imagine you have the customary daily household chores to bother with, and your kids are at their local school getting the education they deserve, except they can’t go today, actually their school no longer exists so they can never go and they are now at home, all-the-time . . . and their actual (or “real teacher” as my daughter calls them) can only be contacted via phone or email! So now you are their tutor (or not a “real teacher” as my daughter calls me!).

Then imagine your actual very busy paying job is not 9-5, more 7-9, and you are working today also. Now this is the crucial part . . . Imagine all of this happening all together, simultaneously in your home and you are the housewife, tutor, company employee, and mother all busily trying to achieve everything at the same time. Chuck in the steady phone calls, emails, and the customary station “drop in for a cuppa” visitors and there is your snap shot. Day in, day out. Talk about multiple personalities. And I have a few of those by now!

1-2-resize-copy-1Elke during her class maths lesson.

They‘ who told me that having a child would be life changing clearly never had to educate ‘their’ offspring themselves from a school room at the end of their veranda, because that right there is the life changing part. Up until those school years, life is breezy. Then boom. You feel shackled. Shackled to the desk that will be theirs throughout their (and your second time around) school journey. I probably sound a little harsh up to this point. I don’t mean to be, I’m just a realist and the romance of life on the land in my mind never once involved ‘work returns’, ‘Moodle’ or ‘WebEx’. Not to say there aren’t amazing, “wow” moments in the school room when you realise you taught them something, and they remembered it! I do get my share of those. And funny moments, very funny moments. Like the time during Year One maths when Elke was doing her measuring task and had to find something 15cm’s long. I could see that she was attempting to write the very tricky word pencil, but somewhere after the p-e-n things looked shaky and what followed was simply i-s. I left it at that, moved quickly to the next question stifling my laughter, and thought the teacher can deal with this one. I will just write a simple note explaining that there are none of those in our classroom.

Yes, it can be humorous, we of remote school rooms could easily collaborate to write an entire book filled with the school room antics of our bush kids (hey, there’s an idea ABC!) And when the teaching is resulting in learning (on the good days), we skip out of that school room both feeling proud of what we have achieved. But for me there is always a struggle deep down inside, that can at times gnaw away at your stability as a mother raising a child out here. The struggle is wondering if you are doing the right thing with their right to have access to a good and equal education like the other Aussie kids in their busy town and city schools. Is my child missing out because she is alone in her school room? Is she as smart as other kids because I am supervising her (and I can barely supervise myself!)? Will she resent me for raising her living in isolation? I don’t know . . . I just don’t.

1-3-resize-copy-1Elke’s classroom rules written at the beginning of the year and broken a million times over.

There are many forms of comfort and support out here, not including a glass of wine at lunch though. I tried that, it just made me want to curl up for an afternoon siesta on the veranda. Husbands are great in small doses at offering words of wisdom regarding the school room. The words are usually similar to what I hear from the stock yards about how to win over the unruly animal that won’t behave. They mean well and the words are supportive in their eyes, but I’m looking for extra inspiring words to get me through the day, something along the lines of what Maya Angelou would offer. For me the real support comes from the women I surround myself with that are my neighbours, friends, and biggest allies in the world! They are the Mums who themselves are teaching or have taught their children via distance education, who are also playing out this balancing act of tutoring, working, mothering, and wiving. We belong to branches of a more substantial grouping of people who advocate and support everything entailing the education of our isolated children, the ICPA – Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association. While the ICPA councils across Australia are lobbying to the powers that be of our country for a fairer education for remote kids, the little branches that encompass smaller districts gather together to help sustain families in the outback.

1-4-icpa-letter-logoICPA Branch logo.

I belong to the North-West Branch of the South Australian ICPA. I like the word “belong” because it feels like I am in the right place when I am with my little cluster of people who each live a life that mirrors one another’s. Here I find the support and guidance I need to carry on with what I do. To have the assurance that other families have successfully provided their children with an education from such a grass roots level. The parents who are on the same road as me right now get to share their daily struggles and more importantly their wins, each one of us empowering each other to just keep going. Our kids will be just fine in the long run, just fine. That’s what I need to hear the most. And while I am getting my dose of support and encouragement, the kids get to be together to be kids. When you only have one child out here, not having standard regular play dates for Elke comes in at number one on my list of ‘100 things to feel guilty about’.

Kids of ICPA get to enjoy some amazing experiences together. Recently our ICPA branch hosted the SA Variety Bash for an enjoyable evening of food, fundraising, and the usual antics one would expect when the Variety Bash comes to play. Our kids were the stars of the day, getting showered with treats and gifts, having their fifteen minutes of fame when they became spontaneous stars of the Channel 10 News and Weather broadcast, beaming their smiling faces from out here into the homes of people across the state. They showed lucky kids, and clearly showed happy kids. And when I see them all together my heart swells and I have a feeling of contentment amongst my ‘tribe’ of outback families. And come Monday morning in the school room when life resumes its hectic ways I have a new sense of positive power and I know in my heart that everything will be just fine in the long run, just fine.

1-5-icpa-kids-lending-a-hand-to-channel-10-news-copy-1ICPA kids lending a hand to Channel 10 news.

ICPA (Aust) is a voluntary, non-profit, apolitical parent body, dedicated to ensuring all rural and remote students have equity of access to a continuing and appropriate education. We welcome membership and all interested persons are invited to join the Association.  To join click this link. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.