One of the key strategies of the Closing the Gap campaign is to address educational disadvantage for Indigenous Australian peoples at all levels of education. Two of the Australian Government's major priorities for reform relate to raising the quality of teaching in schools, and ensuring all students are benefiting from the schooling they receive, especially in disadvantaged communities. Despite the proactive nature of this and similar initiatives, teacher attrition rates in metropolitan, regional and remote schools with high numbers of Indigenous students continue to rise to crisis level. This paper reports on a strategic partnership between teacher educators from the School of Education at The University of Queensland and Queensland Former Origin (rugby league) Greats (FOGs) who are working together to actively aim to assist in closing the gap in Indigenous learning outcomes and quality teaching. Directly supported by FOGs, preservice teachers are undertaking volunteer tutoring in schools with high Indigenous populations, providing one-on-one support in literacy and numeracy for students of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds. Alongside their work in the FOGS tutoring program, these preservice teachers are undertaking formal practicum placements in schools with high Indigenous populations, and in some cases in rural and remote areas. Through analysis of student outcome data, and interviews and focus-group meetings with preservice teachers, results of this study thus far show the mutual benefit of this initiative, with demonstrable increases in student learning and increased confidence and cultural awareness of preservice teachers for teaching at the cultural interface (Nakata, 2007) in schools of high Indigenous populations.
In this paper, we present the case of one preservice teacher, Michael, who worked with the FOGs tutoring program and then completed an extended placement of four weeks in a large secondary school in a rural setting, 2000 km from his hometown. Michael's self-reflective journal reveals his personal struggle in adjusting to the isolation, novelty and cultural difference of a new location, but also his professional growth and development as a teacher within the landscape of Indigenous education. Of significance to this paper is the story his experience tells about the centrality of engagement with issues of whiteness, race and Otherness in terms of praxis in relation to Indigenous education and the capacity, self-efficacy and commitment of pre-service teachers work within Nakata's cultural interface.
Nakata, M. (2007). The cultural interface. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 36S, 7-14.