On the other side of the desk

Host: Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association
Written by Frances Frahn, Holowiliena Station, Flinders Ranges SA

Families who school their kids through distance education usually either employ a governess for day-to-day supervision in the schoolroom, or the Mum teaches her own kids. I’ve got a bit of experience in both situations now – here’s some of my story.

Growing up as a School of the Air student, I loved all our governesses. Even the 18 year old my parents fired in Week 2 after she announced she was nymphomaniac. It didn’t affect me an ounce that she liked to jump on the trampoline in short skirts.

Most of our governesses came to us straight after finishing high school. A governess often becomes part of a family and nearly all of ours are still in touch with my parents today. Mum started teaching us when we were old enough that she could go off to do other things while we’d stay in the schoolroom working (though it didn’t always turn out that way).

Thirty years later, when my husband and I chose life in the bush, we knew our kids would grow up on School of the Air. I’d worked as a governess after leaving high school and was totally prepared to teach our little ones because they surely would be compliant, charming, enthusiastic and so much fun in the schoolroom.

Life was particularly busy when our first child started school, so we decided to employ a governess for at least the first few years. We were blessed to find the amazing Miss Mikaela. She spent two years showing our kids how much fun school could be. When she left, there were tears aplenty. Mainly mine.

After a rocky stretch trying to replace the irreplaceable, we bit the bullet and decided it was time for me to teach the kids. After all, they were compliant, charming, etc.

Well, if “life is a journey shared”, then schooling your own kids through distance ed is the family road trip when it rained on your tent, you forgot your shoes and the kids screamed all the way. The views were AMAZING. The destination was once-in-a-lifetime. You’d do it all again tomorrow.

I was fairly chuffed to be joining the club of teaching Mums. Some of these ladies are my absolute heroes for the way they seamlessly juggle their committees and station duties. Their kids are charming.

Oh yes. That’s the outside appearance. Now I wonder if they’re just “ducks” like me – everything looks okay on top of the water but, beneath the surface, they’re paddling like crazy.

In our case, the ‘paddling’ is running a drought-stricken sheep station and a small tourism business. I can be the “happy duck” most of the time but it can be tough when my husband goes away shearing and I’m doing it solo.

What’s been amazing is the way our kids have taken on this challenge. They regularly start school without me in the morning if I’m hanging up linen or baking for an afternoon tour. They check each other’s spelling lists. They’ve also helped check stock, hosted tour guests, made a roast dinner while I’ve been taking a tour… and are my Number #1 entertainers when I host guests for dinner while my husband’s away.

It’s true of my kids that they behave better for anyone else better than they behave for me (truly, anyone!). They drive me to un-schoolroom-like behaviours on an almost daily basis.

But here’s the thing. No teaching Mum ever has to wonder what our kids mean when we ask how their day was, and they tell us it was “Good”. We KNOW. Their good days are your good days. The things they learn are a little bit yours, too.

I was there when my son finally mastered his last times tables. I was there when my daughter learnt there’s no ‘r’ in the middle of “father”, because I’m the one who taught her to read it as “fart-her”. She’s still writing it the wrong way for laughs, two years later.

For me, teaching my own kids is one of the great privileges of living remote. I can joyfully repeat this to myself like a mantra when my son is crying under the table because he doesn’t want to do his maths lesson.

So when I wake up in the morning and wonder how I’m going to tackle the day ahead, it’s always going to be a great day. My kids learn from me, I learn from them… and the destination is worth it.

Todd and Stella helped a lot this year while their Dad was away shearing.

We host tours of our old station buildings, which the kids often help out with. They’re getting to know their history and Todd is even learning some blacksmithing skills from his Dad, Luke.

During the drought, we’re saving money by doing work ourselves that we would normally get workers in for. Shearing this year made school a bit tricky as Mum was the roustabout, classer, wool presser, sheep penner and cook – so the kids spent quite a bit of time in the woolshed. We were also lucky to have some volunteer retired teachers to take over in the schoolroom during the busiest time.

Any chance to inject fun into our work day – a spot of cricket on the road.

This is the third generation to be schooled in our little outback schoolroom.

I always have a cross face in Stella’s pictures of me at school.

Luckily both my kids love reading and our library posts out as many books as they can handle. They sit and read while I’m marking their work, preparing work, printing work, uploading work….

Stella participating in her online class lesson. Port Augusta School of the Air students generally have an hour online with their teachers each day. The rest of the day, work is supplied by the teacher for the students to complete at home with their supervisors.

Todd on his class lesson. Today’s distance education students not only talk to each other online, but also use virtual classrooms to share videos, show their work and complete tasks on a shared whiteboard.