Nothing ever happens in isolation
Leading Vocational Teacher Meredith Jackson looks back on almost 30 years of working with priority learner groups to help them reach their highest potential.
Covering a vast geographical area over the last three decades, Meredith began her VET sector career with TAFE South Australia in the desert of Coober Pedy in 1994.
Moving from their underground dugout home with her husband, she started with TAFE Queensland exploring the savannah grasslands of Normanton, then the riverbanks of the Mary and Burnett Rivers in Wide Bay before finding home in Brisbane, where she now works in the student support team at SkillsTech.
She remembers the beginning of her career in education, when supporting students completing long distance studies comprised of printed workbooks, weekly phone calls and remote road trips in the TAFE Troupe Carrier.
“There was no computer technology back then!” she exclaims with a laugh.
As she looks back, Meredith ponders on the thread she’s seen woven through her career, a mantra that’s become her personal trademark: that nothing ever happens in isolation.
“I saw it in remote distance teaching and for the last several years I’ve seen it supporting students in the metropolitan area. It’s so important to collaborate and optimise opportunities, working together and creating solutions to help every single person reach their potential.”
Meredith says she didn’t mean to go into education.
“Having recently left a marketing position in the health insurance sector to start our family, I was undertaking a university business degree building on my marketing qualifications from TAFE South Australia. We had just relocated to Coober Pedy. I was equipped with a current and comprehensive set of business skills, the Director of the TAFE SA Coober Pedy campus grabbed me and asked if I’d be interested in stepping into teaching.”
Not knowing if it was going to be for her, she agreed, committing to simply give it a go.
“Then I started and quickly realised; I think I’ve found where my place is.”
After all this time, Meredith has stuck by that realisation.
“Being a TAFE student myself, and now as a teacher in student support, I’ve seen the outcomes. I’m a strong advocate for TAFE Queensland because I’ve seen the opportunities it’s afforded people, time and again.”
Meredith continues to seize opportunities to add to her “toolkit” of skills and experiences that makes her the inclusive teacher she is today. Speaking with her, it’s evident she walks the talk.
“Every day I do what I call a ‘plus one’. You don’t have to be a director or a manager to make a difference. You simply grab every opportunity for improvement,” she explains.
“And that’s a plus one: doing one thing every day that makes someone else’s day better.”
These ‘plus one’s’ have led Meredith to identify gaps in the systems she works within that have led to better solutions for students right across the state.
“Just today, I found an accessibility guideline in a file, and I thought, ‘why isn't that on our website? Why isn't that available?’ Not just for students that identify with disability, but for every single student to help them with solutions on how they can access the information they need in a way that works for them.”
When asked why she does what she does, Meredith says it’s because she loves waking up every morning wanting to go to work.
“It’s so rewarding knowing my students are progressing. Our goal is about making reasonable adjustments but also about building a student's confidence and skills to self-manage their adjustments and study. I love seeing them come to advocate for themselves.”
“My priority is to build that self-assurance, because I’m all about getting them to a place where I’m disappearing out of their world because they don’t need me anymore.”
“An apprentice will be with us for three years, and initially we have more support within the class environment, more adjustments on their plans, more advocacy for them as they study,” she explains.
“We’re continually working with them, building them up and giving them strategies so that when they’re out in the workforce they’re able to stand on their own, knowing they’re fully qualified and able to back themselves.”
It’s that there, Meredith says, that she finds truly rewarding.
“To know that by the end of their course you can watch them go and say with a smile, ‘you don't need me anymore’. That's what makes me feel the proudest. That’s why I want to get up and come to work every morning.”