“I don’t think teaching will be the same. It’s scary, but exciting.”
When Tammy Clarke finally embarked on her lifelong dream to become a teacher, she didn’t expect something like a global virus pandemic to enter the equation.
“I always wanted to be a teacher, but I left school at 14 and had my first child at 20. I didn’t have room for study until my youngest started Year 11. Enrolling in university in my 40s was really daunting!”
However Tammy says if there’s been one consistent lesson from her studies at UNE that will help her tackle the future challenges, it’s the constant need to adapt and adjust.
“Even just learning to study required a huge adjustment. I had to put a lot of effort in, twenty-plus hours of study per subject, and my grades really surprised me. People said, ‘Oh you must find uni so easy’, but no, I was just doing what I had to do, which for me, meant a lot of hard work!”
Having worked as a teacher’s aide, Tammy doesn’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. But this philosophy also means every day can be a sharp learning curve.
“I’ve worked with children with behavioural challenges for 20 years and I’ve learnt through that not to look at what the child’s doing, but to look at what I’m doing that’s not working. We need to be able to embrace diversity, working with each individual, and that can be overwhelming. I really believe we need to work with the community to teach our children so school is successful.”
Through an elective unit, Tammy developed a particular interest and passion for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, which meant learning a whole new culture and challenging her teaching methods all over again. But, she says, it’s also been the most rewarding experience.
“I had the best time with a rural and Indigenous community school near Bathurst. I’ve been challenged to re-learn my understanding of history and I got to observe a totally different culture, which really changes the way you teach.”
On her final placement on the Central Coast, she was able to focus on her new area of interest, and encourage teachers, students and community to work together towards a common goal through a community barbecue event.
Focusing on personal community-to-community invitations by letter, phone calls and reminders from the students and on Facebook, Tammy wanted the event to celebrate culture and to keep things inclusive and informal. Over 70 community members attended.
“I’m still smiling. People came! There was so much positive feedback from staff. It was an after school event, and children were happy to be there at 4.30pm. That’s going to change children’s education and open up doors to their culture,” Tammy says.
“Every teacher came, and the way they care about the kids is just phenomenal. I was so lucky to start my career there.”
After graduating in June, school education may look a little different, but Tammy believes she’s learnt and practised the skills required to help her meet the challenges.
“Through my degree I’ve learnt not to be so structured, but that I need to be more flexible if I’m going to teach and make a difference. And I need to remember I’m still learning and it’s ok to make mistakes, as long as your intentions are right and you learn from those mistakes.
“University has been the scariest and hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it has also been an amazing journey for me. I feel I’m a different person now, and much more rounded. I really tried to embrace the journey, and it has really been worth it.
“I think the online teaching developments that are happening now will change what teaching is. It’s scary, but exciting. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to building relationships with students and finding ways to meet their needs.”
Images: Tammy Clarke; Tammy and her daughters.