In love with her country life
For Jane McKellar, a gap year after teachers’ college was just the beginning of her great love of regional Queensland and her lifelong mission to support the people that make it great.
For TAFE Queensland faculty manager Jane McKellar, a love for the brown-green bush of regional Queensland and the people that call it home has formed the foundation for her long and varied career in tertiary education.
“I'm a Brisbane girl and until I left uni I hadn't ever travelled to Western Queensland, but I knew I didn't want to just be a school teacher. I wanted to have life experiences," she said.
“So my plan was that when I finished teachers’ college, I’d put a hold on taking on that career straight away, and instead, I went out west and worked at a sheep station and I home tutored students.”
It was on that sheep station that Jane fell in love with country life… and her future husband.
“It was a very life changing experience for me. That 18 months broadened my horizon on what bush living is like and how fabulous regional and rural community people are,” she said.
“And yes, that’s where I met my guy! He was at uni at the time, but he came back to town to visit. We met and got to know each other,” she smiles fondly at the memory.
Jane’s career with TAFE Queensland began when she said yes (not to a ring, yet) to her guy and moved with him to Clermont, in Central Western Queensland.
“A job came up with TAFE and I loved that it represented real people. As someone who’s done their career in regional areas, I know it’s not always simple to form a career out here. I’ve been very fortunate that the organisation has fostered and valued regional staff and I love I get to do the same for the people in my community.”
Jane started out as an educational assistant, jumping onto the team to help prepare for an audit.
“I put together the processes and three weeks later, I was promoted to administrative officer. I think I must’ve done something right!” she laughs.
Later, she began working with apprentices and remembers driving 111 kilometres from Clermont to Emerald and back each day.
“I was booking in for apprentices and block training. See, around that time was when TAFE Queensland was moving into the competency-based training approach. There was a lot of change. In fact, there’s always a lot of change happening in this organisation. I love that, it means we’re always innovating, always improving.”
A year later, Jane went back to her teaching roots and moved into a role as an educator in language, literacy and numeracy skills.
“I travelled often, for which I felt really lucky. We were working with Queensland Rail at the time under the Workplace English Language and Literacy Program so some days I’d drive from Emerald to Longreach and back along the railway.”
“I stop at certain places along the track,” she remembers, “and the track workers would meet me, and I’d take them through training to build their literacy and numeracy skills.”
Nine years later, married with a newborn daughter; Jane found herself back in Brisbane.
“After about six months, we were at a precipice. Do we stay in Brisbane and create a life there or head back for the bush? In the end our hearts won, and we moved back to the bush.”
Where? “To Charters Towers.” she smiles. “Where we’ve been ever since.”
“I transitioned from my employment with Emerald TAFE. I did resign from TAFE at that point, because I just wanted to make it easier for them to find a replacement, but I then immediately got employed casually. So I was teaching remotely, which looked very different back then compared to now.” she laughs.
“We used video link at the time, so I would go into the local campus here and deliver to the students in Emerald. The innovation of the time was a projector which showed objects in real time. This came in handy teaching science and being able to show rocks which were projected to Emerald.”
“I’ve seen many transitions of technology and the development of online learning platforms and engagement tools. Being part of the development of programs which were led by regional teams was special.”
Later, she took on the same role teaching literacy and numeracy locally, at Charters Towers with TAFE Queensland North, where she has now progressed to faculty manager.
“I wasn’t sure if I should apply, but I figured I’d give it a go and if I don’t get it, that’s fine.”
But Jane, through her many years of hard work, was offered the job.
“It’s been an interesting progression to watch myself transition away from being an educator. When you teach, you get immediate gratification. Your students give you feedback, you can see they’re on board, or on the right track and if not you can quickly change and adjust.”
“In management, it’s less obvious. The feedback is more about people’s needs and wants. So, I’ve been working to make sure I’m communicating well and imputing value into my team. I’ve been grateful to have supportive people around me, while I work it all out.”
“It’s again that community spirit I see, not only in the wider Charters Towers community, but day to day at work. They’ve been so gracious to give me the opportunity to strengthen my skills.”
When you speak to Jane about her town, her love for it almost beams out of her. And if you ask her why her heart has stayed in the bush, her answer is simple:
“It’s the people," she says with a smile that reaches her eyes. “The community out here is special.”
Indeed, it’s Jane’s love for the people of Charters Towers and beyond that have sparked her career mission.
“Living here myself, I know how regional areas have very specific and different needs compared to regional areas or big cities. TAFE has always understood that. It’s one of the big reasons I’ve spent my career here.”
“It has an understanding that we aren't here just to service people who are in a big city or in a large region, where we can get lots of students easily participating. I love that as an organisation we recognise that just because class sizes may be a little smaller or the delivery may look a little different, doesn’t make the impact of what we do any less important.”
“I'm very proud of the fact that I work for an organisation that values the service and provision of training it can give to people in a regional and remote environments.”
At TAFE Queensland, we know the power of training and skills and we are in the privileged position of not only being able to help our students to change their lives and achieve their career aspirations but also enhance the social wellbeing and financial sustainability of the communities in which we work and live in throughout Queensland.
We are proud of our highly experienced workforce dedicated to delivering best practice and innovative training that provides real employment outcomes for our students and employers.