Iain Murray got more than he bargained for when he headed to the Northern Territory for his teaching rounds. Sara Coen spoke to the postgraduate student about education in the outback.
Iain Murray is nearly halfway through his Master of Teaching (Primary) at ACU’s Melbourne Campus.
The 27-year-old recently returned from a teaching round in the remote community of Santa Teresa, just outside Alice Springs, where he found himself learning nearly as much from his young students as they learnt from him.
Iain was teaching at Ltyentye Apurte Community Education Centre – a small Catholic school of about 10 teachers and 100 students, all of Indigenous background. The students speak Eastern Arrernte with a smattering of English.
“I was assigned to a Year 2 class, and despite having a small class of only 12 students I found it quite challenging,” Iain said. “Attendance was unpredictable – the students had different ideas about time which sometimes meant not turning up at all.
“I found many of them to be quite unresponsive to direction due to different ideas about authority. These kids really shook my foundations – they showed me that the way I had been taught to teach was pretty entrenched in a Western values and belief system.
“Indigenous students think and communicate in specific ways. My role as a teacher is to recognise and understand this, and I realised I need to intimately know my students and understand their culture before I could hope to teach them.
“So I found myself walking, enjoying the wide open spaces and gazing at the stars a lot. I spent time at The Club – a supervised recreation venue in the community where students play pool and congregate after school hours.
“Basically I did what the kids did, and it was definitely the best way for me to better understand my students and their way of life.”
When in Melbourne, Iain works for ACU’s Institute for Advancing Community Engagement (IACE), and helps coordinate the Richmond Tutoring Program – helping 40 Vietnamese children with their schoolwork.
He was able to organise the remote teaching placement through IACE contacts, and said while the experience had been a challenge at times, it was one he’d repeat again given the opportunity.
“Experiencing as many things as possible and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is what makes you a better teacher,” he said. “I pursued this experience because I just want to be the best teacher I can be.”