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Contributing to the lives of young people

By Jessica Addo

Jessica is passionate about ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience positive learning environments.

I am 30 years old, I have a daughter and I was born and raised in Cairns. I identify as both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. From my mother’s side, our family is connected with Yarrabah and I have family on my father’s side at Mornington Island. But my deepest contact with community is through my grandmother at Mapoon.

It has always been my passion to become a primary school teacher because I want to help make a difference in children’s lives. When I heard about the RATEP Indigenous teacher education program at TAFE Queensland, I knew I wanted to enrol. RATEP provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with the opportunity to gain hands-on classroom skills and a qualification as a teacher assistant. Students can then choose to pathway to James Cook University to study for a Bachelor of Education.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators bring valuable community and cultural knowledge to education settings. These educators play a significant role in their communities because they have a deep understanding of the local context, languages, histories and cultures. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children love seeing people from their own culture work in classrooms because they connect naturally. Having a teacher who can speak their language makes a positive impact and creates close relationships.

Before enrolling, I was working a full-time job and did not have the capacity to study. But I was so determined to follow my goals that I resigned and found part-time employment so I could start my training. Working part-time allows me to study in the mornings and work in the afternoons. Sometimes you need to make sacrifices - it all comes down to how badly you want something and the belief that your hard work will pay off!

I am happy I chose RATEP because I received full support, both professionally and personally. Through hard times in my personal life, my teacher coordinators were there for me. During my studies, I went through Sorry Business unexpectedly. RATEP allowed me to take time off and I was able to continue studying when I was ready to return. There was never any pressure and the staff were very understanding - I received full support from everyone.

RATEP was very hands-on. I completed a Certificate IV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education (10751NAT) and a Diploma of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education (10753NAT). I was awarded a Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) Scholarship while studying my diploma. Having access to a VET Student Loan and securing a scholarship through QTAC made a difference as it helped cover the cost of things like books and stationery.

On top of assessments, I also undertook 200 hours of practical work in a classroom to complete my qualifications. My training provided me with the skills required to be successful in a job. Before completing my studies, I gained a permanent role as a coordinator in an outside school hours care service. Since gaining my diploma, I have been able to transition from an administration role into a service manager position.

At work, I care for children aged between five and 12 years old. I engage with parents, supervise children and plan their programs. I also manage the day-to-day duties of the service and I am responsible for the staff. What I love most about my job is creating close relationships with the children and their families.

At TAFE Queensland, I gained new skills and knowledge and I found RATEP to be very supportive and flexible. If anyone is considering the program I would encourage them to give it a go. The RATEP staff are amazing and they support you the whole way through to graduation. I am proof that life-changing job opportunities arise when you complete your training.

I am excited to be continuing my studies at university and seeing where my degree will take me when I finish. I have always had a passion for the bush lifestyle - it’s part of my culture and I want to experience teaching in remote schools. In the future, I hope to relocate to work in a remote community, either in Weipa, the Torres Strait or the Northern Territory.

I was recently awarded a Pearl Duncan Teaching Scholarship. It provides me with financial assistance to complete my university studies, in addition to guaranteeing me an opportunity to gain a teaching position in a Queensland state school when I graduate. The scholarship is named in honour of Dr Pearl Duncan, an Aboriginal teacher who dedicated her life to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in education. I feel very honoured and grateful for this opportunity.