VU graduate named NT teacher of the year

A Victoria University teaching graduate working in a remote Indigenous school has been named a Northern Territory (NT) primary school teacher of the year.

Sarah Mullucks, 28, received the Katherine region award from the NT Department of Education for her work at Wugularr School, about 120 kilometres south-east of Katherine.

“I almost didn’t go to the awards because I’d just returned from a week-long school camp and was really exhausted,” she said. “I was pretty shocked I won.”

Teaching in a multi-year classroom of 20 upper-primary children, Sarah has overcome the challenges of isolation, extreme weather and a new culture since she arrived in 2012.

She’s also led a school numeracy and literacy program, helped establish a food garden, built community relationships through regular home visits, and introduced netball to a place where children knew only basketball and football.  

Sarah is now the longest-serving teacher at the 80-student school, where a typical day starts at 6.30am so she can avoid glaring sun and donkeys and water buffalo on the road.

She credits her longevity at Wugularr to VU’s Story-Writing in Remote Locations (SWIRL) program – introduced more than 20 years ago by College of Education lecturer Lawry Mahon.

The annual program provides rewarding four-week placements for pre-service teachers to work at remote schools and help Indigenous children create story books inspired by their own experiences and cultures.

An unintended consequence of SWIRL – in which hundreds of VU students have now participated – is that many return as Northern Territory teachers once they graduate.

While most teachers in remote NT schools stay less than a year, SWIRL-trained teachers (or ‘SWIRLERS’) stay an average of two years.

Sarah participated in SWIRL in fourth year of her Bachelor of Education at Jilkminggan School near Mataranka, also in the Katherine region. She extended her placement from four to 10 weeks because she was “just starting to get into it.”  

“The network of SWIRLERS in remote schools in the Northern Territory is growing – in fact three teachers in the area are from the program,” she said.

Sarah plans to return to Wugularr for 2015, but is taking it year by year.

“I have plans for next year that include extending our netball league. Even though our girls had never played before and the first games were really funny, they ended up getting into the grand final for the whole region.”

Listen to a podcast of Sarah speaking to Education Review. (sound quality is sub-standard)

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