From
Cohuna, Victoria.
Age
26
Study
Bachelor of Education, Federation University
Passions
Primary Teaching, rural schools.

Rebecca McKenzie

Growing up rural

I was born and raised in Cohuna, where I went to my local school. My town and my school were small, but we got the type of opportunities where you get out what you put in. I now appreciate small towns even more, given how supportive they are and give the close friendships you’re able to make.

Growing up, I didn’t have much to do with the city apart from occasional AFL games and the usual school excursions. In Year 11, my teachers sent me to Melbourne for a youth voice program. I was sent on my own and, while it was overwhelming at first, it opened my eyes to the world. Small towns give a great foundation, and – in my experience – serve as a great launchpad for life.

Going to a regional university 

School excursions to universities only took us to Melbourne. I knew the city would be too overwhelming and that it wasn’t for me. If I hadn’t met and spoken to new people, I might not have known that regional universities were an option.

Once I was exposed to Ballarat’s Federation University, it made more and more sense. I could move away from home and still experience a bigger city that wasn’t as big as Melbourne. Ballarat’s campus is in the bush, which I found comfortable, but close to public transport, supermarkets, and everything else the city offers.

I also didn’t want to be ‘just a number’, like you hear from bigger universities. Our small cohorts meant we had time to build friendships and get support from our professors. There were still great opportunities, like a fully funded placement some of us were able to complete in a regional Chinese city.

Why teaching?

I had always leaned towards teaching. Then, when I was 15, I helped support the leaders of a local youth group. I connected with the group’s younger kids and one of the women told me I should make a career out of working with children. This sparked my interest even further and goes to show how powerful a small comment can be!

I later went to my career’s teacher and told them I wanted to be a teacher. They told me I was ‘too smart’ for teaching. That felt like an outrageous thing to say, so I ignored them. I knew I wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives and that teaching was a noble option. We will all have times when people question our goals but, if you’re sure, you need to ignore them.

My first teaching job has been at a small school in Laver’s Hill. I’m still there, five years later! At first, its small size was a challenge. Every teacher is given more responsibility. However, the supportive culture and tight knit community made me want to stay. The ‘sink or swim’ introduction to teaching was also a great learning experience.

Travel

Other than my university placement in a regional Chinese city, I’ve been to Cambodia and the United Kingdom. Our ‘schoolies’ was a trip to Cambodia to build facilities for disadvantaged communities. I was also supported by an organisation to travel to the UK on an experiential trip through their schooling system.

These experiences gave me an opportunity to further push myself out of my comfort zone and helped to consolidate my teaching goals.

Advice for other rural people

Our opinions and experiences are as valid as anyone who grew up in a city. Our stories count. Find opportunities to try new things, discover what YOU want, and unashamedly chase it by being your own biggest advocates. People will stand up and listen.

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