Amanda Cawthorne-Crosby admits to being a late starter when it comes to her teaching career.
She was 37 when offered the chance to teach some units in communication skills to business students in Coober Pedy, the opal-mining town she had arrived in to run a restaurant.
It was a career change that took her into teaching women’s studies and then into children’s services, the area of VET education that saw her win the NT Teacher/Trainer of the Year award at the 2006 NT Vocational Training Awards last week.
“I’d gone to Coober Pedy to make some money after running restaurants in Adelaide,” says the feisty award-winner. As young woman she had begun training at Adelaide Teachers College, but dropped out after two and half years to travel the world, spending two years in Rome.
“After I’d been in Coober Pedy for a while someone said I was a good talker, and would I like to teach communications skills. So that’s how I got started—with three students doing a little unit of a business degree.”
Ms Cawthorne-Crosby lived for 11 years in Coober Pedy (she met her husband in the supermarket there) before moving into VET education on the Alice Springs campus of Charles Darwin University in 2000.
She now coordinates the delivery of child-care courses to those who work in child-care centres, after-schools centres and pre-primary education.
Over the past two years she has worked at the high-tech end of course delivery—making use of interactive video equipment and the Internet to make contact with her students in other towns in Central Australia.
She is an enthusiast for Interactive Distance Learning, which she has conducted from the Alice Springs studios of the School of the Air.
“But we really need out own studios so that we can fully exploit the potential of IDL,” she says. “It’s not the only platform for learning, but in certain situations it’s the most effective.”
Nevertheless, despite advances in high-tech delivery, Ms Cawthorne-Crosby remains convinced that the secret of teaching is in the personal relationship established between the teacher and the learner.
“As a teacher you’ve got to be student-centred,” she says. “You’ve got to know why they want to do the course they’ve chosen, and then offer them the window of opportunity. It must be a relationship that is authentic, and as a teacher you must be dedicated to quality training.”
Ms Cawthorne-Crosby is now doing her honours degree on the student-teacher relationship.