“The Other Side” – Volunteering as a School Assistant in Australia

Posted on the 12th June 2017

Written by Callum Irvine

Having spent the last fourteen years sat in front of teachers’ desks, the idea of working at a school was more than a little bit strange. Taking a gap year, from education, to go and spend six months … in a place of education. It seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Apparently not – as I guess the strangest thing about this whole experience, is how much I adored being on the other side of things.

My first day was not “Go and fetch me a coffee, will you?”, or “Can you shred this stuff for me?”. From the first second, I was made to feel part of a team. I was very lucky in that it was far less accurate to describe us as ‘colleagues’, than it was to describe us all as ‘friends’. My first day was “What kind of coffee do you like? My shout.”, and “Boys and Girls, this is Cal – and he’ll be your co-teacher for the next couple of terms”, and this became my day-to-day routine. I was with students of all ages; from teaching a class of kids how to perfect an underarm throw, to coming up with engaging games with my co-teacher. While my daily routine was probably the happiest job I’ll ever have – there were some events that stand out to me as highlights of not only my time in Australia, but of my life so far.

The first of these was a surf-trials day, where we took around 12 kids on a road trip to Phillip Island so we could pick a surf-team for an upcoming competition. The trip down was great – blasting music that we all sang along to, joking, and driving across the bridge to the Island on a hot and clear Summer’s day. But it was only when we arrived that it was revealed to me that us staff members would be surfing too – and that we were having a four-hour surf lesson with three world-renowned surf champions. That day is probably up there as one of the best working-days of my life; coming from a small, very landlocked village in England, and now spending a day surfing with some of the best surfers in the world… as part of my job!

Another aspect of working in this school was to be an active member in the Outdoor Education department, going on camps with the students. Though this sometimes meant stepping-in to lend a hand in the running of the activities, the Camp leaders really encourage the students to gain a sense of leadership and responsibility by essentially letting them run their own camp and overcome challenges themselves. I was fortunate enough on my last camp to have a really focused, and sociable group of year 9s, who ran their programme efficiently. This left us so much free time after our experiences hiking and canoeing through the beautiful Great South West of Victoria, that we regularly had the whole afternoon to relax and chat, or to have a singing-session led by a girl who had brought her ukulele along, in the diverse range of campsites we had the opportunity to stay in: near the beach, in the middle of a towering pine forest, near cliffs overlooking the ocean, and by the edge of the Bocara river – that we learned was sacred to the Indigenous Gunditjmara people.

It’s difficult to describe what I’ve gained from my experience working at a school, because most of the time, I never felt that it was at a job – I was surfing with my friends; I was camping and singing Ed Sheeran songs played on a ukulele with friends; I was having lunch in the staff room where we all got overly-competitive at doing quizzes, with friends. So I suppose what I’ve gained from working at a school, is an opportunity to explore a whole new country on the other side of the world, to try-out new things, to be a part of what a working-environment should be, and to feel what it’s like to be on the other side of that desk I’d been staring at for the past fourteen years.

Interested in volunteering at a school in Australia? Click here for more information

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