Half the world away

31st January 2014 at 00:00

Recently, in a successful attempt to lead me off the topic, a student asked how long I had lived in Australia. Seven years, I replied. "Then why've you still got an accent?"

It had been a long time since I'd been aware of myself as different. The buildings, landscape and voices around me have become familiar and unremarkable, just as I have to my students. Now I understand my students' backgrounds and have just enough of a clue about things that matter to them to make my teaching engaging and relevant. But when I first left London for this rural coastal town in Western Australia I was fairly culturally clueless.

I began by doing supply (or relief as I quickly learned to call it). "Oi, Supernanny!" the kids would shout (I swear the similarities between me and Supernanny end with our black-rimmed glasses). In the classroom my instructions were often mimicked back at me, and for a while I was repeatedly asked to say "Fluffy bunnies".

In addition, it was sunny almost six months of the year, the uniform looked like a PE kit, Shakespeare wasn't on the syllabus and I didn't have an interactive whiteboard in my classroom. It was a lot to get used to.

As an English teacher, I realised how much of my teaching was culturally nuanced. When I started teaching here full-time I hadn't read any Australian or Aboriginal authors. And I knew next to nothing about surfing or fishing. Many of my previously successful lessons fell completely flat. I must have been about 10 minutes into an explanation of how we would design an advert for trainers when a student asked me what a trainer was. "What do you call the shoes you wear for sport, then?" I asked. "Sports shoes," was the reply.

Nothing compared to the time I asked some students to stop doodling on their books. How was I to know "doodle" was a phallic euphemism?

There is a lot I miss about teaching in London - above all the diversity of staff and students - but how nice to work in a place where there's no such thing as an inspection regime. People are a product of their environment and there's no denying that sunshine and open spaces make for a more laid-back attitude than endless drizzle and concrete high rises. Yet teenagers are pretty much the same wherever you go, and I have to say that my behaviour management skills are just as challenged by a defiant, coastal malaise as they were by tough, urban rebelliousness.

So now I've learned to ask my students not to wag school with their mates. I remind them that thongs are inappropriate footwear for school without batting an eyelid. I tell them to have fun playing footie on the oval and wish them a good arvo as I wave them on their way. And if I think they haven't completely understood me, I go up at the end of my sentences.

Truly, nothing beats interaction with teenagers for speeding up acclimatisation to a new place, as well as improving your idioms. After all, as a successful teacher you build positive relationships with your students, and to do that you need to be a part of their world.

Ellie Ward teaches English at a high school in a small coastal town in Western Australia.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now