Closing the education gap

Will Lutwyche and Amelia Green are teaching in Tennant Creek as part of the Teach for Australia program.

ANU alumni and high school educators Will Lutwyche (BA '12), and Amelia Green (LLB and B Asia-Pacific Studies '14), discover teaching doesn't always mean referring to text books.

The remote town of Tennant Creek lies five hours north of Alice Springs and 11 hours south of Darwin. It truly is the red centre of Australia.

There is something about the Tennant Creek community that pulls you in. It's a combination of the welcoming nature of the locals, our colleagues, the town's love of AFL and the energy and resilience of its young people.

A total of 85 per cent of the local high school's students are Indigenous Australians and come from within a huge 500-kilometre radius of the school. The cultural and linguistic diversity is phenomenal and the opportunity for learning is limitless.

We're fresh out of ANU and working at the high school as part of the Teach for Australia program. Canberra seems a long way away.

We came to remote Australia because we believe educational disadvantage is an urgent issue and we wanted to do something about this at a grassroots level.

The Tennant Creek experience

Being a high school educator is challenging. There is nothing that compares to the adrenaline you experience as a teacher standing in front of a classroom of 20 students on a 40 degree day. It requires immense resilience, persistence and grit.

By embracing the chance to learn, adjusting to context and understanding your students, you recognise the impact that teaching has on the life trajectories of young Australians.

In this town, the significance of Indigenous Australians and their cultures cannot be overstated.

Having the opportunity to learn from and reconcile with the traditional owners of the land, the Warumungu people, and other Indigenous groups in the Barkly region has been invaluable.

As high school educators, we are passionate about working with Indigenous students, staff and families. One in two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults did not finish high school and we want to contribute to closing this gap.

One of the greatest challenges is making Western education relevant and authentic for these students. Finding a balance between the wealth of knowledge and cultural capital of young people and the prescribed curriculum can be tough.

We recognise how vital it is to provide an education that integrates family and community ideas, values, languages and traditions.

Authentic relationships are at the core of our daily practice. Such genuine connections with our students remind us of the power and purpose of education.

Every student has their own story and, above all, they have the right to an excellent education. This is what drives us to become the best teachers we can and fuels our belief that all students, no matter their background or social circumstance, have the opportunity to succeed.

We want to be teachers who are remembered for the best reasons and never understate nor underestimate the importance of equally learning from our students. Two-way learning in our classes is celebrated and sought after.

ANU has instilled in us a belief in educational equity. It has equipped us with the research, analytical and communication skill-base to work effectively as educators.

We understand that education is part of the answer to social injustices and importantly believe that we have a responsibility do something about it.

We believe that change is possible and, in Tennant Creek, we can be part of that change.

Will Lutwyche and Amelia Green are teaching in Tennant Creek as part of the Teach for Australia program.This article originally appeared in ANU Reporter  Volume 46 No.3


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