Lesson on the land
Intensive country placements can put you on the fast track, writes Lauren Ahwan
UNIVERSITY students are taking up intensive six-month placements in the country to give them a taste of work life outside the city and fast-track their careers.
Bachelor of Education students at Flinders University in Adelaide are among those extending the usual few weeks of work experience required through their degrees to more intensive stays.
School of Education Professor John Halsey, the Sidney Myer Chair of Rural Education and Communities, says its Extended Rural Practicum Program is a semester-long placement that gives students first-hand experience of the pros and cons of working in country schools.
He says the placements give students soft skills, such as responsibility; hard skills, as they are given a wider work load; and an insight into the promotional opportunities available in regional centres.
‘‘ In a small population centre, the space and the ability to recover from error is less,’’ Prof Halsey says.
‘‘ To put it succinctly, if you put a few too many drinks under your belt one night and your students and parents see you, it’s a problem. You are on duty 24-7.
‘‘ But that also (translates to) the richness of face-to-face contact and the building of relationships within the community.’’
He says rural school teachers typically have more opportunities to take on leadership roles early in their career.
This is largely because teachers from neighbouring schools still are a considerable distance away and not as likely to apply for the position as their counterparts vying for promotions in the metropolitan area, who would be required to travel only from one suburb to another.
He says workers often regard work in the country as more rewarding.
The Australian Education Union says serious staff shortages already exist within rural schools, providing solid job opportunities for teaching graduates who are willing to work in country areas.
Other industries, in particular medicine and health, which have skill shortages, also are looking at how longer university placements can help encourage students into country jobs as well as provide students with information on how it can help their careers.
‘‘ What (the participants) have reported to me is that it’s given them a much greater sense of what it means to be a teacher,’’ Prof Halsey says.
Leigh Rayner last year relocated his wife and young child to Loxton so he could teach at the local high school as part of the ERPP.
‘‘ I guess my initial thought (about the ERPP) was it would be more work experience,’’ he says.
‘‘ But I like the country, in terms of the relationships you can build socially and the involvement with kids both inside and outside of the school.’’
RURAL PLAN: Education student Leigh Rayner at Flinders University.