The Practicality Vacuum
The most major blunder both historically and contemporarily in sending people to teach in remote communities, is a failure by authorities to equip them with the knowledge and understanding needed to handle altogether different living and working environments.
While some preparatory inservice may be offered, it is often by people within education departments who have had little or no experience of living and working in remote communities. The inservice usually has more to do with departmental expectation than covering issues to do with the personal and living needs of intending staff.
General Living Needs
*People going to remote communities need to know the status of local stores. What foods are sold, what clothes are carried, what other necessities are available for local purchase.
*Is the freight free perishable concession available to staff and their families.
*If so, in what condition do freight free perishables arrive in the community. Are goods home delivered or do they have to be collected from a community depot. Are staff notified when the goods arrive.
*Information about climatic conditions will assist in the choice of clothing, bedding and other household necessities.
*Are homes and the school on reticulated electricity, grid supplied power, or individual power generators. Is power 24/7 or limited. Are power outages frequent or irregular.
*Are local roads welcoming of conventional vehicles or is a four wheel drive unit necessary’
*Does the school have a vehicle and is it available to staff for business related or private use.
*The state of housing including available furniture, fittings and general condition of houses needs to be communicated. This includes knowledge of gardening and vegetable growing opportunities and the availability of water for irrigation.
*Is home (and school) maintenance the prerogative of the local community or are contractors flown in to handle these issues.
*In terms of communication, is internet available and reliable. Is there satellite coverage for communication and television. Are there costs to be borne by tenants or users for access.
*Be aware of banking and postal facilities. It can help to make contact with a preferred bank or credit society before leaving on appointment. In particular, check on the availability, reliability and cost of ATM services.
*Are homes secured by the use of crimsafe, door locking devices and CCTV in an ‘any’, ‘some’ or ‘none of these’ contexts.
*What is the community history in terms of break-ins to homes and school during the past five years. Has there been an increase or decrease in security breaches.
*Are homes and the school compound secured.
*Is the community ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ in terms of alcohol. Are there substance abuse issues.
*If the community is dry, are staff able to negotiate permits to bring in and consume alcohol in their own homes.
*Is there a police presence in the community. Is that a permanent or occasional presence. Is there a police station.
*Is there a health clinic and what are its operating hours. Do health Department staff include registered nurses and qualified Indigenous health professionals.
*Is there a resident or visiting doctor.
*Can counselling or psychological support services be engaged to meet needs of staff and school students if this is necessary.
*Is the community serviced by an all weather road and/or air access should medical evacuation be necessary.
*Is there any pre-existing formal agreement that has been drawn up to cover the living and working expectations held by the community for staff. Does this include expectations held by teachers and other appointees for the way in which they will be regarded and treated within the community.
*Are there expectations held for or demands placed on teaching staff after hours and at weekends.
*Is it possible for staff to access town’s or regional centres during weekends by road or air. If by air, what are the costs associated with RPT (regular passenger transport) routes or airplane charter.
Other Essential Considerations
*Knowing HOW to teach is important. Will teachers be told if there is a better way of covering particular classroom issues. Do assistant teachers have the confidence to work with teachers in a team sense that covers this need.
*Teachers coming into communities need to understand the responsibility of modelling. History reveals that community leaders are keen for teachers to respect and to live according to their basic cultural precepts. To this end, the expectation is that teachers will live by their inherent cultural principles and not abrogate or water down these standards and expectations These things would include:
*Being time conscious and not cribbing on school day time expectations.
*Sticking to agreed school rules.
*Living by firm cultural principals of verbal respect and politeness.
*Speaking appropriately, using standard grammar and enunciation.
*Being a careful listener.
*Respecting Indigenous culture.
*Dress appropriately and respectfully; understand modest dress codes.
*Ensuring teachers have essentials before going to the community.
Consider items like
*hair cutting scissors,
*sufficient comfortable clothing (serviceable and practical without being over the top fashion wear or ragged, torn and stained clothing),
* a good supply of underwear,
*items relating to personal hygiene,
*other personal essentials sufficient to meet basic needs.
*These will tide new staff over until they are able to ascertain the local availability of these and other essentials.
*Footwear, with a strong recommendation on practical, sturdy and protective shoes or light boots.
Practical Benefit Ideas
*Learning or knowing how to cook using tinned fruit and vegetables may well be an advantage. Tinned products are often more readily available than fresh produce. A concern about fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and meat can be its age and condition by the time it arrives in local stores.
*Knowing how to make bread, cook cakes and make biscuits can help.
*A frypan, bread making machine and croc pot are versatile and practical cooking aids.
*Having a contract person or business in a city or large regional town can help when it comes to organising necessities that may be in short supply or which become unavailable locally. With this would be an arrangement covering ordering and paying for goods.
These are some pointers that may well help those contemplating or preparing to work in remote communities. It is important for those going to teach in more remote schools to be well prepared for life and living in their new locations.