“Don’t place me in Darwin, they don’t need me there”

Sarah Martin Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

When the Northern Territory State Manager phoned me up asking about my preference for the NT I naively remarked, “don’t place me in Darwin, they don’t need me there.”

And with that phone call I got my placement in Darwin. I was happy to be heading to the territory but I really thought that my passion and drive to bring about change was going to be wasted in Darwin.

Education in Northern Territory presents some unique opportunities, most notably the education of the largest Indigenous population in Australia. Disadvantaged by remoteness, depleted resources and a transient teaching staff I thought going remote was the best thing I could do to help.

But I accepted my placement without voicing my concern again (it meant I was confirmed a place after all), but it was at the back of my mind as I went into Initial Intensive.

It didn’t take long for me to wake up to my naivety and perception on need.


The first class I was given my school had a total of three Caucasian students. The class was mainly made up of Indigenous students, African students and Indonesian students. Stories of hardship coming from all students started to make me realise that students anywhere need a teacher that is willing to work hard for them and care about them.

One of the most surprising areas where I was needed was in changing the class’s perception of themselves. They were adamant in their belief that they were the dumb class.

So here I was thinking that being in Darwin meant I wasn’t going to make a meaningful change, but helping one student makes this journey so worthwhile and rewarding. First thing was trying to change their perception of themselves.

I banned the word “dumb” and taught them about growth mindset. I showed them different types of intelligence and got them to value their uniqueness.

One of the biggest setbacks I had in this journey of changing the classes’ perception of itself came towards the end of term two. My class had overheard someone calling them “dumb” after marking their PAT tests. It took me a little while to get this out of them in a lesson 4 class on Monday. They seemed defeated and unenthusiastic about my lesson from the beginning.

The conversation started with a student raising their hand and asking me if I thought this was the dumb class: obviously it was playing on their mind. I got on my normal bandwagon about the term dumb and I pulled out a story about opportunity to which one of my students asked if I was reciting a TED Talk.

But today it wasn’t sinking in for everyone.


They kept pushing about being the dumb class until finally one of the students told me what the previous teacher had said to them. My eyes started to well up.

The hard work I had done to change these students’ perceptions of themselves were unravelled by a teacher’s thoughtless and hurtful comments. I cried in class that day as I told my students how valuable they are and how intelligence can’t be judged by a single test on a single day.

Students cried with me and we moved forward, them knowing how much I cared and how much I truly believed in them, but also knowing that other teachers didn’t believe in them.

Moments like these made me realise two things:

I am needed in Darwin, for this reason and so many more. And a reinforcement of my favourite education quote that I will leave you on:

“Everyone is a genius but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life thinking it’s stupid” – Albert Einstein

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