I have been submersing myself in the fringes of education over the past few years, starting literally, in the soil, as a garden teacher, uncovering the many layers that go into teaching children. Then I incorporated the many varied theories of teaching through University. It seems there are as many different ways of teaching as there are of being a parent. Now, I have found myself teaching School Of The Air (SOTA) to my own three children in our desert home.
Our schoolroom is in the ‘entranceway’ of our grand old stone house. We have double doors that open onto a patch of grass, a hills hoist and a steel fence, which attempts to hold the desert winds and dust at bay. Sometimes curious emu heads poke over and black kites wheel overhead. My role is to deliver and teach lessons as given to me by the Broken Hill School Of The Air. When our satellite dish is installed, the kids will also have a lesson or two a day on-line, learning everything from PE to maths.
The support and resources we are given by SOTA is fantastic. As every teacher knows, an enormous amount of effort goes into the designing of lessons that will help kids want to learn, and to make sure they learn it well. I find myself battling the clock each day, trying to ensure that each of my children has learnt the vast amounts of what they are required to each day, produces meaningful work, and has fun!
The respect I have for the people out on properties has reached new levels. Besides the full time job that the teaching is, there is still childcare for the little ones, looking after the property and house, chasing away snakes.. It is so much harder than I expected, I have to sit on my hands at times to not pull my own hair out, but on the other hand, the opportunity feels like such a gift. I can see where my child needs help, and I can help them. I can see where they can thrive, and I can let them go for it.
The trick will be, for me, to ensure they understand what a fraction is, can write a report, while understanding how to tell which animals have passed through a sandy creek bed in the night. I want them to do long division, and spell correctly, while knowing how to ride a motorbike and use a UHF radio. I want our kids to have identified a snake from it’s scales, or to be able to call in an apostle bird family to play at their feet. I also want them to have time to just play!
Many of us have so much opportunity for choice – mainstream schooling, private, home-schooling, school of the air. How do we give our children the best possible opportunity to have meaningful, happy lives now and as adults? Do we want their lives to be more meaningful or happy than our own? Are we setting them up for a world like the one we have known, or one that is vastly different. I don’t know the answers, but I do know that they deserve to have the very best that we can offer them. Right now, that means to go and have a picnic under a gnarled old redgum. The redgum is on the edge of a dry river bed, it’s branches support the remains of a wedge tailed eagle nest, and it’s roots sink deep into the red soil that has known the steps of parents before me for many thousands of years, all of us trying to prepare our children the best we can for their own unknown future.