November 26, 2021

Teaching in the land Down Under

It’s expected students attend school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic.

For one Creston woman, she learned more than she imagined during her two-years teaching in Australia. She hopes she can apply her experience to continue teaching in some manner in Southwest Iowa.

Antonia Gates, 24, returned earlier this year from teaching elementary grades at Condell Park Christian in Condell Park.

“I’ve always had a passion to go overseas,” said the member of the family known for its sweet corn stands every summer. “And teaching is like a mission field.”

Gates graduated in May 2019 from Pensacola Christian College in Florida with a bachelor’s degree in education.

“One of my friends was talking after class about a friend who was a teacher in Australia,” Gates said. That sparked Gates’ interest as her older sister had taught years prior in South Africa. Another sibling once toured Australia and New Zealand, “and she loved it,” Gates added.

By way of the friend, Gates’ interest and comments eventually made it back to the Condell Park school administration. Gates and the school started discussions in late 2018 about her teaching. The school’s principal interviewed Gates and others in early 2019 at Pensacola.

After she graduated, she got the job offer.

“With dreams, some the Lord works out,” she said. “The Lord placed this in my lap.”

Gates signed a two-year contract with the school. She started work in early June. Condell Park is a suburb of Sydney, the city that hosted the 2000 Summer Games.

She quickly learned some of the differences between American education and Australia. For starters, elementary grades, like what is in the states, are called years. For example, an Australian student would say, “I’m in year three.”

High school starts in year seven and continues to year 12.

“They don’t have that junior high category,” Gates said.

The school also has a year-round calendar. The school year coincides with the calendar year. A new school year starts in January and ends in December. Gates said the schedule typically is students are in class for 10 weeks, then get about two weeks off. A longer break is scheduled in December for the holidays.

The school day was from 8:30 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. On Wednesdays, the school day was from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. to allow students to attend church services later on. Condell Park has a Baptist faith influence. The school had 90 students from year 1 to 12.

Gates said the school is like American private, parochial and public schools using technology and teaching traditional subjects. There is some government funding for Australian parochial schools, but with some certain guidelines to follow.

After finishing school, it’s common for Australian students to go to “uni” the abbreviated slang of the word university. She also noticed how popular vocational schools are in the country. Called TAFE, the organization offers a variety of trade skills much like in America from construction, hospitality and tourism, information technology and automotive.

Australia has a strong British influence as the country was treated like a prison for British convicts from the 1780s to 1852. A gold rush in the 1850s brought more British people to the country. Their culture still exists today.

While Australian students had their choices, Gates said she learned as much about other countries as she did Australia.

“There are so many different ethnicities at the school,” she said.

Gates also had to adjust to where she was on the Earth. Being a southern hemisphere country, the seasons are opposite of what is in Iowa. Gates said it was common for people to go surfing in the ocean on Christmas Day when it is early winter in Iowa.

“People celebrate on the beach during Christmas,” she said. “I don’t do much water activities,” she laughed about living near an ocean. “But I got better at it in Australia.”

She also learned some Australian culture, especially language.

A bogan is the equivalent of a redneck in America. She even noticed how regionalized those words and phrases can get.

“It was not inappropriate,” she said about some words, “but different than what you hear in Sydney.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading around the world in early 2020, Gates said she wanted to get back to Iowa before the situation worsened, and not to miss another sibling’s wedding.

“Australia had its own lockdown,” she said. Regulations were more strict than what she had seen in America after returning. Some stores in Australia would only low people in for a certain amount of time.

Her contract was due to expire in the spring. Add the pandemic, Gates said it was time to return to Iowa.

“It was a great experience,” she said. “It was worth it.”

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.