Tegan McDougall (BEd 2023) never expected her teaching degree to include sandbagging and delivering supplies to flood victims.
But that’s just what happened when the rural Victorian town Tegan was undertaking her final teaching placement in was inundated in devastating floods last October.
Completing her Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) was going smoothly when Tegan completed her first three-week teaching block.
But, as her final four-week block was about to get underway, flooding hit the area with nearly every home and building in the town underwater.
“School wasn’t able to return, staff and families were displaced, and everyone was running in survival mode,” Tegan says.
“With no idea what the next step would be for anyone, stress levels were high. While we didn’t know what would happen next, we helped those we knew who were being directly affected with sandbagging and delivering supplies.”
School closed for two weeks as Tegan’s placement turned into relief work during the mopping up. When it returned, she’d board a bus with the children and travel two hours each day to temporary accommodation at another school.
“Some days we had only a few children in the class and lessons were adapted on the spot,” she says. “Welfare was the priority and, with almost no resources, we got creative.
“The staff and families of the school were going through so much uncertainty, stress, and trauma yet I was given more opportunities and support than I could ever explain.
“It was far from a standard placement, but those four weeks taught me so much more about teaching, children and community than I could ever have envisioned. By the end of placement I felt like a member of staff, not a placement student.”
The experience marked a dramatic end to a long educational journey for Tegan. She’d tried in two states to fit her dream of becoming a teacher around having a family before choosing the University of Tasmania for its flexibility.
“UTAS allowed me to study both part-time and remotely, as well as giving me credit for prior learning,” she says. “Another interstate move, and a second child, and UTAS was able to provide me with the flexibility I needed to finally complete a degree.”
She says her overriding memory of her time at the University was the support she received.
“I never once felt like a number at UTAS and help was always an email or phone call away. Tutors that went above and beyond in responses to assignments. The support and flexibility UTAS staff provided me with during my final placement when everything fell apart and stress levels were high was nothing short of exceptional. I would have been lost without it.”
Still in rural Victoria, and now a kindergarten teacher, Tegan is finding rewards watching her group of four-year-olds gaining skills and confidence.
“Having a child begin the year with limited resilience, become a confident and capable individual who is ready to begin their years in formal schooling is brilliant. The child’s voice is one of the greatest gifts we receive in education and being able to follow their lead in a play-based setting is something I truly love.
“I also love that kindergarten allows you to explore all subject areas and beyond: art, music, physical education, mathematics, literacy, ICT, science.
“And the sky is the limit.”