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Derek Bawner and Shelby Summarell’s Account of Student Teaching in Australia

Derek Brawner and Shelby Summarell, two ALEC students, traveled to “the land down under” to complete the student teaching portion of their program. Derek and Shelby taught at Broken Hill High School in New South Wales, Australia. This town of approximately 18,000 people is a 13-hour drive from Sydney. The pair left on September 9 and returned on December 10. They began their journey in Sydney than flew to Cairns, Queensland to experience the Great Barrier Reef, rainforests, and agriculture. Cairns’, pronounced “cans.” major agriculture commodities include sugar cane, tobacco, and bananas. 

Derek playing with kangaroo

After experiencing Cairns, they spent one week in Sydney, which they said, “was a lot like New York except cleaner and the people were nicer.” After the week was over, the trek to the true outback began. Derek and Shelby drove from Sydney to Newcastle, from Newcastle to Nyngan, then from Nyngan to Broken Hill over a two-day period. During the drive, they encountered mountain goats, emus, and kangaroos lingering around the two-land road. Once in Broken Hill, they explored the town and began teaching the following week.

The school system in Australia is unlike the school systems in the U.S. They begin the school year in February and end in December, with four terms throughout the year. Each term varies from 8-10 weeks with a small break at the end of the term. The school schedule also varies compared to Tennessee schools. Each subject has their own timetable in which there is a “week A” and “week B,” and the schedule differs depending on the week. For most classes, they are not in session every day. For example, the Year 9 Agriculture class for week A was on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. The agriculture program had a school farm, which included garden plots, a greenhouse, chicken (or as they say “chooks”), ducks, twenty-two sheep and two cattle. “The students loved going to the farm and asked me every day if they could go tend their plots or work with the cattle,” Derek indicated.

The classroom setting was different from what they had experienced in the past, but Derek and Shelby’s extensive education in the ALEC department, they quickly adjusted their classroom management skills and teaching styles to better serve the students. Shelby stated, “After teaching here and handling much more difficult behaviors, I feel like it has enhanced my classroom management skills in order to be a more successful teacher. The student teachers learned a multitude of things from the students about Australian culture, and the students continuously had questions about America, sports, food, certain stores, guns, and much more during the 10 weeks. At the end of their 10-week student teaching, the Australian students were sad to see Derek and Shelby leave. Several students asked, “Can you stay longer?”Derek and Shelby made heaps of life-long friends with teachers from other subject areas and members of the community. They expanded their vocabulary with common Australian lingo such as “mate,” “old girl,” “this is bloody beautiful.” “heaps,” “how ya going?,” “rubbish,” “barbie,” and so on. Derek and Shelby attended the Silver City Cup, a horse race, and the Broken Hill Greyhounds, dog races. They also visited the sculptures, the Big Picture, and Silverton, a small town approximately twenty minutes from Broken Hill. During their time in Broken Hill, they ate lamb chops, chicken schnitzel, kangaroo, lamb’s fry, and Rag’s chips, which is flavored with chicken salt. 

Shelby feeding a kangaroo

They both said they felt like true community members. “Everyone was so genuine and excited to have us in town,” added Shelby. Derek and Shelby also had the opportunity to travel to a working sheep farm for an overnight field trip. The sheep farm is 120,000 acres, export meat to the U.S., and is USDA Certified Organic. While there, they received hands-on experience with lamb marking, drafting, and harvesting.

When the time in Broken Hill came to an end, the teachers and some community members threw a going away party for Derek and Shelby. Many email addresses and Facebook friend requests were exchanged for the Australians future plans to visit the U.S. They spent their last five days in Australia by driving to Adelaide, from Adelaide to Port Fairy, from Port Fairy to the Great Ocean Road, and the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne. 

The encountered a couple of windmill farms on the way to Adelaide, which they said were absolutely intriguing. Port Fairy was a small farm town with the ocean on one side and hay fields on the other. The drive along the Great Ocean Road included famous icons, such as Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge, and the Twelve Apostles. The pair’s final destination, Melbourne, consisted of visiting the Queen Victoria Markets, which contained multiple kiosks of fresh fruits and vegetables, local and imported gourmet foods, and clothing and souvenirs.

Derek and Shelby both agreed, “We are very grateful that we had this opportunity to represent not only the ALEC department and the University of Tennessee, but the state of Tennessee and the United States. Being ALEC students has thoroughly prepared us in the fields of education and leadership, and this Australian student teaching program has made us develop culturally and personally in ways that would not have bee possible without this wonderful experience. We cannot thank CASNR, ALEC, UT Extension, and Dr. Carrie Stephens enough for what was the highlight of our educational experience.”