Tuesday, 26 June 2012

School teacher Steve

This year has been one of new experiences for me. Sleeping in a tent surrounded by kangaroos. Surveying Sydney from halfway up the Harbour Bridge. Trying Vegemite.

But perhaps the most unexpected twist of all came when I was offered work at Rachel's exchange school, Albury North. I live my life surrounded by teachers; wife, family and stacks of friends are in the profession. Suddenly, I was about to get an insight into their world and try to repay the faith Rachel's principal had shown by bringing me into the classroom.

I spent four fascinating days at the school, mainly helping pupils in the youngest classes. What amazed me was how quickly they accepted a total stranger into their daily routine. A balance had to be struck between making little friends and exuding authority. Every child had different needs and characteristics, yet they shared much in common. In a kindergarten class, there is no smalltalk. None of them wanted to talk about the weather or my work background any more than I did. Instead, the most common questions ranged from "how old are you?" and "can I go to the toilet?" to "will you draw me a crocodile?"

Observing the varying styles of the teachers I worked alongside was eye-opening. Of course, their working day stretches well beyond the timetable I carried around in my back pocket. But I took real satisfaction from the short time I spent at Albury North. If I genuinely helped one child, whether academically or just by including someone who had felt left out, then I achieved something new, something worthwhile.

We spent the weekend in Griffith with our favourite Canadians; the Jackson family. If you are a new blog reader, Janice is on the same exchange programme as Rachel. Also pictured above (left to right) are her husband Howard and sons Cody, Khye and Colt. Their second-oldest, Kent, was at a friend's house.

All four boys have thrown themselves into Aussies Rules football and Saturday morning saw us all pile into the people-carrier for a drive to Ganmain, where Kent (above, 24) and Cody's teams were playing. To watch them play, you would never know the Jacksons were complete newcomers to the sport. In reality, though, the vast expanses of the footy oval could not be more different from the familiar surrounds of the ice hockey rink and their progression through the junior categories of mite, squirt, novice, atom, pee wee, bantam and midget (such good names I had to list them).

Kent's team, the younger Griffith Swans, beat their Ganmain counterparts while we watched from the sidelines. Don't be fooled by the blue skies - it was a chilly winter morning.

The older Swans, including Cody (above, centre), emerged for their game as the sun's rays began to have some effect. Kent and his team-mates gave a raucous rendition of their team song in the changing-rooms, mirroring the post-match rituals in the AFL. It looked as though a Griffith double was on the cards until Ganmain pulled away with a flurry of goals in the final quarter.

Supporting their big brothers from behind the barrier, hot dogs in hand, were Khye and Colt. Our trip to Ganmain had been a good one and we headed back to the Jackson farm to eat cookies and play with Lego.

Roles were reversed on Sunday morning as Khye (right) and Colt donned their Tigers tops for Auskick practice next to the Exies Oval in Griffith. Both boys looked good in their respective age groups and it was great to see so many youngsters enjoying their sport. AFL club colours were everywhere. Hawthorn, Carlton, Geelong, Collingwood, Richmond, Sydney, the list goes on.

This farm is Howard's workplace for the year and we called in to have a look on the way back from Auskick. The sheep, pigs and goat all rushed over when we arrived but soon slunk away when they realised we had no food for them.

I like this picture: Colt clambering through the trees and Khye flinging himself off a massive tyre. True boys.

The real beauty of this exchange has been meeting people like the Jacksons. How else would we have got to know this fantastic Canadian family? We count them as close friends.


I dragged myself out of bed at 4am on Monday to watch England v Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. Rachel joined me for the nail-biting climax to extra-time and the penalty heartache.

In this year of so many new experiences, it's oddly reassuring to know some things remain the same as ever.

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