Students Are Now The Teachers

Joanne Cooney (2016) and Kathleen McAdam (2014)

Kathleen McAdam (2014) and Joanne Cooney (2016) are pre-service teachers currently doing their practicum in the Santa Maria College Visual Arts Department. They are also graduates of the College. 

Kathleen is in her fourth and final year at Curtin University. She’ll be here all of Term 3. Once this term is finished, she’ll have completed her degree.

Joanne is with us for six weeks. She is in her final semester of a Master of Teaching, which she’s studying externally at Charles Darwin University. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Art at RMIT in Melbourne and externally at Curtin University while working at home. In her spare time, Joanne also works as a relief teacher, education officer and lab technician at East Kimberley College in Kununurra.

We asked Joanne and Kathleen to share their experience of being on the other side, as a teacher, after being a student at the College.

How are you finding it being back at Santa Maria College as a pre-service teacher? 

Kathleen: I love being back at Santa Maria! It honestly feels like coming home. It’s been great to see the changes since I left and equally as good to see all the things that are the same. 

Joanne: I found it challenging to explain to people how I felt when I first came back. It certainly wasn’t a negative experience. The school, staff, and students have been amazing, supportive and kind. Yet I was so overwhelmed with emotion all the time. I liken it to the culture shock I felt when I first came here as a boarder or how a Perth teacher might feel if they decided to teach in a remote community. I have only taught in the Kimberley, so coming down here and being reminded just how wide the gap is, was emotional. I feel constant relief at how pleasant the culture is and gratitude for how the students behave in the classroom. Now that I am settled into the routine, I can just enjoy being in such a beautiful part of Perth, on a stunning campus with amazing students.

What’s it like being on the other side, the teacher compared to the student? 

Kathleen: Being in the Art Department, on the other side, has been super interesting. To see all the things that go on behind the scenes, that I never knew about while taking art has been eye-opening. I’m really enjoying being the one to facilitate learning and art making. It’s just as fun and enjoyable as taking the art class itself. 

Joanne: Teaching art at Santa Maria has such a high bar set; I feel the pressure to maintain it. I try to remember the Year 12s, especially, are just as or more stressed than I am. It helps to be able to say I’ve been there and to be able to help students through. As a new teacher, I am still searching for the perfect balance between being a teacher and a peer. The art room is such an amazing, safe place to share ideas or just sit and paint with the students that I often need to consciously remind myself it’s my job to stop and get everyone to pack up.

What do you love about being in the classroom? 

Kathleen: I love everything about being in the classroom. Teaching fun, creative art methods to students who are genuinely enthusiastic about art. Teaching alongside some incredible individuals and teaching using some of the best materials. 

Joanne: I love the structure of an art room and art classes. It is amazing to see stressed students bustle into the room and ultimately wind down into their work. Or engaging a student in school when otherwise it might not be their favourite place to be. I love the freedom to share ideas, problem solve and develop the skill to share, receive and take on good criticism.

Has anything surprised you about being in the classroom? 

Kathleen: Nothing has really surprised me. It’s just been great to be back and teaching in some of the rooms I was first taught art!

Joanne: Everything that has happened in class has been what I expected, but it was a shock nonetheless. Nothing could prepare me for how receptive, kind and organised the students are.

What are you enjoying most about your placement? 

Kathleen: I’m really enjoying getting to know the girls and teaching a subject I’m so passionate about. I’m getting to be creative every single day, and it feels super fulfilling. 

Joanne: Of course, it is fantastic being in the classroom and getting a feel for where the bar is set in art education. Bearing witness to the talent and being immersed in a competitive supportive environment is excellent. For me, the best moments have been quiet, like sitting up in the staffroom, listening to the birds and watching the view while I work, or being immersed in artwork with my students.

Did your time at Santa Maria influence your decision to become a teacher? 

Kathleen: Head of Visual Arts Jan Kennedy always told me I should be an art teacher. I was always so against it because all I wanted was to be done with school! It wasn’t until I was a few years out of school and mid-way through another degree did I realise where my passion had always been and always would be, art! Jan supported me throughout my ATAR art pathway and has continued to help me through my journey of becoming an art teacher! 

Joanne: Absolutely, the art program at Santa Maria inspired and drove my passion for art. It is the reason I pursued my own practice as an artist and decided to teach. To this day, the skills I learned here from the teachers like Jan Withers and Arianne Flora and artists in residence like Anya Brock, Abdul Abdullah and Jody Knowles, or the visual art tour to New York are the art experiences I have valued the most. In my role as Visual Art Captain in Year 12, I gained experience in leadership, responsibility and teamwork, which meant I knew I had the confidence to take on a classroom.

Did you always know you wanted to be a teacher? 

Kathleen: No, not at all! I was really against it. It wasn’t until I was mid-way through my Journalism degree that I realised what really made me happy, and it was art. As soon as I stood in front of my first class on my first placement, I knew teaching was for me. I couldn’t be happier to be doing my final placement at Santa Maria, bringing me full circle in my teaching career thus far! 

Joanne: No, I have always had passions, chiefly art and the people and places of the Kimberley but never knew what to do with them. I had considered art tourism or community work. I chose teaching because it allows me to marry the two. I can tailor programs that tackle educational barriers, work with the community, live on country and, of course, produce and help others produce art. Art has the beautiful quality of helping people to express their feelings when they can’t use words. It can help process trauma, tell stories, or it can simply be a joyful activity.

Thank you for sharing your stories with us. We know you’ll be a wonderful addition to any school or classroom. Maybe we’ll see you teaching back at Santa Maria one day.

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