Attending school & completing school

Connecting with kids

Name: Peter Henwood

Peter Henwood likes wide open spaces as well as classrooms. He has been a schoolteacher for 25 years, and has spent many of them in remote bush towns and communities. Now he is teaching media and computer studies at Tennant Creek High School, in the heart of the Northern Territory, and he loves it.

“The best thing about being a teacher is the sense of achievement it can give you,” he says. “Not just in terms of academic success necessarily, but also when the kids are really interested and they feed back that interest to you. A really positive response like that means a lot.”

The school has about 220 students in all, with about 60 per cent of them Indigenous. There is an Aboriginal hostel in Tennant Creek that houses about 40 kids who attend the school, and other students come from as far as the Queensland border, which is several hundred kilometres away.

Peter originally became a teacher because he loves kids. After finishing school himself, he wanted to go back and work with them. For him, the highs definitely outweigh the lows, but it isn’t always easy.

“I guess one of the tough things about teaching,” he says, “is having to deal with kids who don’t really engage no matter how hard you try, and then they often become confrontational. They think learning is just not cool enough for them. To help these kids, we run specially modified courses, and we even offer different timetables to grab their interest. But there are always some who, no matter what you do, just won’t engage. It’s a real shame because you know this is a negative thing that they’re carrying through life.”

So how does he keep his enthusiasm up?

“Well, I started off teaching accountancy, then I shifted to computing,” he says. “I’m lucky because there is new stuff happening in computers all the time. It’s constantly expanding, so it’s easy to stay interested. And there’s always new teaching technology coming onto the scene – the Internet, animation – and now we can edit films online. There’s also digital music, which means that the kids can write their own music on the computer with a dozen instruments, without having to play any of them. What’s great about this is that being at the cutting-edge of new technology challenges me as well as the kids.”

And for anyone out there who might want to be a teacher, Peter has a few tips: “You need to be very relaxed, have a thick skin and a great sense of humour. And you have to engage and form relationships with the kids. It’s not enough to only be interested in the subjects you teach – it’s all about communicating with the kids. As a teacher anywhere, and especially out here in the bush, if you can’t engage with them, you can’t teach them.”

He recommends that teachers spend some time working in remote towns. “You can really hone your craft out here. You can get experience that you just can’t get in the city.
” Out here it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle – and a great lifestyle, too.”

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