I went from teaching at a mid-range private Lutheran school in Adelaide, to a government high school in country South Australia. My previous teaching experience had only been in metropolitan environments so I had no idea what to expect.
In Adelaide my students were well behaved and distant. They needed my subject, Japanese, to successfully pass their IB, so they were committed if occasionally disinterested. My conversations with them centred on their academic progress.
Teaching in a small town was very different. At first, I was taken aback when shopping at the supermarket turned into work: a parent wanted to discuss their child with me.
I was surprised when a student told me that they had spotted me power walking past their house at six o’clock in the morning.
Even my rivals on the volleyball court were some Year 9 girls who also got their shot at refereeing my games. They sat in the umpire’s chair and blew the whistle at me when I made a mistake.
Often this creates a greater warmth to the teacher/student relationship. As Donna Safralidis, another teacher with a city background says, one of the pros of being in the country is you get to form “relationships with students who you see in the local community with easy access to parents if need be”.
This assists the teacher and parent in working together.
Educator Carol R. Keyes in Parent-Teacher Partnerships: A Theoretical Approach for Teachers says that a teacher who is accessible, open, warm and sensitive will have a better partnership with parents.
It is easier to have those kind of interactions when you see each other more often and in diverse settings.
Stacy Higgins, another country teacher, says she likes how the locals want her to be involved.
She mentions a list of organisations have asked for her help, ranging from Rotary needing her hands to flip eggs at Australia Day breakfasts, to local churches keen to have a youth leader, or netball clubs seeking another player.
She feels a beginning teacher is often evaluated on how committed they are to the community.
While Higgins is an extrovert and has embraced this, she warns that some new teachers may find it overwhelming to add a lot of new activities into their schedule.
It is all in how you view this experience. As Safralidis explains, you can see it as a disadvantage that you “never get away from school, you live close by, you see the kids on weekends, play sport with them, socialise with the teachers and are in the public eye all the time”.
When a couple of students moved into the unit next door to mine and hosted loud parties featuring the more colourful kids at the school, I felt it was a bit much.
The teacher housing office was very supportive, and helped me find alternative accommodation.
Teacher housing was part of the package used to attract me to come and build a career in the country.
Like other scholarships currently on offer (see the Victoria, WA, NSW, QLD education departments’ websites for starters), I received cash to help me study at university, with a guaranteed permanent job at the end.
When I arrived there were other perks including an area allowance bonus in my pay, plus the everyday benefits of a short commute, easy parking and cheaper house prices.
There are other career enhancing benefits to being in the country. It is in the interest of these schools to retain teachers.
So I had lots of opportunities to grow, both in the classroom and out. The students were less academically minded than those I taught in the city; they took more effort to teach but in learning how to manage those who did not want to be there, I became a better teacher.
I was also given the opportunity to become the ESL Coordinator, something I enjoyed, and when I expressed a desire to teach senior English, the principal made it happen.
Likewise, Higgins who loves teaching at area schools got offered scope beyond her basic primary teaching.
"I had a go at middle school drama, PE, art and even Year 11 Maths (my degree was JP/Primary),” she says.
The drawback of this was the reality of being in a smaller school. Higgins says that not having a faculty and being the sole teacher of middle primary school was tricky for gaining inspiration.
Another way I grew in the country was in finding friends in strange places. Regional areas often experience a youth migration shift to the cities, as young people move to find work or to undertake further study.
Therefore for young teachers there are often less peers around, aside from the other teachers. Shopping is also more limited and the nightlife may centre on the one pub that is open.
A key to settling into country life is a willingness to embrace a more varied friendship group and go out of your comfort zone and try new things.
I played volleyball and basketball, to the amusement of my family and friends who knew I had given up on team sports, and even tried out shooting at the local gun club.
My widening circle of friends led me to meet Matthew, who is now my husband. In Adelaide where we both lived before moving to the country, our social groups were too different to have allowed us to develop into a couple.
Winning a country teaching scholarship changed my life. If you are flexible, open to change and willing to plunge into a fresh community, I would thoroughly recommend giving teaching in a regional area a go.