Shelley Eaton says a typical school day at her place right now is “controlled chaos”. If starting a new job as a graduate teacher isn’t challenging enough in 2020, Shelley also has her own five children learning at home beside her.
“Term two has been extremely challenging, especially with my whole family working from home,” she says. “Switching to remote learning has taken some getting used to, although the technology I was exposed to, and the skills I learnt throughout my recent studies, have really set me up for success during this time.”
Shelley completed her Bachelor of Education at La Trobe University’s Bendigo Campus last year, and this year began teaching Grade 3/4 at Specimen Hill Primary School.
“My mother has always inspired me to be a strong independent woman,” she says on her motivation to change her career from a travel consultant to a teacher. I always wanted to set an example for my own children and instil in them that you can do anything regardless of what life throws at you. After my own children had struggled academically, I began to explore a career in education. Their challenges inspired me to want to make a difference and support and instil confidence in those children who find learning difficult.”
Regional campus experience
Shelley started out studying at La Trobe’s Mildura Campus before moving to Bendigo with her family.
“Overall the regional campuses allowed me to build strong relationships and professional networks with students and staff,” she says. “The smaller class sizes allowed me to mix with inspiring academic staff who were experienced and knowledgeable in their field. There was a strong sense of community amongst the campuses, the lecturers knew you by first name and they were always approachable and willing to offer support.”
Shelley says the course enhanced her understanding of the world, while exposing her to educational pedagogy, psychology and research.
“I was able to develop my own creative and independent thought through a variety of learning programs.
“I enjoyed exploring Indigenous anthropology and Indigenous pedagogy. I also loved my elective subjects which included genres in children’s literature.
“On my very first day of university one of the lecturers read aloud the picture story book The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley by Colin Thompson. It’s a book about a rat named Riley who is happy with the small things in life, while comparing his life to the life of humans. That story has stuck with me throughout my whole degree and is a story I now refer to and read regularly to my own students.”
Teaching in extraordinary times
If COVID-19 restrictions are presenting challenges for teachers, Shelley is just the person to overcome them.
“Studying full time was also definitely challenging, although I was able to find some sort of a balance to make it work,” she says. “There were times I would be sitting in the car watching my boys play football while writing an essay on the dashboard.”
Right now, getting the work done also requires Shelley to be flexible and creative. “We all try to be up and running early, like any normal school day,” she says. “We each attend online meetings and conferences at 9am, so our internet is hanging by a thread! We have three children at Kennington Primary School, one child at Bendigo South East College and my eldest son is studying VCE at Bendigo Senior Secondary.
“While I am conferencing with my students online my younger children are all working through their own individual learning activities. This can prove quite challenging, especially for the younger children who require additional support from both myself and my husband. We do our best each day to try and support each child, but we are also mindful of placing too much pressure on the children and ourselves. As a mum, I understand the pressures remote learning places on students and their families, and I am mindful of this with my own students.”
Shelley’s children are now 16, 14, 11, 9 and 6. “They have watched me throughout this journey and I know they are very proud of what I have achieved,” she says, adding being a teacher to a host of eight and nine-year-olds also makes all the work well worth it.
“Being a teacher is an extremely rewarding career,” she says. “I love being in the classroom, interreacting and engaging with the students. Having the opportunity to inspire, support and mentor my students throughout their learning journey is a privilege. I can’t wait to get back into the classroom and see all of my students again. I have really missed them.”