The beauty of country life

Emily Cotterill Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Cattle in Nyora, South Gippsland. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, by JenniKate Wallace

The first time I saw South Gippsland was a beautiful day about a month before I was due to move from Brisbane to take up a teaching post at Korumburra Secondary College.

I was moving into the unknown, and along with my anxiety about how to be a good teacher (still working on that one), I was worried about how I would fit into a new town. Luckily, a friend of mine from Gippsland offered to show me around.

We made our way along the area’s winding roads in a very small, very blue, car. Everything was green, and as we drove the hills seemed to ripple out from the road beneath us. It was so beautiful, I could hardly take it all in.

Cows with wide bellies and high protruding hips dotted the landscape. In many of the paddocks, the grass had just been cut for hay and it lay scattered over the fields like the floor of a hairdressers, giving off a low, sweet smell that flooded the valleys.

We drove past the school where I now teach. It’s on the outskirts of town, opposite a dairy farm. On my way to work now, I drive past glassy dams, steep hills, and, in Autumn, the orange glow of bonfires. This is where my students come from; many are from farming families and bus in for hours each morning to get to school.

It’s a world so different from my own that often I struggle to understand my students who are always surprising and correcting me. Last week I got schooled on the difference between agriculture and farming, and I know a hell of a lot about motorbikes now than I did two months ago.

Horses on a farm in Nyora, South Gippsland. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, by JenniKate Wallace.

But on that first day, I didn’t know any of that. All I could see was pretty fields and the cows and the ‘countryness’ of the place. What made the difference was hearing my friend’s stories of the area and its people and seeing the almost palpable feelings of love and pride my friend had in his home and its people.

And I realised that, with luck, I too would feel something like that soon. If all went to plan, I would have many stories to tell about my students and their achievements.

In January, I got my first try at learning those stories and building those achievements. Starting out, it wasn’t pretty; I felt like I was fumbling through the dark. I was always tired, always learning. I ate a lot of chocolate.

It was the sense of humour the students brought to my classes that kept me sane – and sometimes drove me mad! They are pros at mobile phone pranks, blue tooth speaker pranks, hiding behind the bushes and jumping out so your teacher spills her tea pranks, etc. etc… But, the students in my classes have shown a remarkable amount of patience with me as we learn together.

Certainly it is challenging. In getting to know my students and in teaching them, I often run into roadblocks – and the path to that feeling of love and pride does not always run smoothly.

Now it’s May, and my drive to work each morning is still beautiful, but often foggy. Icy rain is setting in, and everyone, students and teachers, is getting tired. As one of my students wrote today – being at school can sometimes feel like eating brussel-sprouts, and interactions between students and teachers can often feel like a battleground.

But it helps to look out of the window and see the beautiful place that I live, remember the stories from that first day, and remind myself of what I believe: that love comes from understanding, effort and endurance, that it’s as much about what you put in as you get out, that I do really want to be able to tell stories of my own and that I think I’m getting closer.

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