Career

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Teaching to learn

Teaching to learn


Until last year Courtney McLean had never given the Tiwi Islands a second thought. But during a week-long visit, the place and the people captured her heart. Cut to 12 months later and the ACU Bachelor of Education graduate calls the Tiwi Islands home.

If you’ve never heard of the Tiwi Islands, you’re not alone. Head north from Darwin for 80 kilometres to where the Arafura Sea joins the Timor Sea and you will find them. Officially part of the Northern Territory, these beautiful, remote islands are home to around 2,500 people.

For Courtney, teaching at Tiwi College (a secondary boarding school) is the next step in a career which has seen her travel the world.  

“After uni I travelled Europe and South America with my partner, Matt. South America was a real learning experience. I’d see people who had barely anything to their name who were much happier than most people I had met in Australia with countless possessions. It was enlightening,” she said.

“I also visited Vietnam and Fiji and had the same experience. The people in these countries put people first and are less consumed by their working life and materialism.”

New horizons

When Matt started working in the Tiwi Islands, Courtney visited. She fell in love with the islands and a new dream was born.

Courtney McLean and student

Courtney and student.

“I had never really considered teaching Indigenous children until my visit last year,” she said. “I had it very good at my previous job. I had beautiful students in a school situated in a very beautiful part of the Yarra Valley. But after my visit my heart was changed, and I applied for a teaching position at Tiwi College and was successful.”

New challenges

While she loves it, Courtney admits it hasn’t been all sand and sunsets. The Tiwi Islands is a remote Indigenous community battling issues like domestic violence, alcoholism and generational unemployment.

“Every day is different. I am working with adolescents who often have a background of trauma. A lot of the job is establishing strategies with my students to manage strong emotions and prepare them for the working world,” she said.

“I’m providing basic literacy and maths skills along with life skills. Rather than being dictated by a curriculum, we are focusing on each student’s needs. We try to offer subjects like cooking, and things that will help students once they leave school.

Courtney enjoys the Tiwi Islands.

“I really hope that in some way, even if it is small, I am able to make a difference. All I can do is try and show my students how invested I am in helping them to be the best they can be. I’m only one person, but I hope my actions will encourage my students to show kindness, mercy and support to those around them.”

New adventures

“I go for walks and runs with a small group of people on our school airstrip because it is more protected from wild animals. Buffaloes, horses and dingoes occasionally jump out from the bushes,” Courtney said. “We also go out fishing, making sure we keep clear of the banks just in case any crocodiles are hiding below the surface.” 

“Every day has its highlights. I am the luckiest person in the world to be able to share in such a beautiful culture with such wonderful people.”

 New learnings

“I’m proud of making the move up to the Tiwi Islands. It was a hard decision, to move away from my friends, family, dog and out of my comfort zone. It has helped me to stretch my teaching strategies, and to grow personally and professionally,” Courtney said.

“The thing I have learnt most about teaching is the importance of relationships. Whether in a mainstream school or in an Indigenous community, developing a trusting relationship with students and parents really goes a long way.”

Courtney McLean completed a Bachelor of Education (Primary) at ACU. Learn more about education at ACU.

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Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright@ Australian Catholic University 1998-2019 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G