Home tutor challenges

Host: Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association
Written by Jacinta Wilson.

Save the date for the 2018 Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association Federal Conference to be held in Canberra, August 1-2. This promises to be a great conference! Find all information at this link: https://www.icpaconferenceaust.com/  #ICPAconf18

Scenario: It’s ten o’clock in the morning. The baby is grizzling – It’s time for her nap. The 3-year-old has discovered the joy of paint and is wearing a remarkable shade of green identical to that of the tiny hand prints all over the wall. The phone is ringing in the home office at the other end of the homestead, and from the kitchen there wafts the distinctly acrid smell of burnt onion that was supposed to be the beginnings of tonight’s meal for the station crew. You quickly glance at the learning task set for your oldest – at least you can get him started! “Today you will be building on your new knowledge about number patterns and sequences. You will go outside and create a Fibonacci Spiral …”

“Fiba-WHAT???!!!”, you exclaim.

Such are the challenges faced by many Home Tutors in geographically isolated classrooms all across Australia.

All Primary students enrolled with Schools of the Air (SOTAs) are required to have a Home Tutor to oversee the learning tasks set by their teachers. The Home Tutor organises the classroom, manages resources and sets up learning tasks, clarifies understandings, guides the child as they explore new concepts, manages behaviour, encourages perseverance and rewards persistence, offers feedback, corrects mistakes and identifies the learning that comes from making mistakes, extends the thinking of the child and supports the child as they makes their thinking visible to their teacher, manages technology issues, liaises with teachers and promotes positive learning relationships, models patience, and maintains a sense of humour! All this and more, whilst juggling the other duties many Home Tutors perform. Many are the children’s parents, so add parenting duties. Many work full-time on the station or tourism park or roadhouse or nature reserve or heath clinic or the various other essential roles played by the wonderful people in these remote locations. Most are not trained Educators.

And here lies the issue – who supports these superheroes as they pursue a quality education for this next generation of Australians?

Some employ a Govie to take on the classroom responsibilities, adding to the financial cost of their children’s education. Some Govies are also employed to care for the children out of school hours. Parents may qualify for financial support through the In-Home-Care Scheme for these hours, but the actual school time is not subsidised. Many of these Govies are brave, young adventures with a passion for children and the outback life, adding value to the remote community through their eagerness to support the community in any way they can. However, they, too are not trained in what and why and how children learn. How can they be expected to offer effective feedback if they are not clear of the learning intentions, or manage behaviours if they are not equipped with a toolbox of strategies to promote learning?

If children are to be effectively supported in their educational journey, they must have confident and knowledgeable educators. Teachers at SOTAs are very aware of the challenges faced in their geographically diverse classrooms, acknowledging the vital role of the Home Tutor as their eyes, ears and hands in the learning environment. SOTAs do provide some Professional Development for Home Tutors, but once again, where is the support to provide this service? I am aware of mainstream schools that attract funding for Professional Development for Educational Support Staff. SOTAs do not receive such funding to sustain the Professional Development of Home Tutors.

In my role as Govie, I think I’m one of the lucky ones. I do have a background in Education which helps me to understand about Fibonacci Spirals and such, to predict where the teacher may be going with a particular topic and tailor it to my students, discussing strategies for personalisation with the teacher at the SOTA. I have been able to chat with other Govies and listen to their perceptions and the challenges they face. I have also been welcomed into the local ICPA branch and encouraged to have a voice about these challenges. ICPA are advocating for improved support and education for Home Tutors. Let’s join with them to raise awareness, identify issues, and work toward a supportive, equitable and quality education for all young Australians, including those faced with the challenges of geographical isolation.