A home among the gum trees

Teachers shouldn’t baulk at heading to the country

Roxanne Gallacher

I think I always knew I would end up in the country. As a child I was part of a small community and grew up valuing the lifestyle and practices that I had taken for granted. What I had not thought about was the possibility that I would have to make the decision quickly, and with a family in tow.

It is a difficult choice we often face as teachers seeking full-time employment with the Department of Education. Regardless of whether we are fresh-faced university graduates or career change mature-aged, the question remains the same — where can I go for work?

The answer is not an easy one, especially for those who have come to teaching later in life and are well established in their home towns or suburbs with families, children, grandchildren and community networks.

The shortage of permanent and full-time positions across the state does not always allow for an easy transition to a local school and this presents real and poignant issues for teachers suddenly faced with the reality of having to uproot their families.

This is exactly the mentality, however, that I want to challenge: the idea that moving to an area outside your network is a negative choice. I firmly believe it to be the opposite.

The Department of Education has a range of incentives to entice teachers to work in rural areas. They include extra leave, rental subsidy and location allowances to name a few. All of those incentives are valid and definitely a pull factor for rural communities; they are not, however, the principal reason you should consider employment in rural NSW.

You should jump at the opportunity because the notions of collaboration and community are second to none. I hear a lot from teachers who worry about the isolation of rural communities, principally the lack of “facilities”, but I can tell you from personal experience that living and working in these communities is the single most rewarding thing I have done (second only to having a family of my own).

As the sole English teacher in a small central school I enjoy living and working as part of a larger “family” of co-workers and community members. Not only is the support from our staff overwhelming, the community has been welcoming and eager to draw us in to its life.

More than ever, I am eternally grateful to have left behind the anonymity and frantic culture of the city to embrace the freedom and simplicity of rural life. Not once have I felt isolated. Not once have I doubted the decision to “move rural”. The word “uprooted” has left my vocabulary because the opportunities I have found in the Parkes region have left me feeling blessed to have been faced with that seemingly insurmountable choice.

There are rural schools crying out for teachers — young, older, experienced, fresh — and their families to go out to them and enrich the lives of students and communities across our state. Don’t dismiss them; it could be the biggest mistake of your life.

Roxanne Gallacher (pictured at left, back row at her school's celebration of National Gonski Week) is President of the Gobondery Association and was an Anna Stewart Officer in November.